Friday, December 28, 2012

Make your Leadership Resolution Succeed

Happy New Year!!! Did you make a New Year's resolution for your leadership? Did you know that after one month into 2013, 80% of New Year's resolutions will be abandoned. People will get caught up in battling the change within their new goal and will lose the resolve to succeed. If making promises to change ourselves has such a pitiful success rate, why even bother making them? 

Take weight loss, the most preferred resolution.  There is little doutbt on what it takes to succeed.  Eat less and exercise more.  If this recipe is so simple, why is it riddled with failure?  The answer is simple yet complex.  It requires a change within the psyche, but within the psyche, the person must scaffold his behavior with concrete thinking so that a return to previous behaviors is averted.

The same goes for leadership.  Leaders always want improvement for their organization, but many declarations for change fail.  Little by little, the work of the day erodes the hope for change until the leader completely forgets what he wanted to change in the first place.  If leaders hope to make their resolution stick, there has to be more to it than a wish.

A New Year's resolution needs 4 things to help it become permanent.

Why - The compelling reason that holds you accountable for reaching your goal.

Resolutions fail because the reason to make a change it is not very powerful.  Looking good is not a very compelling reason for a resolution to lose weight, primarily because the reason lacks depth and is superficial in nature.  A nobler reason to lose weight or become healthy is about saving and extending your life.  People will commit to making a change when it is a matter life or death long before before they will worry about the way they look.

If you want to be a better leader, then you must identify why change is imperative.  The most noble reason I can think of is because each school year, we affect 1/13 of a child's life.  Not their education, but their life.  What we do with each child's 1/13 is life or death for that child, and what we do or don't do this year for a child will affect the subsequent 1/13's of their life in the following years.  To make our resolution even more compelling, it is safe to say that what we do will affect their quality of life, their ability to have a stable or successful career, and ultimately the quality of their health. 

Is this a compelling reason to change?  Once you have a compelling reason to make change, you are ready to define the change that you want to make.

What - The Change to be Made

It takes very little effort to define the change that one would like to make.  It is little more than a declaration, but there is one caveat to this.  Once people announce the change that they plan to make, they stand a stronger likelihood of failure.  By simply making a declaration,  they have subconsciously convinced themselves that they have already achieved the goal.  If you plan to make a goal, you should have an accountability partner to help you reach the goal. 

In leadership, it is no different.  A change in your leadership requires you to be vulnerable.  You will have to be willing to take risks if you want success, and this is where communication can be your best ally.  Once you have identified your leadership resolution, communicate it to your staff and ask for their support and suggestions in reaching the goal.  You will be surprised how people will be willing to help you reach your new leadership resolution.

How - The detailed plan that will make the change happen.

Once the Why and the What of your resolution have been established, you are 25% there.  Now, you need a plan to help you reach your goal.  When I made a goal to lose weight, I purchased P90X.  It was a detailed plan of workouts and stringent diet plans to help me reach my goal.  It was a great plan, but without my commitment to action, my resolution was dead in the water.

To be a better leader, you must commit to studying, planning and acting on your new leadership change.  Select a book that is aligned with your change and study it closely.  Follow unique leaders on Twitter and converse with them.  Watch leadership videos on YouTube and TED.  Write a blog, and share it, or keep it private.  Whatever your plan is to study your change,  make a plan to implement what you have learned.  The best way to learn is to learn by doing.

When & Where - The time, frequency and place that you will work on making the change.

Resolutions, particularly weight loss, fail when the person fails to allocate time and a location to work on the goal.  If you want to lose weight, you must workout 3-4 times per week for an hour, and you must have a place to go.  In addition, you must commit to a regular frequency to workout.  Without this commitment to time, failure is imminent.

In your leadership change, find a time and place of quiet study each week.  Once you find the time, keep a regular schedule to study so you won't forget.  Set an alarm on your phone and don't allow anything to interfere.  Resolutions crumble because day to day interruptions lessen the frequency of your efforts to make change.

Here is the Reality. 

Whether or not we make a leadership resolution, kids and teachers will continue to show up.  They will continue to struggle or succeed, and they will need the most supportive learning environment to achieve.  What will their leaders do differently in 2013?  Einstein defines insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.  If we want to make a change in the lives of kids, we must make a change within ourselves first. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Breaking the Learning Limit

Speed limit signs are designed to keep us safe. They suggest an appropriate speed that keeps the flow of traffic efficient in an order fashion, and why not?  Maintaining order minimizes the risk for accidents and that's a good thing.

Driving is to a car like learning is to education, but there is a vast difference. Drivers and their speed must be regulated in a uniform manner to maintain order and keep everyone safe.  Traditional schools operate in a uniform fashion by regulating the amount of instruction that everyone receives and setting aside the same amount of time to learn each subject.  Some view education as the structure of one size fits all, but real learning doesn't work that way. Some learn at a rapid pace, while others are slower, more methodical learners. Then, there are the erratic learners.  

If students learn too slow, go too fast or run completely off the road in their learning, do we view that as a violation or as a great thing?  Learning doesn't have the risks of injury like driving does, but in education there are lots of learning limit signs in place.

Learning limit signs keep learners under control. They tell students the required conditions for learning content. Learning limit signs tell students the pace or amount of time that they have to learn. If you are a fast learner, slow down. If you are a slow learner, speed up. The flow of learning traffic must keep moving so organization is regulated. If your vehicle for learning has a flat tire (inability to learn a concept), you will need to get off of the road because learning traffic cannot be impeded.   Does this philosophy of learning guarantee learning?  Of course not!

Learning cannot be something that is controlled or uniform. Learning must be limitless and fluid. Students must have personalized learning opportunities that cater to their optimal speed of learning. Teachers must know in advance which students learn best at a slower pace while creating opportunities for students to learn at a faster pace.

Some students don't like to drive their learning on the traditional road of learning and need encouragement and opportunities to take their learning off-road.  Off-road learners like to explore unchartered territory because getting off the beaten path empowers authentic engagement.  Off-road learning doesn't necessarily fit into the traditional education model, but it must be acknowledged and embraced.

Learning is a limitless activity. It works best when the driver has freedom from  regulation for how best to reach their learning destination and at which speed is the best for the learner to get there.  

So what learning limit signs are in place in your school?  If you don't know, you haven't looked for them yet.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

3 Benefits of Disciplined Leadership

There are 2 schools of thought on disciplined leadership. The first has to do with the tradition of correction through punishment and consequences. Bosses and managers see this as their only method to generate results, and it usually generates fear, toxicity and hierarchical dependence. That is not the purpose of this post.

Transformational leaders believe in discipline but not for the same reason as bosses. These leaders believe that the discipline of transformation is a regimen of targeted activity, precise procedures and appropriate rigor that guides beliefs and actions to a deeper level of focus and productivity.  One may think that transformational discipline revolves around motivation, inspiration and communication, but it is so much more.  Providing structures for others to develop, to be effective and to be ultimately self-sufficient means that leaders must also prevent outside influences and issues from making their way into the classroom.

In order to be a Disciplined Leader, one must believe in:

1. Buffering

Marzano defines buffering as creating structures and procedures around the technical core of teaching. Leadership success is capitalized by the ability to construct a proverbial iron dome that limits outside interference from creeping into the classroom. By watching the instructional clock and allowing nothing to hold progress hostage, leaders stimulate academic improvement.

2. Protection

There are too many distractions that lead teachers away from the core of teaching. Leaders know this and take detailed steps to define structures that shield teachers from any interruption that would detract their focus from all kids. Identifying negative influences and eliminating or containing them improves instructional productivity.

An analogy to the discipline of protection is being a guard on watch at a military base, making patrols and preventing outside issues from making an attack on progress.  Conversely, leaders also protect like an oncologist that watches inside the body for cancerous cells to metastasize and spread to other organs in the body.  Leaders are aware of the undercurrents and attitudes that potentially affect the organization and are prepared to protect the organization when the time comes.

3. Cogent Confrontation

Buffering and protection requires confrontation. Communicating to others that their acts interfere with instruction is difficult, but transformational leaders confront by using their relational capital to gain support or at a minimum, understanding. In addition, leaders invest time in explaining why they must confront the issue, not the person, so outsiders understand why the leader is preventing them from affecting teachers and more importantly instruction.

Final Thoughts

When the leader is disciplined to a high level of effectiveness, effective protocols emerge.  Effective protocols are vital to improve achievement. By going deeper into the heart of discipline, the leader's expectations and directives morph from protecting instruction to developing adherents, better known as disciples. Disciples within a disciplined organization are not blind followers of the leader, but rather believers in something nobler.  They are followers of an effective system rich in  protocols and a common vision that promotes learning and prevents issues that detract from it...

Keeping your Leadership Sharp

A frustrating point in a chef's life is when he doesn't have a knife sharp enough to cut the food before him. The dullness of the blade frustrates because the utensil has been over-used and has lost it's edge of effectiveness. The chef has 2 choices. Sharpen the old familiar blade or discard it for a sharper, newer blade.

How often does this happen in schools across America? A leader, the proverbial knife, has become dull and ineffective so what typically happens to him? He is replaced with a newer, younger, or more innovative leader. Sometimes the leader is sharp enough to cut through the meat of the campus culture that is inherited, and other times he is just as dull as the leader he replaced. The problem is that leaders, like knives, must be sharpened regularly or they will lose their effectiveness. If the dull blade is replaced with a newer blade but is not provided systems to keep the new blade sharp, the school will eventually have to replace that leader too. Systems of sustainability are critical to help leaders maintain their edge of effectiveness.

So how can school districts help leaders stay sharp and effective? I find there are 3 things that all leaders must do to keep their edge.

1. Keep your Knife to the Grindstone

Sharpening the blade requires friction against an abrasive rock. This rock is conflict. Leaders will never stay sharp unless they identify, embrace and learn from conflict with parents, teachers, students and central office. Districts must recognize that in order for progress to be constant, confronting tough issues is required. In the absence of conflict, the knife becomes dull and the food will take longer to cut.  Leaders need support from district leaders when conflict arises so the organization can benefit.  Progress is the result of processing discomfort in a productive manner.

2. Knowledge means Intellectual Stimulation

Asking difficult questions and entertaining difficult questions helps new synapses form. Failure to address challenges causes the leader's wits to fade little by little. Staying current and constantly learning builds mental sharpness.  The leader that is constantly searching for a new way of thinking and learning sets the tone for learning throughout the organization; for, the search for knowledge is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

3. Keep Focused

Leaders on the cutting edge stay focused on no more than 3 things, and they go to great lengths to communicate their focus to the organization. They do whatever it takes to prevent interruptions and distractions from turning them away from their focus. In short, they focus on their focus, and by keeping their focus secure, they stay sharp.

Staying sharp is holy grail of leadership. 

 Leaders have their moments when everything is clicking and other times when nothing seems to go their way.  What separates effective from ineffective leaders is not their ability to acknowledge their short-comings, but their efforts to do something about it.  After all, chefs know when they have a dull knife, and they know what it takes to return the blade to its original edge of effectiveness.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

9 Christmas Gifts Every Leader Needs

Thanksgiving is over and Christmas is around the corner.  Last year, I shared a bit called "The 12 Days of Christmas for Teachers" (Click Here), and I outlined 12 ideas that leaders could use to show their staff how they appreciate them for the great things that they do for kids.  This year, I'd like to challenge us to thank our leaders for all that they do for kids and adults.  Before you start to think about what you should buy for your leader, I want to you to read a little further.

The first thought that will come to mind is this.  "Is this another post to thank our bosses or buy them some neat gift?"  Well, let's get this straight.  This post is for leaders, not bosses.  Bosses need things.  Leaders need growth.  Leaders don't mandate and dictate.  They guide and facilitate.  They serve and support. The best leaders lead us to places we don't necessarily want to go but ought to be for the betterment of the entire organization.  In other words, leaders help followers grow, but without growth of their own, leaders can't possibly facilitate growth in followers.

So what do leaders need for Christmas?  

Here are a few non-tangible suggestions that every leader must have to be a better leader.

Candid Conversations
Engaging leaders in real conversation helps leaders grow.  Asking clarifying questions about the leader's vision, goals and action steps helps leaders solidify their own thought process and helps leaders become clearer in their communication and more concrete in defining what it is that they are actually trying to do.

The worst thing you can do for a leader is tell them that things are great when they are anything but that.  Giving leaders honest opinions and perceptions helps leaders strengthen the organization.  Telling a leader what you think he wants to hear actually weakens the organization.

'Real' Reality
Leaders always hear the best representation or a filtered representation of the current reality of the organization.  Whether they want to hear it or not, leaders need to know the realness of your perception of the organization's reality.  Anything other than that weakens leaders and does them a disservice.

Some people think that leaders come to work everyday fired up and ready to lead.  That just isn't humanly possible.  Leaders need to be filled with a positive spirit and nothing is more encouraging than inspiration from those that they serve.

Success Stories
Leaders need to hear the success happening in the organization. With the pressures of day to day responsibilities, leaders rarely hear about the small victories. Small victories need to be shared so the leader knows the team is winning the war. 

As much as leaders don't want to hear that things are going bad, they have to know the truth. The truth hurts in the short term but helps leaders in the long run.  

Leaders can come to work lacking pep in their step. If you see your leader, motivate them and encourage them that what they're doing is helping the organization get better. 

This one is hard, but leaders need accountability more than anyone. If the leader said he was going to do something but never got around to it, ask them about it. Leaders need reminders and accountability from followers to get the job done. No accountability, no growth.

Leaders don't have all the answers and can't always know the best pathway.  To strengthen your leader, stimulate his intellect with questions and suggestions. By engaging your leader in challenging dialogue, you are also strengthening his leadership capacity. Yes, leaders need to get better at leading.

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

Sure, getting a Christmas gift makes leaders feel valued, but few gifts propel leaders forward.  We have to be honest with ourselves and acknowledge that things don't make a lasting impression.  Relationships do. Leaders become better when they get the best gift of Christmas, more critical friends.  I hope this season you will give your leader the gift of becoming a critical friend to him or her.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The 12 Days of Christmas for Teachers

This Christmas what will your staff get from you? Will you scoot through these next 3 weeks doing very little or will you maximize every day leading up to the break to build, repair and strengthen your campus culture?  At every campus that I have ever had the privilege to lead, I have done my best to show appreciation for the staff by having little treats, gifts that don't cost a dime, and novel presents to show how much they are appreciated for the daily sacrifice they make to save and serve kids.

Here is a list of Christmas gifts that would be very appreciated by your staff.  This list is mostly comprised of  things that cost you little more than effort to get it organized.

1. Time  

Every teacher needs more time to get their job done so give them an extra conference. Make a schedule where the kids can be covered by a movie reward during their PE or fine art time plus the block of time after or before. Pulling all kids to the same venue and reward gives you lots of flexibility to let teachers have 2 planning periods.  You may have to deviate from your traditional schedule and use every personnel unit to cover kids, but this gift is worth it.

2. Relaxation 

Lots of massage therapy or cosmetology schools require students to practice their craft FREE OF CHARGE. Why not let them practice on your staff for free? Set up your teacher workroom with these people and have a schedule to let your staff sign up to come through for a free massage, manicure, or pedicure.

3. Vendors

Lots of vendors push their products by having parties that are free. The vendors make their money by what they sell at the party. Again, allowing teachers to come by throughout the day is no charge to you and helps them with their Christmas shopping.  You can also include your staff who sell products as a part time job.

4. Christmas Wrapping

Schools have volunteers that want to help out. Create a schedule for teachers to bring their Christmas presents to school.  They will need to provide the following:  wrapping paper, tape, and labels filled out on each present. The volunteers can do the rest. That is a huge time saver for teachers, and they will be very thankful for this gift.

5. Jeans for the Last Week

Need I say more.

6. Chili Cook-Off

This is a great competition where grades or departments can compete to have the best chili, most creative theme, or whatever award you want to give. You can provide all the fixins, and the staff can celebrate the fellowship of getting together over a warm bowl of chili. This is a great culture-builder.

7. Personalized Card from You

Who doesn't appreciate a card from the principal? There are lots of way to make a card with MS Word. With a large staff, you can make a spreadsheet of personalized items and messages and do a mail merge to make your cards. Be sure to fold your cards using a spoon to make to folds sharp. People notice that.

8. Affirmation

Teachers are often unsure what you think of their work. When the opportunity presents itself, affirm teachers individually, and let them know specifically what they are doing great. It will pay you back ten-fold.

9. Pinterest

10,000 gift ideas to let your teachers know they are great!!!

10. Hot Chocolate

On a cold Monday morning, a warm cup of hot chocolate starts the week off on a positive note.

11. Let the Kids Cook for the Teachers

For high school campuses, have your culinary arts class cook for the staff.  The kids love to get involved thanking the teachers.  This is a great gift that fills the belly and warms the heart.  Of course, follow your board policy to make sure you are in compliance financially.

12.  Campus Party

Nothing builds culture better than a campus Christmas party.  Whether it is on campus or off, after school or at night, this is a great time to celebrate the successful end to 2012.

January will be here before we know it.  The stress will be back, and uncertainty and fear of failure will settle in on every campus in America.  How will you be prepared to address it? The best way to address a problem is to be preventive rather than reactive.  Use your Christmas time to build your staff confidence, and let them know they are appreciated.  They will leave 2012 knowing that their leader values them, and they will return in January ready for a positive and productive 2013.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Building Trust after Reprimand

A reprimand is one of the hardest situations that a leader ever has to deal with as it is always used as a last resort.  It is negative in nature, corrective in consequence and ever-lasting in effect.  It is difficult for the leader and for the one receiving the reprimand to move forward.  So what happens after the reprimand?  Do hard feelings persist?  Does awkwardness abound?  Is the organization affected? 

The answer to all of these questions is yes to some degree.  The ultimate purpose of a reprimand is to direct actions in the right direction.  It is designed to help the employee perform in a way that benefits himself and the organization.  But there is always this disconnect, a chasm of mistrust.

There are times when reprimands result in a change in behavior.  And when reprimands are effective, leaders can rebuild trust with the employee.  Other times, the behaviors don't change, so trust is difficult to reestablish.  So how can leaders cultivate a productive working relationship with employees that struggle with being written up?

Here are ways that leaders can build trust after a reprimand.

Wait Time

A reprimand is a painful experience and emotions run high afterwards.  Allow time for both you and the employee to return to normal and get back into a work routine.  Just getting back to work provides an eventual open door to reestablish communication.

Personal Conversation

Leaders move to talking about work and don't check in with the employee on their personal life.  Asking about their family, how their weekend was or their feelings on a current event conveys interest in the person.  It breaks down barriers and allows the employee to see the leader in a different light.


People need to hear that they are moving in the right direction.  Affirmation is the critical component of constructive criticism.  Acknowledging the current reality coupled with gauging improvement towards the target is necessary if the employee is going to feel comfortable trusting in the leader.

Positive Feedback

We all grow with praise.  Leaders must realize that celebration through positive feedback is critical if the employee is every going to reach your expectations.  The praise may not be directly related to the target of your expectation, but everyone does something well.  Let them hear about it.


Nothing breaks the ice better than a good sense of humor.  Showing your humor regularly communicates your humanity and your heart.  The best leaders use their humor wisely and purposefully to make sure all employees see them as approachable and ultimately trustworthy.

When we were corrected as children and as students, we felt attacked, guilty or less than worthy.  We all are hard-wired from childhood to react this way as adults, even if we acknowledge that the reprimand is correct.  Leaders can bridge the divide so that employees can overcome a reprimand and get to the real purpose of  reprimand and that is growth...

Why We must Listen to Excuses

This morning, I read a great post by @leadershipfreak called Getting Past Excuses, and it was very powerful for me to understand the importance of building systems to help teams and individuals get past making excuses so they can move to action.

But what about the excuse?

There was a reason that it was made in the first place. Leaders move too quick to the "get over it" mentality when dealing with the person who is making excuses. Moving past the excuse without analyzing the source of its existence can lead to the excuse rearing its ugly head in the future. In essence, getting over it without identifying the source can lead to resentment and ultimately lack of productivity.

What causes a person to make an excuse?

1. Fear
People make excuses if they fear for their job, status or safety. Leaders must probe excuse-makers with questions that help the person resolve their fear, but more importantly help the leader identify if systems or statements made by the leader have generated fears within the individuals or better yet, the organization as a whole.

2. Misconceptions
Excuses can be the result of preconceived ideas about expectations that are not what the leader intended to communicate. When leaders make a statement, followers can internalize it to mean many things. Listening for misconceptions, asking follow up questions and clarifying misunderstandings can definitely build trust between the leader and members of the organization; thus reducing the frequency of excuses being made.

3. Old Expectations
Expectations that were made 5 years ago or two leaders ago still exist in every organization. Whether you like it or not, leaders must listen to excuses to see if an antiquated expectation is preventing individuals or teams from being able to produce results. If so, the leader must clarify and rectify the discrepancy so teams can move forward.

There are quotes as far as the eye can see that speak to the weakness within excuses and excuse-makers. I contend that excuses communicate something deeper, a weakness of trust within the organization. Leaders must listen to organization to identify gaps in trust and understanding in order for teams and individuals to move to a place where flexibility and empowerment transform excuses into action.

We have a choice. We can listen to excuses and use them as building blocks of systemic progress, or we can dismiss them all together and watch our organization fail to achieve.

What's your excuse for not listening to excuses?

Humble Pie for Thanksgiving

My taste buds are ready for Thanksgiving, and there's one reason why. There are so many pies to choose from. Chocolate, pumpkin, sweet potato, and apple are just a few pies that instantly come to mind.

While it would be easy to be thankful for pie, I'd like to direct you to the worst tasting but most helpful pie of all, Humble Pie. While it doesn't taste very good going down, it definitely improves our quality of life, albeit not instantly.

Humble pie has a distinct taste. With the bold flavor of crow, it leaves the bitter aftertaste of foot-in-mouth.  There's no doubt. When you've bitten into this tart delicacy, your face cannot hide your immediate displeasure. 

So What is Humble Pie?

Conflict & Confrontation
With every person that we have battled with, we have grown. Conflict doesn't help us grow until we come out on the other side which is called understanding.

Opposition & Obstacles
We will always have people and things in our path that attempt to prevent us from moving forward. Persistence and commitment are our blades that are sharpened as a result of these two ingredients. 

Rejection & Reprimand
We have all been told we're not good enough. Whether it be a job interview or being corrected for our mistakes, we have been humbled greatly by rejection and reprimand. By learning from each of these ingredients, our resolve and confidence grows. 

This ingredient needs no introduction. If I asked you to think of all the bone-headed things you have ever done, these embarrassing memories emerge as quick as the smell of your favorite Thanksgiving dish. Surviving from and laughing with our embarrassment builds character  and acceptance of the fact that we are human.  

Humble Pie, the CORE of Growth
If you want to strengthen your core, you need to eat a lot of humble pie. The ingredients are easy to find. They're  anywhere in your life. You just have to be willing to swallow the fact that they are a purposeful part of your life for a very good reason. 

Here's a bonus to today's post, great apple pie recipes from

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Simplifying The Complexity of Question 3

In my earlier post, Vertically Align Your Interventions Simulataneously, I outlined how principals can carve out time to replace faculty meetings with collaborative discussions on interventions.  In these meetings, grade level teams come to the meetings with intervention strategies for the high leverage skills that they plan to teach in the upcoming grading period.  Teachers meet with teachers from the grade level above and below  about the interventions and offer suggestions to make interventions even more targeted and specific.  At the end of the meeting, every grade level walks away with a deeper understanding of why kids fail to learn and more importantly a more detailed plan of action to address kids when they fail to learn.  Attached are an agenda and graphic organizer to guide teams through the process of designing interventions that align with the grade level below's instruction and lead to the grade level above's standard.

Below are dropbox links to an agenda and worksheet to help teams prescribe Tier 1 interventions collaborative and vertically.
Vertical Alignment Meeting Agenda
Vertical Alignment Intervention Worksheet

So now that we've met and created our specific intervention, what do we do with all this information?

Question 1 & 2 Must be Answered

Once teams have agreed what the standard looks and sounds like at the expected level of proficiency, they must agree on what instructional activities and strategies they will use to guide learners to the standard. Teams must also design common formative assessments that are aligned to the standard and the rigor of instruction that was provided.  Without a common formative assessment developed collaboratively by the team, teachers will have no baseline to identify who really learned the content and who is still not proficient.  Thus, there is no reason to begin answering our next question, #3. 

Special Note - This topic is extremely complex and my basic explanation hardly does any justice to the importance of developing common instructional and assessment practices.

Before Question 3 - Use your Student Work

Assuming that your PLTs have developed a common understanding and agreements for instruction and assessment, teachers are ready to evaluate formative assessment data.  Teachers must come to the table with student work in 3 forms.
  1. Struggling Student Work - Bring student work of a student or students that you cannot find an intervention that help them learn the concept.
  2. Average Student Work - Bring student work of an average student to gauge if your instruction is pushing all students at the same level of rigor as your teammates' instruction.  This is a great way to evaluate if Question 1 is challenging all students at the appropriate level.  This conversation should also allow teachers to gather new instructional ideas.
  3. Exceptional Student Work - Bring work of a high student that you need ideas to push them to deeper level of complexity.  This is a great way to collectively answer question 4.

Question 3 - Struggling Student Work

Why bring the lowest student to the table?  If you can design interventions that will help the student that struggles the most, you are designing interventions for most of the students that fail to learn.  It is easy to discuss a student that is mildly behind, but your collaborative time is precious.  You must spend it with your team discussing the hardest to accelerate and hardest to reach.  Use student work to show what specifically is the problem with the child's learning. Analyzing the student's work will help team members see problems and habits that the teacher may not be able to see yet. It is also very important to have intervention personnel in the meeting to share their strategies and to make them aware of the child's struggles. This conversation must turn into a plan of action that is specific to the largest skill that is preventing the child from learning. The plan must also specify the detailed actions that will be taken and identify the personnel, time and frequency of the intervention.

If your team is able to spend 10 minutes per child designing targeted, specific and prescriptive interventions for the lowest child, they will have just designed intervention strategies that every teacher can employ with other students who are failing but not at the severity of the lowest student in the class.

So What about the Vertical Alignment Document?

Teams must be purposeful in using the document from the vertical alignment meeting.  If they put a lot of effort into making the document and then getting input from the grade level above and the grade level below, they have just answered question 3 for all of their upcoming planning meetings.  Teams will be able reference the input and suggestions from the grade levels above and below each week.  From there, they ensure that the child receives interventions that begin from their prior year's learning and lead to a solid foundation for the next year's instruction.

Now there is a caveat to the perceived simplicity in the above paragraph.  Just because your team wrote interventions and got vertical input does not necessarily make the intervention good.  Teams must review the interventions and be thoughtful and committed to determining if the interventions are prescriptive enough to meet the  unique and specific issues that are preventing students from learning.  In essence, the preplanned interventions need to be reviewed and discussed to ensure that they will meet the needs of kids where they are currently failing to learn. 

Hope this helps.  I would enjoy your thoughts, feedback and questions to this post.  Good luck.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Silencing the Silence

How often have we heard that the silence is deafening? Can you really hear a pin drop? Do the crickets actually commence to chirping as soon as the elephant enters the room? describes the noun of silence as:
1. absence of any sound or noise; stillness.
2. the state or fact of being silent; muteness.
3. absence or omission of mention, comment, or expressed concern: the conspicuous silence of our newspapers on local graft.
4. the state of being forgotten; oblivion: in the news again after years of silence.

As a leader I find it interesting that silence is defined as the omission of mention, comment or expressed concern. As I reflect on the noun of silence, I wonder what conditions are created that force teammates or employees to purposely fail to bring about issues of concern. Is the culture so toxic and threatening that members hold their tongue when they need to address really important issues?  In order to answer the questions about how silence is created, we must dig deeper to learn more about silence. goes further to describe the verb of silence:
1. to put or bring to silence; still.
2. to put (doubts, fears, etc.) to rest; quiet.
3. Mil. to still (enemy guns), as by more effective fire.

Here we find that the action of silence has 2 opposing responsibilities for leaders to consider.  Each action will take the culture of an organization to 2 completely different places.

1. Leaders can squelch the conversation and subdue voices that differ from theirs, or 
2. Leaders can put fears, doubts or uncertainty to rest.

To synthesize this even further, suppressing the conversation does not put fears to rest, and putting fears to rest requires anything but cutting off the conversation.

So what steps do leaders take to silence the silence?

1. Welcome the Elephant into the Room

The leader must model a positive approach to solving difficult problems. Keeping the team focused on what's best for the organization is key to effectively dealing with difficult situations.  Conversation must be open, authentic and focused on a resolution. People appreciate a leader when he has the courage to address the elephant.  They see that moving forward is not only attainable but essential.

2.  Listen to the Crickets

When the crickets are chirping, trust is uncertain.  Fear and uncertainty abound.  This is your cue to put fears and uncertainty to rest.  Frequent individual conversations with multiple people and continued dialogue with the group are essential to remove the perceived gag-order.  As long as the crickets are chirping, your progress is stalled.  If you want to quell the crickets, you have to make some noise.

3. Question Why the Pins are Dropping

If you want to help your team members, you have to allow them to address their own doubts.  Leaders are most successful at helping others when they use reflective questioning, rather than endless suggestions and directives, to guide others to untangle their own web of confusion.  To help teams discover the answer to why silence is present, the leader can't answer his own questions.  The answer is in the room and the team has to find it with your support and guidance.

Silencing the silence takes courage.  It takes vision, and it requires an unwavering commitment not to people, but to something bigger, the team.  It requires situational awareness which is only possible when the leader knows their staff deeply, knows the daily undercurrents of the organization and uses both pieces of information to guide the organization to resolve its problems and ultimately to become better for kids and each other. If the leader fails to confront the elephant, the crickets and the pin-dropping, they will lull their staff to a state of silent lucidity.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Intersection of Memory Ln. & Busy St.

Life's what you make it.

You get out of life what you put in it.

We've heard this mantra from every kind of motivational quote that focuses our minds on constant improvement. This is the path we call Busy Street. It is the path of progress and growth.  Much like a freeway, you must move fast, narrow your focus and keep your eye on the road and your hands on the wheel. 

Life's not the breaths you take, but the moments that take your breath away.

Live, Laugh, Love.

When we hear these quotes, our minds quickly gravitate to our family, and we instantly cherish the time and special memories that we have had with the people that mean the most to us. We call this place Memory Lane.  This path is one of emotion and feelings.  Much like a less frequently traveled country road, you can drive slow, enjoy the view, roll down the windows, soak up the sun and feel the wind in your hair.

This post is dedicated to my son, who is a senior this year.  As a senior parent, I find myself reflecting daily on the time that has passed so quickly.  With every last event in his high school career, I feel him naturally growing out of our house.  His last football game, his last pep rally, his last band performance at the football game, his last 'this' and his last 'that'.  Being at these "last" events, I take mental snapshots of everything I can on my path down Memory LaneEmotions and feelings of sadness, elation and guilt abound.

Yes, I said guilt.  Did I spend too much time on Busy Street trying to provide the best for him and my family?  Did I sacrifice too much time being busy instead of making memories?  Did I fail to sit quietly and observe when I was preoccupied with tasks?

So which way do I go now?

Here are some tips for myself that I think would benefit all leaders that are stuck on Busy Street!
  • Go down Busy Street, but make sure you exit the freeway often to take a slower scenic route.
  • When you get on Memory Lane, don't take Busy Street behaviors with you.  They take you away from the reason you're on Memory Lane in the first place.
  • While on Memory Lane, pull over on the side of the road.  Stop and just soak up the scenery.
  • Put your phone down and don't worry about what's happening on Busy Street.
  • Make your time on Memory Lane special by showing your love for your family with your words, actions and most importantly time.
As we get older, there is a consuming fire within leaders that drives them to do everything we can to solidify our career.  We must reach the goal, achieve excellence and make our organizations highly effective and efficient.  Everyday, this fire forces us to narrow our focus even more to the point that we forget that there is actually life beyond the superhighway of success.

So for Thanksgiving, I challenge you and me both to exit the freeway wherever we may be.  Take a path that is slow where we can create memories that will last forever in our lives and in our families' lives.  Disconnect and unplug from all the tools and structures of progress, and enjoy life.  That is hard for driven people because true life is not task driven, and in the end, it doesn't really matter how far you got down Busy Street.  Life is relationship driven and that is what Thanksgiving is all about.  Give thanks for the life that God gave you, the people that he put in your life and the ability to create and remember special times with them.

Happy Thanksgiving

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Never Neglect Insignificance

I read a blog the other day about the leadership of the winningest coach in NCAA basketball history, John Wooden. I wondered what epic leaders do differently, and I was shocked to find that the first lesson that Wooden taught his players was how to correctly put on their socks. Really?? Socks??? His rationale was rather simple. If the players can't put on their socks correctly, they will get blisters on their feet. Once that happens, no amount of leadership, motivation or coaching will make the player effective or successful.

So What are the Socks in Education?

To me, it seems that the socks of education are support and how to access it. Teachers stay covered up in the ever changing mandates and accountability pressure. If educators don't have the necessary supports in place, they will surely get blisters or burnout; thus, knocking them out of the game. Sadly, many leave the teaching field because their lack of support gave them a poor impression of the profession all together.

How Do We Correctly Put on our Socks?

From day one teachers must hear and feel from their coach or leader  that the leader's job is to support and serve the teachers. The leader and fellow teachers are the socks that prevent initial injury.  Teachers must also know the detailed expectations for how to be prepared with the curricular, instructional and assessment practices of the district. This takes lots of organization on the leader's part to ensure that teachers are adequately prepared for success in the classroom. If teachers do not receive support through mentors, teams and pacing guides with important details, the path of student performance will be left to chance, and leaders will be left with unreliable results on whether students are learning or not.

Once We have our Socks on Correctly...

Players are ready to grow and perform by receiving feedback that is concise and precise, positive and constructive, direct and affirming.  Leaders can help players capitalize on mistakes by turning them into coaching points. Coaches must avoid being critical and punitive in their tone and actions because the player will never be receptive to future ideas of how they can improve. Players are conditioned  by the coach's daily interactions, and it is important to make sure the coach doesn't condition players to never reveal mistakes and even worse present a false facade that all is well.  Failure on the leader's part to establish this critical line of trusting communication could result in many kids failing, and this would be due to the leader creating conditions for the player  to fear having their mistakes used against them.  In short the relationship between the coach and the player keeps the socks on correctly.

Buzzer Beater

There is nothing more exciting than watching a buzzer beating shot in a closely contested basketball game.  The reason that John Wooden is the most prolific coach in NCAA basketball history is because his teams were consistently victorious. He was a masterful motivator, but even more important, he became a legend because never neglected details that seemed insignificant.

Minimizing your Moron Factor

Leaders can be morons. Now this is not always the case, but it happens from time to time. Sometimes, when I'm sitting in a meeting, I get really involved in the discussion, and suddenly, something begins to change.  I sense this awkward and uncomfortable feeling and notice that my moron factor is starting to increase.

What just happened?  I heard that there was a problem, so I started talking about what we needed to do to resolve the issue. Within about three seconds, the facial expressions of the people in the room signaled that my moron factor was increasing.  The conversation segued from deep discussion into deafening silence as the focused engagement disintegrated before my very eyes, and that's when I realized. John, you're such a moron.

Leaders are morons when they:

1Monopolize conversations.
2. Omit others' ideas.
3. Respond before fully understanding.
4. Overlook the expertise of others.
5. Neglect opportunities to build collaborative capacity.

How can we decrease our Moron Factor?

1.  Less Talking, More Listening
When a problem is afoot, I tend to stick my foot in my mouth the more I talk. Great leaders talk only after they really understand the situation. That can't happen without listening. When listening leaders use their words, they are restating and clarifying what the problem is rather than telling people what their problem is. You can't really clarify unless you really listen. 

2.  Less Telling, More Asking
Managers tell people what to do to fix their problem. Leaders ask more questions to help people solve their own problems. The answer is always in the room because everybody has their mind wrapped around the question.  Solutions can be created, but they need questions to help them evolve. Telling takes people backwards, while asking moves them forward. 

3.  Less Solutions, More Choices
Leaders forget that their role is global; therefore, they tend to offer global solutions to specific problems. Specific problems can only be remedied with specific and detailed solutions from the specific person that is directly impacted by the problem. Leaders must avoid the temptation to give solutions and instead guide teams and individuals to devise their own solution by offering multiple choices or even better, solution pathways.

The Bottom Line

If you want to lessen your moron factor, there is one simple solution.  Emphasize your empowerment factor. Tell less and guide more. The more you guide, serve and support, the more your staff will rely on your expertise, and the less they will think you're a moron. If you don't believe me, tell me what you think about your boss when he or she tells you what to do when he doesn't understand your problem.

What do you do that increases your moron factor?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Art of Self-Contol

Self-control is an extremely valuable skill, especially if you're a leader. If you have it, you can lead ordinary teams to amazing results. If you don't have it, amazing teams will quickly disintegrate. Do you have self-control? Lets take a look at the definition and 3 components of self-control.

Definition - n. the restraint of one's feelings and actions.

Component 1 - Controlled Anger
Anger is not a bad thing. It is a natural human emotion, but if we allow it to take over our bodies, minds and soul, it will ruin us and our career. Uncontrolled anger is the result of being unable to handle the results of a bad situation. Being slow to anger is the most important aspect of controlling anger. You can't change the result of what has happened to this point, so don't let your anger focus you on the past. Last, failure to control your anger will tear down the trust in your organization like a tornado tears down a house that took months to build.

Component 2 - Controlled Ambition
Wanting to succeed professionally is not a bad thing. Like anger, it is a very natural human quality. Where it goes wrong is when leaders focus on making themselves successful rather than making others successful. Lets be honest. No one wants to follow a leader that touts all that he has done. In order to control your ambition, focus on promoting and celebrating the work of others. They deserve it. By helping others to grow in their work, your leadership will also grow. Be patient, your professional aspirations will be realized in due time.

Component 3 - Controlled Selfishness
Being selfish means to do things for yourself with no regard for others. How can you lead when you have no regard for others? The time that you invest in a behavior is borrowed from something else. Do you invest time in things that satisfy yourself or satisfy others? Do you deny others' needs for your selfish ambition? Are you unwilling to ask difficult questions because the answers may reveal weaknesses in your leadership? If you fail to control you selfishness, you hurt others and yourself by limiting or controlling your own potential.

No leader is perfect at self control, but I have seen some excellent strategies that leaders have used to control themselves. The main trait that I have seen in these leaders is the art of patience and calmness in the storm. In difficult times, they are calm and composed, and as a result, they can move the problem to solutions quickly. They know what they can control and what they cannot control. They can't control people, but they can influence them positively with their calm demeanor. Ultimately, they understand that in order to positively impact an organization, they must control their actions, words and emotions with self-discipline, self-actualization and most importantly self-humility.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Race to Educate

Running an endurance race for the first time is quite exhilarating. The anticipation mounts with the gathering of the runners.  The anxiety builds and finally the race begins. As the runner takes off, he finds it hard to gauge his initial progress. Is the pace too fast? Is he running too slow? The runner's brain pulses with every runner passing him by. There is little else that can describe the first mile of a race. Everyone is jockeying for position, trying to gain the edge.

As I synthesize the start of a race, I can't help but think how teachers in isolated systems feel. Without a team to collaborate with or a set of values to give them guidance or a vision to serve as a beacon of light, what emotions will run through their mind at the start of the race? In this race to educate every child, some will start off too fast and fall apart before they get halfway through it. Some will take off too slow and the race will end before they do. Some will finish the race, but they will have no one to share the sense of accomplishment with.

So what does every teacher need this Christmas to make it through the most important race in educational history?


In order to be the best runner, you need the best gear, training and coaching to compete.  In education, it's no different.  Educators need access to all of the resources, but more importantly, the training on how to effectively use the resources.  Many schools provide adequate or even superb resources, but no training about them.  This leads me to the most important resource that teachers need and that is TIME!!!  Without proper time to plan, ineffective lessons and poor use of resources occur.  This will lead to teacher fatigue and in time falling out of the race all together.  Coaches and leaders must be present to help, listen and guide educators so they, themselves, can be a valuable resource to the educator.


Affirmation is confirming that something is true.  To me, we all need to know that the path we are on is true or at least headed in the right direction.  This is where feedback is critical.  The more frequent the feedback we receive, the more we are fed intellectually.  All educators need feedback from their supervisors, from members on their team and from those that they lead.  Not all feedback must be positive to be helpful, but it must be TRUE.  If a runner's pace is too slow, the runner must be affirmed that what they are doing is not enough.  Feedback or affirmation is the nourishment that you need to continue running.


Just like every runner sees more improvement by working with a team, teachers benefit more by working regularly with a team of teachers focused on the same aspects of educating children. Teams that collaborate together, stay together, and they do so, because the focus is not on individual improvement but collective improvement. The purpose of a team is to get everyone across the finish line, and that occurs when all members are committed to making everyone successful.  Collaboration builds the stamina that every runner needs to finish the race successfully.


We all perform better when others cheer for us. Encouragement and celebration along the way help educators stay mentally focused on the importance of finishing the race.  Encouragement is different than affirmation because affirmation requires the runner to acknowledge his current reality.  Encouragement is what every runner needs after they accept their current reality.  Whether you are behind or ahead, every educator must feel appreciation from supervisors, teammates, students and parents.  The leader's job is to make sure that everyone comes out and cheers the teachers on to the finish line throughout the race.  Encouragement is the 2nd wind every runner needs to run even faster.

Half Way Point

It's almost Christmas and teachers across the country have finished their first mile or two in this race to educate every child. As their coach, we must ascertain where they are in the race. At this point they need support from their leader of the good job that they are doing. They have reached the water station and they need to quench their thirst. This month, I challenge you to join me in being the best Resource you can be to Affirm, build Collaboration and Encourage your fellow educators.  They are running their tails off to educate every child.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Collaborative Teacher Appraisal Systems

In Texas, our evaluation instrument is called PDAS, Professional Development Appraisal System. The emphasis should be on professional development but with the lack of time (due to endless tasks) to get to all of the components of the system, administrators usually resort to completing only the appraisal part of the system. Sadly, the result usually finds the principal coming in with little knowledge of the teacher, instruction and the class' progress up to that point. He bases the evaluation on his interpretation of instruction and gives the teacher feedback on what he saw in 45 minutes. The end.

There's a giant disconnect here. The principal is giving feedback on his or her perception of each of the indicators in the appraisal system with little knowledge of all the work that the teacher has done. For the teacher, he or she is hoping that what he or she is doing will meet the virtually unknown perceptions of the administrator.

What's an even bigger problem is that the administrator is doing this to several teachers at one time, and the teachers often wonder what is expected from the administrator in the evaluation. And even bigger than that the administrator has no baseline, other than the evaluation instrument, to base his subjective ratings.

To ensure appraisal alignment between both parties, administrators meet with teachers before they have the formal evaluation. The administrator clarifies his or her expectations for what they would like to see in the classroom, and the teacher plays a role in the discussion by sharing what they are going to deliver in the instruction. This will help things, but here's the problem with this from a global perspective.

Time constraints
If an administrator is evaluating 20 employees, how much time will he or she spend pre-conferencing with every single person that they are going to evaluate? A good pre-conference last about 30 minutes, so for 20 employees the administrator would need to take 600 minutes or 10 hours to do pre-conferencing alone. Will every pre-conference get the same level of dialogue from these 10 isolated hours?

Limited ideas
If the preconference is at its very best, how many ideas can be gained from one 30 minute conversation between one teacher and one administrator, even if the setting has the ultimate level of trust? If the administrator is interrupted mentally or physically (which is certain to occur), the think tank is reduced to 1 person.

Instead of one administrator spending 30 minutes meeting with one teacher at a time, why not get all of the employees together with the administrator and meet in 3 or 4 meetings of 30 minutes each to discuss the evaluation together. The administrator would cut the pre-conferencing from 10 hours down to 2 hours. That's efficiency!

Safety in Numbers
When there are several teachers in the room with one administrator, teachers feel more comfortable in sharing their ideas about the evaluation criteria. They will also be more willing to ask questions about what the administrator's thoughts are on the criteria.

Exponential Ideas
If the administrator will spend time guiding discussion about each indicator with the group, teachers can be truly collaborative about what those indicators look like and sound like in action. In this setting, teachers will feel more comfortable asking questions about the criteria to the administrator and to different teachers that share ideas in the meeting. The focus of the meeting moves from the teacher and the administrator agreeing on the conditions of the appraisal to creating high quality instruction in action. That's a think tank on steroids!

Pre-Observation Walk-Throughs
Administrators should spend some time in each teacher's classroom giving them feedback before the formal evaluation. I plan to use the Evernote app and take specific notes and then share them with the teacher. The notes will be scripted in a way that are not judgmental but rather factual things that are seen in the classroom based on the collaborative discussion from all the teachers. My hope is to have dialogue with the teacher and encourage the teacher to visit with other teachers to gather suggestions and new ideas. The purpose of the informal walk-throughs is to ensure alignment on the criteria between the teacher and the administrator.

Instructional Rounds
After my first meeting with all the teachers that I plan to evaluate last week, two teachers stayed after the meeting. They asked me if it was okay to observe another teacher from the meeting that had great ideas that they wanted to know more about. My response was an emphatic yes followed by a question of how I could help them get into the classroom to watch the teacher teach. This, after all, is the ultimate form of professional development.

Teacher Retention
Now imagine! What teacher wouldn't want to be in a system like this:
  • A system where the expectations are that the teachers co-labor with the administrator and one another to come up with the criteria for each indicator in the evaluation,
    A system where teachers commit to support one another to make sure that all of them are successful,
    A system where teachers are wanting to be in each other's rooms to learn from one another,
    A system where professionalism & improvement are the centerpieces of the appraisal system.

Putting the PD in PDAS
A strong collaborative team has an immense amount of power to build capacity in every single employee. Teachers want a great evaluation, and they want to know that they are doing a great job. Administrators must provide the supports and the avenues for teachers to work together to ensure that every teacher succeeds instructionally first and earns an excellent evaluation second. Through this system every teacher who commits to this collaborative appraisal system should earn an excellent evaluation because the teachers and the administrators are working in tandem to ensure that instruction is at the highest levels of quality, and shouldn't that be the intended outcome of an appraisal system?

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Pruning your Leadership

This past week I have been meeting with different leaders on my leadership team. In our second year of building our campus leadership team and a campus PLC philosophy, we have noticed that we are experiencing much faster growth in a positive direction. Rapid individual growth coupled by extending abilities into new directions have led each leader to new and unique places in their leadership. They are identifying innovative ways of doing things that are benefiting kids and teachers, and this is extremely exciting to watch.

The problem that we currently face is that each leader is encountering different challenges, and there's not enough time to get to all of the recently implemented improvements as well as the old and productive tasks. The best analogy that I can make is that each leader represents a plant that has too many limbs as a result of their initial amazing growth. If this plant is able to grow stronger and taller, the gardener (leader) must be willing to prune unnecessary foliage so that the plant will continue to grow and thrive. Take a look at this YouTube video about how this gardener makes decisions when pruning bushes and plants.

Pruning your Plants

Before the gardener begins to prune the plant, he must know what the plant will look like if it is going to develop in its second year. In other words he must visualize what the tree or plant will look like next year as a result of purposeful pruning. Once he has a vision for what he wants the plant to look like, he then can make important decisions on which limbs will help the plant reach its maximum potential and which limbs are inhibiting growth. Branches that are close to structures or are overlapping one another must be eliminated. Cutting away the "sucker" branches is critical.

The same goes with leadership. Each leader must know which skills or which tasks are overlapping one another and thus are no longer useful. Old ways of doing things that were once successful may no longer be needed to help the leader lead his team. Those actions, too, must be eliminated. Tasks that were once meant to help teachers and students have become ingrained in the organization and no longer need you. Removing these actions and simplifying behaviors helps make the leader a stronger, more productive and more fruitful plant. In pruning the unnecessary branches from the plant of leadership, the leader is able to guide their leadership toward future growth which makes the leader a much healthier leader.

The last consideration to make before pruning a leadership task is can the team or organization sustain this action without leadership? If the answer is yes, remove it. If the answer is no, the leader must take purposeful steps to make the action sustainable by the team and then make plans to remove himself from the task once the team is capable of taking ownership.

Which actions, behaviors or processes do you need to prune from your leadership and what ideas do you have about pruning them?

Saturday, September 29, 2012

What if We Quit Caring...

I was at the grocery store waiting in line and noticing the tabloids about the worst in every "important" celebrity. The headlines brought us the infidelity, divorce, weight gain, incarceration and every other bad thing that was currently happening to "important" celebrities right now.  As I processed the mindlessness of the headlines, I couldn't help but imagine. What if our society quit caring about all of the ridiculous stories about people that do nothing more than entertain us and started caring about the really important people, kids that desperately depend on the society that they live in?

  • Instead of the headlines that tell us about a bitter divorce between 2 superficial celebrities, we would see a headline about the importance and sanctity of marriage and how kids need both parents working together.  We could even read about 2 important people in pop culture that put their marriage above their careers. #wow.

  • Instead of the headlines talking about a teen pop star entering rehab for the 4th time, we could read about how a high school student body is working hard to battle against drug abuse and the community is actively supporting them. #canyouimaginethat

  • Instead of the headline reading that a leading actress is overweight or looking haggard, we could read about an organization that promotes the real beauty that we should see in young ladies that is grounded in self-confidence, intellectuality and modesty. #weneedthis

  • Instead of reading about the latest stupid act that some actor did that landed him in jail, we could be inspired by a community that has joined together to mentor disadvantaged youth to keep them from becoming a statistic of the criminal justice system. #thatdoeshappeninamerica

  • Instead of reading how America's schools are horrible because of a few that are not doing well, we could read the headlines about the actual reality of schools which is they do the best job ever preparing kids for a college and career pathway. #testscoresdonttellthewholestory

Let's be honest.  What we read and allow to enter our brains affects us.  It numbs our character and dims our wit.  In the 1940's & 50's, mainstream literature was grounded in character, examples of improvement, and obstacles overcome that motivated and inspired a nation.  What do we have today in mainstream America that is available to every American that motivates and inspires us?  There are too many examples of literature that tears people down which in actuality rips apart our nation's fabric.  As a nation and as Americans, we should and we must promote and provide our students with multiple examples of literature that will stimulate and inspire their minds in such a way that will encourage them to become something bigger and better than literature that they read.  #itcanhappen

So here is what I suggest that every one of us do.
Let's not wait for this change to take place and take matters into our own hands. What if we used our schools as the new source for meaningful news in our community?  Our kids could work with our local newspapers to write inspiring stories about the excellent education that they are getting and the issues that are important to them.  Our webpages, blogs and social media could feature the writing of our students and staff members.  If we want our children to be focused on this utopian type of  character, we must take purposeful steps to make it happen.  #wecandothis

We have the smartest kids in the world, and unlike other countries in the world, we don't limit their opportunities or potential due to socioeconomic status, race, religion, or disability.  Every child has an equal opportunity, and our schools do more for kids than ever in the history in the world.  We owe it to our kids, their future children and our country to demand that we all save and protect the character of our youth, not by eliminating or censoring literature, but by something bigger and better, diverting our attention from this trivial gossip.  This change would push our collective character to expose ourselves and our moral fiber toward meaningful literature that will challenge us everyday to be better individuals, to create a better community and a belief in a better America.

7 Traits of a Transformational Leader

Leadership is not a job. It is not a position. Leadership is a passion. It is a calling.

Leaders are not appointed.  They are not selected. Leaders emerge. They rise up in times of adversity while others stay seated.

In rereading Marzano's 'School Leadership that Works' for the umpteenth time, I zoned in on his description of the transformational leader. This is where the leader's behavior is characterized into "four factors: individual consideration, intellectual stimulation, inspirational motivation and idealized influence". I attempted to synthesize this idea into 7 specific and tangible traits that every leader must possess if they want to move from being a transactional leader to a transformational leader.  Here is a description of the four factors as they are found in Marzano's work (Marzano, 2005, p14).

  1. "Individual consideration is characterized by giving 'personal attention to members who seem neglected' (Bass, 1990 p.218)"
  2. "Intellectual stimulation is characterized by enabling 'followers to think of old problems in new ways' (Bass, 1990 p.218)" 
  3. "Inspirational motivation is characterized by communicating 'high performance expectations' (Bass, 1990 p.218)"
  4. "Idealized influence is characterized by modeling behavior through exemplary personal achievements, character and behavior.(Bass, 1990 p.218)"

Loyalty - Leaders are loyal to the cause and to the people who are involved in the cause.  Their loyalty is manifested in helping everyone become better. Loyalty means putting others' interests before yours.  Loyalty is a character trait that is the foundation of Idealized Influence.

Learner - Leaders don't know everything, so they are constantly finding new ways to do things in a more effective and efficient manner from all kinds of people.  Leaders model Intellectual Stimulation to their staff by deepening their own intellectual capacity through constant inquiry and dialogue with all staff members, especially those staff members that are not seen as the teacher leaders of the campus.  By engaging them in conversation about practices, leaders challenge their own intellect as well as the intellect of the staff.

Enthusiasm - Leaders are enthusiastic about what they do, and they use their enthusiasm to motivate and inspire those that they come in contact with. They are enthusiastic about helping people. They are enthusiastic about making progress, and their enthusiasm spreads throughout the organization and its stakeholders. Enthusiasm can't be spread without a commitment to being visible. Enthusiasm, to me, is a required ingredient of Inspirational Motivation.

Accountability - Leaders believe in holding themselves accountable for the cause. Leaders encourage team members to hold the leader accountable, and when leaders are held accountable by the organization, they are able to hold others accountable for supporting the team in meeting campus expectations and goals.  Being accountable and holding others accountable is two-fold in transformational leadership.  Holding yourself accountable is Idealized Influence, and holding others accountable a key component of the 'high' expectations in Inspirational Motivation.

Discipline - Leaders are disciplined in their behaviors and in their organization. They structure their time and their days in such a way that they are able to support and serve others. In being disciplined, leaders do not let outside influences or distractions deter them from reaching their goals or staying focused.  This example of Idealized Influence is exactly what schools and organizations must see from the leader on a daily and consistent basis.

Empathy - Leaders are not always judgemental, contrary to popular belief. They are very interested in thinking about the individual person and the situation that they are going through before making a decision. Leaders think about why people make decisions that lead to mistakes. Leaders display Individual Consideration by helping others learn from their mistakes. The leader does this because he knows that empathy is the best way to overcome obstacles.  Additionally, Individual Consideration must be used with every staff member, especially those that are often overlooked.

Results-Oriented - All people want to see results; however, leaders know that all of their efforts put together maximize the results that they should expect to see. Leaders develop tight systems to monitor and evaluate all parts of the system to ensure that they are efficient and effective. Leaders use the data not to demonize those who fail to get results but to help them figure out how to improve and get closer to reaching the goal.  Most importantly, leaders can't get results without using a mixture of all 4 of the factors (Idealized Influence, Intellectual Stimulation, Inspirational Motivation and Individual Consideration).  These factors combined allow the leader to make decisions and changes that ultimately sustain and solidify the organization.

Bosses are a dime a dozen. They think about the results and have little consideration for building people or organizational capacity. As a result, they have to start all over again when a new and different result is needed.  Leaders, conversely, think about all of the other things that go into making the results happen. And in doing so, leaders get the best results, because they put all of their efforts into building people not programs.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Vertically Align your Interventions & Instruction Simultaneously

On our campus, we don't have faculty meetings.  I don't like them because what I need to announce, I can do through an email or a flipped video.  Instead we have Vertical Alignment Team (VAT)  meetings on the 2nd Monday of every month.  This is our time to come together and vertically align instruction, curriculum, assessments and anything else that needs alignment. 

Our focus this year is aligning interventions and collectively answering Question 3, "How Will We Respond If They Don't Learn It?".  This month we had a VAT where our teachers worked in teams to improve their interventions. Our teachers brought with them the high leverage skills that they were focused on for the first six weeks of school. Teachers from the same grade level worked in pairs to identify one high leverage skill taught during the six weeks, find the most common mistakes that students made in learning the skill, and prescribed possible interventions to eliminate the mistakes.  The purpose of this activity was to proactively address 80% of the reasons that kids fail to learn the given skill, so that they could have time in planning meetings to respond to the unexpected reasons that kids fail to learn the skill (the other 20%) after the instruction was delivered.

Meet with the Grade Level Below

Before the teacher pair could finish designing the intervention, the pair had to meet with the grade level below to ensure that the intervention prescribed was aligned with the way that the skill was taught in the previous grade. The two grade levels had discussions about methodologies of instruction as well as the learning styles of the students from the previous year to ensure that the intervention would be aligned with the method that the students learned the concept the year before. Prerequisite skills were also discussed to ensure that the foundation for learning and intervening was aligned.

The most important point for meeting with the grade level below is that intervention for the current grade level must be aligned with the instruction from the previous year.  Otherwise, your intervention will come out of left field and not from the instructional experiences that the student was exposed to in the prior year.

Meet with the Grade Level Above

After the teacher pair finished meeting with the grade level below, the pair then met with the grade level above to ensure that the interventions that they were prescribing would help the student be prepared for the next grade level. The interesting thing about this discussion with the grade level above is that the discussion was more about instruction than intervention. This great conversation helped make sure that what is taught in the current grade level will set the stage for the teachers in the next grade level. The importance of the conversation is that grade levels understand that what they are teaching must build schema in the way that students learned the prerequisite skills in the previous year.  Conversely, the current grade must be cognizant of the way that skills will be taught next year.  Failure for both grades to recognize instruction from both perspectives will result in more students failing to learn.

The most important point to consider from meeting with the grade level above is that dialogue must eliminate bad habits that students learn in the current year, so that the next grade doesn't have to lose value instruction and intervention time breaking those bad habits.  For you math teachers, I give you the best example possible, to cross multiply or not to cross multiply...

Considerations & Reminders

There are two important things to consider when having a VAT intervention meeting. First, we need to be clear in our understanding that Tier 1 interventions are for all students and that intervention begins where the student begins to have difficulty in learning a given concept. In addition, Tier 1 interventions should be tried frequently over a period of time to gauge whether or not the intervention is effective.

The second point to consider in a VAT intervention meeting is that we must ensure that our instruction is as effective as possible. We ensure that by having discussions about the methodologies and what quality instruction and student work look like and sound like from grade to grade. This discussion ensures that what we're doing in one grade directly leads the students to a solid foundation of how they will learn it in the next grade.

The most important reminder is that these meetings are not about the grade level below and what they didn't do to prepare kids.  The grade level below does the very best that they can to educate every child, and our discussions should always make both grade levels betterMutual respect, trust, and commitment to helping one another must always be the goal of a VAT meeting.

Put What We Learn to Work

The result of a VAT meeting should be answering question three for our weekly planning meetings, how to respond when students are not learning. This activity makes planning each week easier as teachers are able to draw upon the intervention plans that they created in VAT meetings. These plans must be in front of teams to guide the discussion weekly and make lesson planning more focused and efficient.

In addition, the result of a VAT intervention meeting should also create strong lines of communication from grade to grade so that when teachers or teams are having difficulty teaching a particular concept, they can have a conversation with the grade below to see how they taught the prerequisite skills.  Then, they can have a conversation with a grade above to ensure that the instruction that they plan to deliver will prepare all kids for the next grade.

Vertical alignment is usually put to the back burner for most schools.  Schools that excel make vertical alignment a priority and more important schedule it on the calendar regularly, so it does not get move to the back burner.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Are You Vulnerable as an Instructional Leader?

The other day I was having a great conversation with Bill Ferriter about flipping faculty meetings. In my discussion I was talking to him about some of my instructional goals for the campus this year and  how important it was that I have a culture where the staff could be vulnerable in their discussions about instruction.

Bill, a teacher himself, posed this question to me. "Well John, how vulnerable are you in your instruction?" He went on to say that it's real easy for the instructional leader to ask everyone to be vulnerable when he, himself, doesn't have to be vulnerable. This statement gave me pause as I started to reflect about how many times in my career I have asked teachers to do something that I, myself, didn't do at all.

As leaders, it's very important for us to set goals for the team. It is imperative to set a vision of where we want our organization to be. It's also vital to describe the behaviors and attitudes that we must all exhibit if we want to reach our vision and our goal.

So it all comes back to the title of this post, am I vulnerable as an instructional leader? I would say that I work hard to be an instructional leader because I have a good understanding of what curriculum should look like in instruction at all levels, what it should look like in an assessment and intervention,
and how the organization must work interdependently to link those things together.  I make plans to create the structure and culture to give teachers the autonomy and safety to discuss instructional practices and how we as a campus can improve; however, I think that I can do a better job as an instructional leader by putting myself in the place that I ask teachers to put themselves every single day.

An essential trait of an instructional leader is the ability to model instruction. Am I willing to put myself in front of the teachers teaching a lesson and ask for them to give me feedback on how to become a better teacher? Some ideas have emerged that I need to put myself in the teaching role, teach a lesson and have my teachers evaluate me on the things that I think are very important. One idea that I have started to implement is doing read alouds throughout the campus and asking the teachers to evaluate me using the district balanced literacy components on an effective read aloud.

When I sent an email asking my staff to help me become better at elementary instruction by doing read alouds, I received lots of positive feedback and requests for me to come to their classroom. Teachers were enthused and positive that I wanted to be a part of their instruction and that I was asking them for help.  This warm and welcoming reception made me feel more comfortable about being vulnerable in my own instruction.

I have two hopes in this activity that I'm about to begin. First I hope that the teachers will give me honest feedback on where I need to improve as a teacher, and second I hope that through their observations this will create a natural dialogue among teachers about what essential components should be in a read aloud to make them meaningful and focused on learning, as well as give the staff the confidence to be vulnerable with one another about instruction.  Ultimately, I want them to learn from one another, and as a bonus, I hope to get made fun of a little bit, so that I can be closer with my staff.

Are you vulnerable as an instructional leader?  If so, I would really enjoy your feedback and opinions about how you make yourself vulnerable as an instructional leader.