8 Reasons Why Principals Are Successful… Or Struggle

Around 25,000 principals separate from their school at the end of each year, leaving schools in constant states of turnover.  Around half of all school principals depart their school by the end of their third year, and only about one out of four high school principals make it through year five.  We are in a state of principal churn, and our schools and students are the ones who feel the negative effects.  The principal is attributed to about 25% of the school’s impact on student achievement and the most effective principals are worth months of learning to the average student at their school.  Leadership matters and we have lots of turnover in the position across the country.

This week we’re taking a look at what we can do to stop the principal churn.  Today, we introduces seven reasons why principals are successful in their principalship.  They are also the same seven reasons why principals struggle.

  1.  Preparation.  There are three performance dimensions to the principal’s job:  knowledge, skills, and dispositions.  When the leader is prepared in each of those three areas good things are going to happen.  When there is a hole in any or all of those areas, however, it often comes to light quickly.  The principals who are able to be successful in the job are better prepared for it; those who struggle get to the job without being ready for it either because of lacking skill sets (able to bring others together to work effectively), knowledge base (unfamiliar with special education laws, lack of familiarity with curriculum), or leadership dispositions (not able to relate to others, failure to build relationships).
  2. Communication.  Principals who are effective communicators are able to spread the vision and help others improve in their work.  They are good listeners first and are skillful in motivating teachers and staff to do their best.
  3. Leading.  Principals have to be able to have tough conversations.  They have to be willing to make decisions for the best of the school and the students even when they know that it won’t make everyone happy.  The most effective leaders are able to get others to join them in the journey to success. Struggling leaders try to to it all alone.
  4. Judgment.  Everyone is assessing you as a leader in three categories:  your judgment, your treatment of others, and your results.  Often if your results are good, your judgment will be considered good as well, but if your results are faltering your judgment will come into question.  How do you have good judgment?  Through experience.  You either gain that by making your own mistakes or by trusting others who have made them in their experience.  It’s good to listen.
  5. Confidence.  Just as students can smell fear in a new teacher or a substitute, the teachers can tell whether you are a confident leader or not.  Those who are doubting themselves give room for others to doubt them as well. Too much confidence is a problem as well, but not enough is worse.  People don’t want to follow those who aren’t strong enough to lead.
  6. Time Management.  Time management is hard on everyone.  The truth is, this job is going to take more of it than you have.  So, it’s not about that, but rather about knowing what has to be done and then getting to what should be done.  The most effective principals utilize staff and are experts in delegating.  Those who tend to micromanage and are controllers have difficulty in leadership positions.
  7. Balance.  Connected with time management is balance.  Principals who work too much and are preoccupied with their jobs think they’re doing what they’re supposed to do, but either burn out, crash, or lose their effectiveness.  The most effective principals have a hobby, spend time with family and friends regularly, and are able to give their brains the space and time needed to process all of the work they do the rest of the time.
  8. Support Network.  For new principals, the winning formula is:  1:1 leadership coaching on a regular basis; regular and consistent participation in a cohort of peers; real-time feedback from the supervisor of principals throughout the year; and finally, a supportive environment from the system level.

Thanks for reading!  This is a lot and we’ll break them down one at at time over the next few posts.  ~MW

Here’s a link to the School Leaders Network 2014 Report:  https://connectleadsucceed.org/churn_the_high_cost_of_principal_turnover


#Leadership365  /31

Setting Principals Up For Success: What Works?

Being a principal is a challenging job requiring deep knowledge in a number of areas, expert skills in everything from communication to talent evaluation, and a never-bending attitude of hope and high expectations to drive it all.  Piece of cake.

The most effective school systems are intentional in their preparation, their pipeline to leadership, and their ongoing support of their principals.  Some systems, however, either aren’t able to provide the resources to do so, or haven’t made it a priority yet.

gaelThis afternoon (Monday, January 30, 2017) I’ll be leading a session at the GAEL (Georgia Association of Educational Leaders) Winter Conference on the topic.  What I hope to lend to the conversation and to the thinking of those in attendance (and also share with readers of this column) is a combination of research and practice.  This is my thirtieth year in education, fifteen of which were as a school-level administrator and now in my fifth year in support of school leaders as coach, consultant, speaker and encourager.

Through those experiences, I’ve been able to see what sets up principals for success… and what sets them up for failure.

Let’s start with some numbers.  We all know that nearly half of all teachers leave the profession during their first five years of service.  Clearly that has an adverse effect on what we are able to accomplish in schools.  Consider this though… we lose about the same percentage of principals (~50%) in nearly half the time!  According to the 2014 School Leaders Network on Principal Turnover, only half of principals remain at their school beyond their third year.  The turnover is more frequent at middle school than at elementary school, and even more so in high schools.  As a matter of fact, in Texas, only one out of every four high school principals are expected to be around at graduation to shake hands with their first class of freshmen.

This sort of turnover is in great part why we can’t gain the momentum that we need for schools to be successful in a  sustainable fashion.  It typically takes five years to fully develop an actionable vision at a school, one that can be sustained after the leadership has moved on.  Compare that with the low retention rate (25,000 principals will depart their school at the end of this school year nationally) and it explains much of our dilemma.  In more schools than not, we aren’t seeing principals remain long enough to make it work, and not even close to staying long enough to make it stick.

At Morgan County High School in Madison, GA, we were a nationally-recognized, high-performing school… with only two principals in a generation.  My predecessor, Andy Ainslie, served as the principal for 9 1/2 years; I followed him with 9 years of service as well.  That sort of stability provides the opportunity for real growth.

So, what works to get principals set up for success? In short, it’s this:  recruitment to leadership, a pipeline of preparation, and ongoing support.  More about this the rest of this week right here at Principal Matters!  

Stop Thinking About School All The Time



Dear School Leader,

I was like you before.  For fifteen years as a principal and assistant principal, I was just like you. I was committed to doing a good job and was going to make sure that if things weren’t great, it wasn’t because I didn’t give it my all.  I was willing to be up early and go to bed late as need be.

As technology evolved, just as you have done, I became more and more able to keep up with everything, all the time, from anywhere. (note; I love technology so please don’t think I’m headed on an anti-technology rant) That allowed me to physically be away from school and still be in touch with anyone who needed me to solve their problems, answer their questions, or dispense permission, wisdom, or knowledge.  I thought that would be great; I could be connected all of the time and still be with my family, friends, or away from school.

Here’s what I didn’t know, or if I did I failed to recognize or understand:  just because you are physically away from school doesn’t mean that you are mentally and emotionally away.

When you are preoccupied with the school that you are leading (or any job you are doing for that matter) you aren’t leaving space for anything else.  We know from cognitive and neuroscience research that you need time and space so your brain can process.  If you are preoccupied, you aren’t providing that time and space.  No matter how rockin’ you think you are (and may actually be!), it will eventually catch up with you.  If you practice moderation, you can manage it on your own.  If you don’t, someone else will have to do it for you.

If you’re a school leader, I know you’d rather just have it straight, so that’s about as straight as it comes.  Check yourself before your wreck yourself.

img_3718In short, you can’t think about school all the time.  It’s not just for your health (that should be enough) but it’s also about your performance.  The quickest way to get blind spots is to lose your perspective.  You do so when you go in too deep.  Yes, you need to do a good job and this is going to take a LOT of your time; if it takes all of your energy, thoughts, and time it’ll catch up to you at some point.  Your performance will falter, your perspective will dim, and if severe enough, it’ll affect your health.

It’s not too late to fix it though!  You need a hobby; you need time away; you need to put your phone/tablet/computer down for blocks of time.  Practice the 7-1-1 that I preach to folks like you (7 hours of sleep a night, 1 day each week go home when normal people do, maybe 4-4:30, and 1 weekend day when you shut. it. down.

Take care of yourself.  We need you.  Your school needs you.  Your family and friends need you.   Give your mind the rest it needs to be the leader and person you were meant to be.


A Friend.

#Leadership365  /29


Professional Reading Saturday: Closing The Attitude Gap


Closing the Attitude Gap

By Baruti Kafele

Principal Kafele is sharing resources with you on a regular basis to help you in your work as a school leader.  You’ll find a link to many of them at the conclusion of this post, but among the best resources he’s produced is his 2013 work Closing The Attitude Gap.  

In it, Kafele poses this question: what if the achievement gap isn’t the only gap we’re dealing with?  What if there is another gap that is even more defining?

It’s in exploring that question that Kafele discusses the real reason for many of our students lack of achievement– an attitude gap.  To close the attitude gap, Principal Kafele says that educators can achieve remarkable results by focusing on five areas:

  • The teacher’s attitude toward students
  • The teacher’s relationship with students
  • The teacher’s compassion for students
  • The learning environment
  • The cultural relevance of instruction

Closing The Attitude Gap is a practical journey through those five areas focusing on what you and the educators at your school can do make a difference in the attitude that your students have about themselves, each other, and in school as a whole.

You’ll enjoy the book and you’ll also grow by learning from Principal Kafele who shares resources across many media platforms.  You can find him at the following:




Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/principalkafele   (where he frequently broadcasts on Facebook Live)

You Tube Channel:  https://www.youtube.com/user/bkafele



#Leadership365 /28

Good Dog Deeds: Focus on Positive

As the leader of the school, what do you do on a regular basis to bring everyone’s attention to the positive things that are going on at your school every day?

Here’s a simple, yet impactful idea for your consideration.

At Morgan County High School, we are proud to be the Bulldogs!  While I was principal there for nine years, one of our goals was to highlight the good, so we began to highlight those who did the right thing each Friday on our school’s televised announcements.

img_4639Each Friday, we announced the weekly winner of the “Good Dog Deed” Award.  There was a simple process to nominate someone– we had a brief form asking who you were, who you were nominating and why.  The criteria was equally simple– we wanted to recognize those who had exemplified what it means to be a “good dog.”  Someone who had done you a kindness with no expectation of anything in return; someone who had gone above and beyond expectations; someone who had on a regular basis demonstrated respect and kindness to others on a regular basis.

At the end of the announcements each week, we dramatically announced the week’s winner, sharing with the school who had nominated them, why they had done so, and then reminding them that each winner would receive an exclusive “Good Dog Deed” key chain as well as five coupons for five wings or tenders each from Zaxby’s chicken.  (A very big thing in the high school world!)

Additionally, the recipients were photographed that morning and added to the “Wall of Fame,” the big board of people who had done great things that was located at the front door of the school.  To get on the Wall of Fame, you had to make All-State Chorus, of All-Region Basketball, have your artwork recognized in a juried show, or, be the good dog deed winner.

When you give official recognition that as a school you value how students treat others as much as you value other accomplishments, you have gone a long way towards setting a high standard of personal behavior.

Here’s something that was interesting about the GDD Program, which we did for years every Friday:  many of the recipients were also people who made nominations.  When you are doing good, you are more likely to see good; when you are more likely to see good, you are more likely to do good as well.

There was a lot of fun in doing this over the years.  For example,  I’d see some of my students in the parking lot at the grocery store, and they would shout over, “Hey, Doc!  I’m pushing this cart back to the store for them!  That’s a good dog deed, right?”  I developed a standard comeback for that one… “Yes, but remember we expect all of our students to be good dogs!”

When you’re the leader, what you emphasize gets noticed.  What are you emphasizing at your school?

#Leadership365 /27

Thanks to Dennis Sitzman, our incredible athletic trainer at MCHS, who coined the actual name, “Good Dog Deed.”  Thanks to @hjathens for sponsoring the keychains, and to @zaxbys for several years worth of Friday coupons!  Thanks most of all to the students and teachers of MCHS for being good dogs.

Impact School Culture With Positive Post-Its

caitlin-haackeWhen high school student Caitlin Prater-Haacke was bullied, she rose up, took it positive, and created a movement that you and your school can join today.

Caitlin was horrified to find that her school locker was broken into and someone used her iPad to make terrible posts to her Facebook page, including one that said she wished to die.

She took the words that had been so cruelly used to attack her and turned them around into something good.  She made post-it notes of encouragement and support and covered the lockers at her school. Caitlin started at her school, sharing encouragement (“You’re Awesome!”, “You’re a Great Friend!”, “Have a Beautiful Day!”) and then created a Facebook page to support the idea.  From the first “Positive Post-It Day” in 2014, the idea has spread, and, well, it seems to have stuck!

Schools across Caitlin’s home of Canada and around the US (and literally around the world) are creating their own days for students to post-it positive.  Some do it on an ongoing basis.  Others have annual events.  The opportunity is there for you as well!  Here’s an short instructional video for to guide the students at CSMS on their positive post-it wall day.

You can find out more about positive post-it activities at most any of the social media outlets (Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter) you can do a google search to see more, or you can “peel off” any of the links below to see more.





Leadership365  /26

Vision and Culture Always Work Better Than Carrots and Sticks

They have hired you to be the instructional leader.  You are expected to operate the school effectively and efficiently as well.  Relationships?  You need to lead the way with community, parents, central office, students, their parents, teachers and staff.

The principal, in concert with the assistant principal(s), has more to do than can be done.

That’s why you can make your school more effective by choosing the right priorities in which to spend your time.  You should be investing your time in actions that are high-leverage opportunities.  That’s why you should be spending your time on vision and culture.

mso8aa73a95b0cIf you get caught in the trap of just “running” the school, it won’t be long before the school runs you.  Instead, be the champion for the school’s vision and the guardian of the school’s culture.

What does that mean? Just like the most effective classrooms develop a social contract, so do the most effective schools.  Our contract may take the form of a mission, vision, and beliefs document.  If made priorities at the school, mission, vision and beliefs can become powerful enough to drive the thoughts and actions of the people who are a part of the school’s community.

How do you get to “there?”  It’s a process, but as is the case with all processes, you have to take the first step to begin your journey to success.  The first step is to establish that mission, vision, and beliefs are a priority.  How do you do that?  Like all things, we identify our priorities in the places we choose to invest our time and other resources.

If you only spend time on MVB (Mission, Vision, Beliefs) when AdvancedEd is coming for accreditation visits, you can be certain that your MVB aren’t really driving your school.

The more that the people in your school community talk about the purpose of their work, the more likely it is that they’ll engage deeply into it.  We spend a lot of time attempting to modify behavior– both student and teacher behavior– through a sticks and carrots approach.  Punishment for negative behaviors; rewards for good behaviors.  There is some place for that at schools, but if it isn’t a part of process to blend into a more purposeful approach to motivation, then it will only go so far.

That’s the point where many schools and school leaders arrive:  the old carrots and sticks don’t work anymore so they are traded for a new set of sticks and a fresh set of carrots.

Get off of that carousel.  Prioritize purpose work.  Build a vision with the people in your school community.  They will be proud when you are the champion of their vision and not just the promoter of your own.  And then?  Vision becomes culture, culture becomes the daily expectation and you, as the guardian of the culture can lead the school on that journey towards success.

Leadership365 /25

How Students Treat Each Other

When we think about building a community of care and support for all students, we begin with what adults should do.  That’s the correct place to begin and it’s a showstopper if we don’t get it right.

There is, however, more work to be done in order to have a classroom where everyone feels cared for, respected, valued and supported.  Every student’s experience in school is painted in some part by her/his experience with other students.  How do we create a culture in which those experiences are positive?

capturing-kids-heartsFlip Flippen has developed a school-based approach to relationship building called Capturing Kid’s Hearts.  Before his current work, he served sixteen years as a psychotherapist, working frequently with gang kids.  He and his wife opened a residential center for at-risk youth in College Station, TX, and today he is a best-selling author with a consulting firm that supports business, government, sports teams, and schools.

The foundational piece of his current work is his theory of overcoming personal constraints to accelerate personal effectiveness.  The school model of this theory is manifested in a portion of the Capturing Kid’s Hearts process, developing a social contract.

Here’s the short version:  in any classroom, rules and regulations can only do so much.  They require the greatest effort on the part of the teacher to react to negative behaviors or acknowledge (and sometimes reward) positive behaviors.  A social contract, on the other hand, is an agreement, developed by all of the members of the class, about how everyone will be treated.  Upon forming the contract, everyone has a responsibility and a hand in living up to the contract.  It’s power is in its simplicity, and if done according to design and with consistency over time, it works.

Obviously, kindness and respect among students in the classroom requires a multi-tiered and ongoing approach.  It’s not suggested that one thing alone can make all the difference, but one thing can begin the process that can lead to a kinder, more respectful classroom. When we are on that trajectory, the positive impact begins to build and it becomes easier to be kind and respectful and it literally transforms the learning experience.

For more information about Capturing Kid’s Hearts, please click here: http://flippengroup.com/education-solutions/

If you’d like to see a teacher’s introduction to the social contract, here’s one from an eighth-grade teacher is Lampassas, TX.



Supporting Teachers In Building Classroom Culture

As a member of the administrative team, one of your primary functions is to support your teachers, and supporting those teachers who earnestly seek to build a classroom culture of care and support is a great way to make your school a better place.

The best of teachers are willing to take risks to turn their classroom into a place where all students feel safe and can best learn. Risk-taking means that you’re breaking ranks and rising above just what is expected.  So how can the school leader encourage teachers to build the best classroom cultures?  Here are five ways you can help:

  1. Define what “Caring and Supportive Culture”means at your school.  Often, people don’t meet the expectations of the leader because they don’t understand what the expectations are.  We employ many words, acronyms, and ideas in our schools with a false notion that everyone has the same understanding we do.  Not just about classroom culture, but about most anything, if something is really important to your school, you will need to take enough time to reach a common understanding.
  2. It’s not just what you say, but how you say it; it’s ALSO how often you say it.  If you want something to happen at your school, as the leader you can’t just announce it once, expect everyone will get it, and move on to something else.  That’s not how change works.  It’s rarely our ideas that are the issue in school leadership, but it’s often the implementation of those ideas that stalls our progress.  If you want a caring and supportive culture in your school, define it, then talk about it often.
  3. Support your people through their implementation struggles. Often, the difference between failure and success is one more try.  When your teachers work to provide student-centered classrooms of challenging instruction for everyone, it’s not going to happen overnight.  You can’t shortcut their struggles, because it’s through struggle we learn how to succeed.  Rather, they need you to support them while the struggle is going on.  Set aside your role as problem-solver and take on the mantle of support. That’s what your teachers need as they learn and grow.
  4. Celebrate Progress .  Your teachers not only need you to celebrate with them at the finish line, they need you to validate their work along the way.  We can make our schools better places with “formative celebrations.”  Many of our teachers either don’t finish the drill or change their course along the way because they haven’t gotten any feedback and are fishing for the right answer.  
  5. Share Success.  When teachers in your school build a culture of caring and support in their classroom, share their story and their success.  Recognize their work, with specifics.  Share testimonials from students in the classroom about their experience.  Show data that demonstrates the progress made.  Take time to talk about success and the pathway to get there, most likely lined with struggle.  It will help those who haven’t taken the journey to see how to get there and encourage those who have.


The focus of work in our Principal and Assistant Principal Academies during January 2017 has been on standard five of the Professional Standards for Educational Leaders, listed below. Today’s Leadership365 is dedicated to the topic to support that learning. 


You can see the Professional Standards for Educational Leaders in entirety here:  (http://www.ccsso.org/Documents/2015/ProfessionalStandardsforEducationalLeaders2015forNPBEAFINAL.pdf)

You Really Aren’t Multitasking and If You Were It Would Slow You Down

Welcome back to slow-down Sunday, where Principal-Matters! encourages school leaders everywhere to be their most effective and efficient by using research-based, time-proven strategies to slow it down.  Here’s this week’s installment!


If you’re a principal or assistant principal, you’ve heard this one before.  Maybe you’ve even said it.  It’s part of the false archetype of the superhero school leader.  You actually are human, you need rest, recovery, and renewal and you’re not a machine.

Machines are where the term originated.  In 1965, an IBM report referred to capacities of IBM/System360 and used the term “multitask” to refer to the computers capacity to do multiple operations at once.  It would appear that this is the first reference to the term, and it didn’t take long for it to be used to describe humans.

Humans, according to thorough, long-term, exhaustive research, are not as disposed to success in doing more than one thing at a time as the IBM/System360 or the fifty-years of advanced computing to follow that model.  What study after study has continually found to be the truth is this:  computers are built to multitask; humans haven’t made any advancement during the same fifty year period.

Neuroscience research shows that our brains just don’t do tasks simultaneously.  When we switch from one thing to another, our brains actually go through a start/stop process that slows the progress we were making. The time lost can be seconds or even microseconds, but over a larger period time its cumulative effect for the busy school leader is lost time.  Additionally, the potential for making mistakes grows when attention is diverted from one task to another.  When one seeks to complete a number of tasks at once, the likelihood of errors grows, as does the loss of time.

Those disciples of multitasking who would argue differently might consider taking this test, found in Psychology Today and shared by Dr. Nancy Napier.  What follows is an excerpt from the article, including the multitasking test.

  1. Draw two horizontal lines on a piece of paper
  2. Now, have someone time you as you carry out the two tasks that follow:
  • On the first line, write: 
    • I am a great multitasker
  • On the second line: write out the numbers 1-20 sequentially, like those below:
    • 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

How much time did it take to do the two tasks? Usually it’s about 20 seconds.

Now, let’s multitask. 

Draw two more horizontal lines. This time, and again have someone time you, write a letter on one line, and then a number on the line below, then the next letter in the sentence on the upper line, and then the next number in the sequence, changing from line to line. In other words, you write the letter “I” and then the number “1” and then the letter “a” and then the number “2” and so on, until you complete both lines.

I a…..

1 2…..

I’ll bet you your time is double or more what it was on the first round. You also may have made some errors and you were probably frustrated since you had to “rethink” what the next letter would be and then the next number.  Multi tasking is switchtasking and it takes time.

That’s switch-tasking on something very simple, but that’s exactly what happens when we attempt to do many things (often more complex) at the same time. 


So next time you think you’re multi-tasking, stop and be aware that you are really switch-tasking.  Then give yourself a time limit (10 minutes, 45 minutes?) and focus on just one task and see if you can’t complete it better, faster, and with less energy.

So, while today is Slow Down Sunday, you can accomplish more all week long and complete tasks more effectively is you slow down a bit each day and focus on the task at hand.  If another task is really more important, do it first and then come back.


The Myth of Multitasking                              https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/creativity-without-borders/201405/the-myth-multitasking      (The source of the excerpt above)

Twelve Reasons Multitasking Doesn’t Work http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20707868,00.html

Multitasking Is Killing Your Brain                                                               http://www.inc.com/larry-kim/why-multi-tasking-is-killing-your-brain.html

The Autumn of the Multitaskers    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2007/11/the-autumn-of-the-multitaskers/306342/

Think You’re Multitasking?  Think Again     http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=95256794

Professional Reading Saturday: The Gift of Failure


The Gift of Failure  By Jessica Lahey

Several years ago when I was the principal at Morgan County High School in Madison, GA, we invigorated our school’s culture each year by developing a theme for each school year and using that concept to further our work in classrooms and throughout the school.

We didn’t begin that process by asking ,” what should our theme be this year?”  I know that can be the pathway that some take, but we tried to let our context drive our theme instead of the other way around.  So, we asked ourselves “what is a current need that would benefit from a year-long emphasis?”  There were always several ideas, but in this particular one we wanted to focus on the value of struggle.  We had made great progress in accelerating the vigor of our curriculum, beginning and IB Programme and adding several Advanced Placement classes, of which about half of our students were enrolled.  We had gotten them to the table, but we needed to give them some stamina to continue the work towards excellence.  Our concern was this:  we are selling hard work and patience to young people who are hearing cries of “take the easy way” from many other influencers.

To focus on that concern, we developed the theme “Struggle to Triumph.”  We started it off with our opening day convocation and talked about the value of struggle on the pathway to triumph each and every day throughout the year.  It was a daily feature on our televised announcements and a conversation in classes and around the campus throughout the year.  We had our best academic year to that point and our emphasis on the value of struggle was center to the effort.

jessica-laheyIf Jessica Lahey had written The Gift of Failure at that time, we would have really appreciated it!  We’d have used it in professional development with our teachers and administrators.  We’d have connected our parents to the book and to the online community around the book. (found at jessicalahey.com )  While the book is directed towards parents, we’d have used it is a basis of study with our students too.

The Gift of Failure is a piece that can support your work  as a school administrator and is worthy of your consideration to add to your staff’s professional reading.  Lahey is one of us… a middle school teacher who has faced the challenge of helping students learn in a world in which we’ve created a fear of failure.  She shares ways that schools and parents can help our students to learn to use failure as a step towards success.  That they can come brave learners who can grow to be the independent, autonomous people we are hoping they will become.

Read more about The Gift of Failure  here:  jessicalahey.com

Check out a quick video about the book with Jessica here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KIl9wQoDxQs


#Leadership365  /21




Making School Work For All Students

Scott Cowart is the Superintendent of Schools in Carroll County, Georgia and is an amazing leader with great creativity in helping leaders see all of the pieces around them.  A few years ago, he was talking about the need to reach and support ALL of the students in the system.  To illustrate his point, he displayed pictures of students on a screen while meeting with all of his system’s leaders.  He talked about the graduation rate for the county and reported the current percentage.  Then, on the screen, one-by-one pictures began to dissolve until the set of portraits on the screen matched the graduation numbers.

As the presentation unfolded and smiling pictures of students evaporated and were replaced with blank spaces, there was some audible sounds from the principals, assistant principals and other system leaders in the room.  You see, it wasn’t just any pictures Mr. Cowart had displayed: he had used photos of the children and grandchildren of people in the room.  As they watched the scenario, it brought home the point so clearly… all is a hard thing to talk about until your child or someone you love dearly is one of those who don’t make it through.

img_3518When I talk about the state of American education to groups or at conferences, I remind those in attendance that we are attempting to do something that no one else is doing in the world today and no one has done before in history.  No nation as diverse as ours has attempted to educate “all” neither now nor ever.

The groundbreaking educator Horace Mann (1796-1859) said that “the public school is the greatest discovery made by man.”  He said that education is best provided in schools “embracing children of all religious, social, and ethnic backgrounds.”

Reflecting on the concept of all students can give pause to teachers and administrators.  It’s easy to hear that word and think that goal is too lofty.  Critics and enemies of public education can use it in attempts to discredit our work, saying that we have fallen short of the mark.

But the concept of all children is one that should not be viewed with fear or anxiety by educators.  It IS our high ground that no one can reach without joining our effort.  It’s our connection to the best ideals of our past and the greatest promises of our future.  All means all and we should proudly continue our work, moving forward each day in the knowledge that our work will move the cause forward, even a step or two, to the promise that American education holds, which is not coincidentally the promise of America.

All is hard.  Students come to us with a great variance in abilities, interests, depth of interest in school, support systems, and emotions.  As President Theodore Roosevelt said, “the greatest prize that life has to offer is to work hard at work worth doing.”

Education… teaching… is hard.  Doing it for all is even harder.  But it is the great prize that comes to everyone who is honored to be called principal, assistant principal, school counselor, media specialist, teacher.  It is work worth doing, and work that needs you to do it.

#Leadership365                    20/365

_________________________________________________________________The focus of work in our Principal and Assistant Principal Academies during January 2017 has been on standard five of the Professional Standards for Educational Leaders, listed below. Today’s Leadership365 is dedicated to the topic to support that learning. standard-5

You can see the Professional Standards for Educational Leaders in entirety here:  (http://www.ccsso.org/Documents/2015/ProfessionalStandardsforEducationalLeaders2015forNPBEAFINAL.pdf)


Are Your Classrooms Healthy Places for Learning?

Every principal is expected to be an instructional leader.  Don’t forget, however, that still means that you are the operations leader and the relationship leader.  We didn’t take away anything that principals did in the past, we just added another big piece.

Now that you have digested that spoonful of truth, let’s look at how your roles blend together in your work to create conditions of success for all of your people.

When I visit schools across the nation in the work that I’m engaged in now, I spend lots of time in classrooms talking to students about what they’re learning, seeing how students interact with each other, seeing the level that teachers facilitate learning.

On the way to those awesome classroom settings, I do take great notice to the surroundings.  What is the physical environment of the school?  How much pride is shown both outside the building as well as in?

You may consider such things as window-dressing, or low-level indicators from which we have evolved in our work in school.  I’d agree that if that were the only things on your mind as the principal, you may be stuck in the eighties, but if you are neglecting the environment of your school, you may be building a great structure of instruction on a shifting foundation.

Your school needs to be clean, inviting, and create a sense that something awesome is happening here.  Those pieces keep your building in a sanitary and clean fashion that is much more important than we sometimes think.

We know that people respond to the stimuli around them.  If we are teaching in a mess, our students are going to respond in kind.

Healthy classrooms begin with the essentials, but extend much further.  They are places where students’ needs are at the forefront.  They include nutritional needs, wraparound services for health needs, and social and emotional needs.  This sounds like so much, but when do in a concerted effort led by effective school leaders, it builds on itself and leads to success.

For more about healthy schools, check out this link:  https://healthyschoolscampaign.org


#Leadership365                    19/365


The focus of work in our Principal and Assistant Principal Academies during January 2017 has been on standard five of the Professional Standards for Educational Leaders, listed below. Today’s Leadership365 is dedicated to the topic to support that learning. 

You can see the Professional Standards for Educational Leaders in entirety here:  (http://www.ccsso.org/Documents/2015/ProfessionalStandardsforEducationalLeaders2015forNPBEAFINAL.pdf)


When They Know That You Care

When you get down to the elemental level with teachers, students, parents and administrators about what really works in schools, it almost always gets to this:  students work more and more effectively if they believe the teacher cares about them.

Anybody can care.  It doesn’t take the teacher with the most training, the one with the most years of experience, or the one who knows her content the best to care.  That’s the most amazing part about this– the most important thing for student learning is available in a renewable way and accessible for anyone, anywhere!

If that’s true, that we know what works and anyone can do it, why doesn’t everyone do it?

First, caring is hard.  Caring makes you vulnerable and we don’t care much for that.  Caring is going to cost you money and tears at some time, so you have to know up front that they’re coming, no matter how hard you may try.  On some teams, and even in some faculties, if you want to be caring you may be on a limb alone.  While it’s a tough thing to do in a group, it’s really hard to do alone.

Caring takes a lot of work.  It’s not just being nice.  You know people who are or seem nice whose students aren’t sure that they care about them.  That is a big part as well, and another reason that it takes work:  it’s not just enough to care.  It only has its greatest potential when the students know that you care.  Caring requires sacrifice.  It means that you are doing a lot of work behind the scenes and on your own time to be ready for the students when you’re with them.  It means that you care enough about your students that you will be a consistent part of their lives, and consistency is tough on a daily basis! (Pun intended)

Finally, caring is easily misunderstood.  Caring for students doesn’t mean that you make things easier for them.  It’s more often the opposite.  One of the biggest ways we show students that we care is that we care enough to not let them off with low expectations.  For some of our students, they don’t have anyone else who will keep believing in them when things get tough.  When you become that person who believes when no one else does, who pushes when everyone else has given up, and who gives a boost when no one else is around to do it, you have demonstrated what caring looks like.

In my experience I’ve found that students will do what seems to be impossible if they think someone cares.  This is why we all got into teaching to begin with, to make a difference.  Don’t be afraid to make a difference.

#Leadership365                    18/365


The focus of work in our Principal and Assistant Principal Academies during January 2017 has been on standard five of the Professional Standards for Educational Leaders, listed below. Today’s Leadership365 is dedicated to the topic to support that learning. 

You can see the Professional Standards for Educational Leaders in entirety here:  (http://www.ccsso.org/Documents/2015/ProfessionalStandardsforEducationalLeaders2015forNPBEAFINAL.pdf)


Students Can’t Learn If They Don’t Feel Safe

Think about a time you were somewhere and didn’t feel safe.  What was on your mind?  Did your feelings of uneasiness go away easily?  Were you quick to let your guard down and be vulnerable?

All right now imagine that at that very moment someone tried to get you to complete a task, learn a new thing, or test your memory or skills.  How well do you think you would do in those endeavors?

Dr. Antonio R. Damasio is the chair of the University of Iowa’s Neurology department and in partnership with his wife Hanna have been studying the role that emotions play in our decision-making process and in our self-image. Damasio differentiates between emotions and feelings, clarifying that in neuroscience emotions are “the complex reactions has to certain stimuli” while feelings happen when our brain is aware of the physical changes come about by emotions.

When we attempt to teach school in an environment in which we presume all of our students have their emotions and feelings in a good place for learning, we are naive to their reaction to the stimuli they are facing, both immediately in the classroom and in other parts of their lives.  When we say we want to “focus on instruction,” we would be well-served to first focus on the environment for instruction.  

This environment is critical for the well-being as well as learning potential for students.  The physical reactions when we feel unsafe lead to a cognitive processing that can imprint and be longer lasting.

Safety in the classroom isn’t only about the absence of a perceived or immediate physical threat.  It’s also about the way that people inside the classroom relate to each other– the teacher with the students, students with each other, adults with each other.  If a student can be confident that they will be valued and respected unconditionally, then they can feel safe enough to learn.  Learning requires a bit of vulnerability; vulnerability requires confidence in the surroundings.  Getting to there requires an intentional effort on the teacher’s part, and at a school level on the principal’s part.


Read more about Dr. Damasio here:  https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/feeling-our-emotions/

#Leadership365                    17/365


The focus of work in our Principal and Assistant Principal Academies during January 2017 has been on standard five of the Professional Standards for Educational Leaders, listed below. Today’s Leadership365 is dedicated to the topic to support that learning. standard-5

You can see the Professional Standards for Educational Leaders in entirety here:  (http://www.ccsso.org/Documents/2015/ProfessionalStandardsforEducationalLeaders2015forNPBEAFINAL.pdf)


Lessons for School Leaders from Dr. King

As we take time across the nation to commemorate the birth, life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., there are many lessons school leaders can learn from his work.  Here are three quotations that resonate as much today as they did when Dr. King said them for the first time.

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically.  Intelligence plus character; that is the goal of true education.”

Our work as school leaders can’t end with meeting regulations and mandates.  We should have as a broader goal the idea that our efforts should lead to young people learning to learn in a critical manner.  Dr. King didn’t live to see the technological world in which our students live today.  His idea that education is about intense and critical thinking is especially important today.  There is no shortage of information today.  Not all of it is pure, and some of it is just untrue.  Where there is a deficit is in discernment.  Our young people need to learn to be critical consumers of information and deeply focused on analysis, synthesis, and understanding.  As school leaders, we should continually work to shape our schools towards critical thinking.

“The time is always right to do the right thing.”

As school leaders, one of your most important roles is to make decisions.  If you’ve been doing this long, you know that some of them are more difficult than others. In matters of decision, you’ll be affected by the context of the event, the particulars of the situation, but in the end you should be driven by your compass, pointing towards north, towards what’s right. You can lead your organization to make decisions the same way too.  If you make it known and make it clear that your school will do things with integrity no matter what, you will send a clear message that the time is always right to do the right thing.  Who can argue against that?

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” 

People in general are averse to great risks, particularly the older they become. Many people who get into teaching are even more likely to avoid risks; they fear failure more than they dream achievement.  Those attitudes often keep our students away from the life-changing experiences that schools could present.  As the leader, if you establish that your organization will be a place where you try new things, where you aren’t always seeking first to avoid failure, you will find great achievement.  The first step for those experiences to happen at a school is for the leader to say that they’re okay to happen, and that, is a step of faith.


#Leadership365  /16


Your Brain Needs Downtime. Less Is Really More

In an article in Scientific American (see link below), Ferris Jabr reported on research on rest that you should reflect on as a school leader.

The research shows that working your brain at full-blast all day and all night is counterproductive and leads to a lower level of performance than individuals who more appropriately weave their work into how their brain actually works.

We have been cultured, particularly in school leadership, to believe that we have to be doing work or thinking about work all the time. That preoccupation with our work, not just in school leadership, but in other vocations in our nation, leads to the notion that you are either working/thinking about work all the time or you are a slacker.

What is actually the truth, long considered to be so by many practical people and now empirically proven, is that many important brain processes require sleep, downtime, and meditation to occur. Our brains are processing the world in which we’ve interacted when we’re at rest; when we don’t permit that rest to occur, much of the processing fails to connect.  It’s not just a quantity either (forgetting things, not being mindful to important things) that slips when we miss out on rest.  It’s also quality.

K. Anders Ericsson of Florida State University, a researcher for over thirty years in high performance has found that people can engage in deliberate practice of their work for only an hour without the need for rest.  Further, the most extremely talented people across many fields (athletics, music, writing) rarely practice more than four hours in a day, and accomplish their greatest work in the mornings.  In the absence of the equilibrium of nighttime sleep and daytime rest and meditation, performance wanes and if it goes unchecked long enough leads to burnout.

My career in education is over thirty years of which over twenty have been as an administrator or in support of administrators, and I can say that the research on the critical function of rest is one that you should give great consideration.  We have created an archetype for the Wonder Woman/Superman school principal that is just not sustainable nor based on research.   You will be do better as a leader if you seek balance, prioritize rest, and embrace the processing that your brain needs as a function of both.

To read the article from Scientific American, please follow this link:


#Leadership365   /15

Professional Reading Saturday! Do You Know Enough About Me to Teach Me?

What’s special about Saturdays here at Principal-Matters?  Professional Reading Saturday!  This week’s suggestion connects with our focus in January on developing a Community of Care and Support For Students.

Professional Reading Saturday:

Do You Know Enough About Me to Teach Me?
By Dr. Stephen Peters

stephen-peters-bookThis is the perfect book to fit in with this month’s emphasis on developing a community of care and support for students.  Dr. Stephen Peters has been taking on this question for years in his presentations and his work with schools.  His book goes directly to the source to discuss the need for personalization and relationships in schools; it features interviews with over 100 students and reveals what good educators already know… they don’t care what you know until they know that you care.

People who have read Peters’ book are reminded of the reason they got into teaching… to make a difference.  Hearing the stories of students in their own words is a powerful tool to remind all educators to invest time in developing quality relationships with our students.

Dr. Peters is currently the superintendent of Laurens District 55 Schools in South Carolina and can be found online here:  http://stephenpetersgroup.com  and is a part of the Twitterverse here:  @stephengpeters  He and his wife Angela are the founders of the Gentlemen’s Club and Ladies Club, a nationally-recognized model to help young people transition into adulthood with the skills and dispositions that lead to success.  More on those super-successful programs in another edition of Principal Matters! 

#Leadership365                    14/365

_________________________________________________________________The focus of work in our Principal and Assistant Principal Academies during January 2017 has been on standard five of the Professional Standards for Educational Leaders, listed below. Today’s Leadership365 is dedicated to the topic to support that learning. 


You can see the Professional Standards for Educational Leaders in entirety here:  (http://www.ccsso.org/Documents/2015/ProfessionalStandardsforEducationalLeaders2015forNPBEAFINAL.pdf)

…Know All Students by Name and by Need …

We were working with a wonderful group of educators in Jonesboro last summer as a part of the “Diploma Planning Institute” with the National Dropout Prevention Center.  There were several groups of educators in the room… principals, assistant principals, counselors, attendance officers, central office personnel, even teachers.

As we were kicking off our two-day event, we had an activity for a conversation starter. Everyone divided up into job-alike groups and worked together to answer this question:

What is your role in preventing student dropout? 

All of the answers were great;  this one by the assistant principals captured my imagination:


I loved the phrasing then and still do.  “…knowing all students by name and by need…”

As a school leader, how effective are you in knowing your students by name?  Have you gone to the next level and know them by need?  We all know the power of relationships and personalizing the school experience.  If we are merely processing the work of school and students without knowing them AND their needs, we most likely are missing out on a critical part of what schools can do.

In Standard Five of the Professional Standards for Educational Leaders (See Below), strand A is right on target with the APs from our day in Jonesboro.  It says that “effective educational leaders build and maintain a safe, caring, and healthy school environment that meets the academic, social, emotional and physical needs of each student.” 

Let’s focus on the last portion of the strand, “meets the academic, social, emotional, and physical needs of each student.”  It seems that the APs verbiage,” know all of your students and their needs,” is a concise version of the same idea.  We need not just “do school” to students, but we need to know what they need.

We have excellent data dashboards that help us know the needs of our students, but they are primarily designed to focus on just one of the four areas mentioned in the PSEL, that of academics.  We also need to know and respond to the social, emotional, and physical needs of students.

In our desire to effectively meet our students’ academic needs, have we back-burnered their social needs?  Do we consider their emotional needs?  We all know that physical needs must be met before academic needs can be addressed completely.  We know you have to Maslow before you can Bloom!

Students perform better when we know them and their needs.  We should design our schools that way and lead them to support that goal.

#Leadership365                    13/365

_________________________________________________________________The focus of work in our Principal and Assistant Principal Academies during January 2017 has been on standard five of the Professional Standards for Educational Leaders, listed below. Today’s Leadership365 is dedicated to the topic to support that learning. 


You can see the Professional Standards for Educational Leaders in entirety here:  (http://www.ccsso.org/Documents/2015/ProfessionalStandardsforEducationalLeaders2015forNPBEAFINAL.pdf)

School Climate and Culture Work Together Like Chocolate and Peanut Butter

Build and maintain a safe, caring and healthy school environment that meets the academic, social, emotional, and physical needs of each student.

IN our quest for a outstanding school environment, we need look no farther than a Reese’s Cup for inspiration and clarity.


Ahh, the Reese’s cup.  Creamy peanut butter embraced by delicious chocolate.  They come together to form a treat for the tastebuds; a banquet for the senses; a championship combination.

When school leaders think about school climate and culture, they might think about that sort of relationship.  They are different, but intertwined.  Compatible, and supportive of the other.  You don’t work on one without the other.  The effective school leader works on both to reach success in the middle.

Climate, in the school context,  can be described as the atmosphere in which we’re breathing; the feel of the school.  Culture, in brief, consists of beliefs and priorities that drive the thoughts and actions of the people in the school.

One of the standards (number five to be exact) of school leadership (PSEL, see below) suggests that effective school leaders develop a community of care and support for students.  To do so, leaders build and maintain an environment that supports students.  We create the conditions in which success can be discovered by our teachers and students.

What school leaders, particularly those who are new, at a new school, or working to revise the mindset of a faculty want is the starting point for climate and culture.  Most typically you work on both at the same time.  You work on how people feel about school (climate) and what motivates them to do well (culture).  You leverage the momentary (climate) to build the sustainable (culture).

What I’ve learned in a career as a teacher and administrator and as a supporter of principals across the country the past five years is that you can use climate to develop culture, but you can also count on the culture to influence what climate you have.  It’s a Catch-22 situation.  A paradox.  A dual-flow environment.

When we can increase the positivity of our faculty and staff, we can leverage that feeling into deeper thoughts and understanding and a growth mindset.  When we have a growth-minded culture, we can impact the way people feel on a daily basis because of the strength of the school’s beliefs.

In this blogspace coming up in the next episodes, we will examine climate and culture more deeply and consider how you can effectively invest time to improve them both.  Please stay tuned!



You can see the Professional Standards for Educational Leaders here:  (http://www.ccsso.org/Documents/2015/ProfessionalStandardsforEducationalLeaders2015forNPBEAFINAL.pdf)

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