What Do We Want to Keep When We Return to School-at-School Next Year?

The New Normal. Have you heard about it? Of course you have. We all speak about it but we really don’t have enough information to know what will be a blip on the screen and what will truly be lasting.

After the terrorist acts on 9/11, we found some of the immediate changes to be a new normal. Security on flights? That was normalized. It’s hard to even remember the innocent world in which we freely roamed through the airport and paper ticketing was the biggest part of the security system.

In our schools, we have found many new normals in regards to student safety, most recently on a large scale following the shootings in Parkland, FL. During the Summer of 2018, school leaders talked more about safety from intruders than any other topic. We changed our protocols, and a majority of schools moved to a “ring-in” system that we have since accepted as normal.

There’s always a new normal, because there’s always change, and we adapt and continue moving forward. The pandemic and subsequent quarantine have been deeply impactful, but it remains to be seen what parts of our current behaviors will be sustained.

So, rather than wait to see what sticks, what might you and your team determine would be welcome changes to continue moving forward? Now is the right time to consider what we may be doing now that we would want to be normalized, that we would want to be a part of a better normal.

We all know that at nearly every school (and church, family, business, for that matter), there are things that we do because we have always done them that way. Here are five areas of reset for your consideration. Five things that we are doing now that might be good to continue as we move into next year (and beyond). There are certainly more than this, but hopefully these five will get your conversations going about what to keep from our current experience.

  1. Now that we’ve shown that we can, should we hold more of our meetings virtually? We can. Should we? It’s worth a conversation. Think about how more efficient it would be to have meetings with parents via Google Meet (or your favorite live video platform)? It’s more convenient for parents, saves them driving time, and for the immediate period (while we continue to practice safe health protocols) it limits individuals from entering the school. Can you move both smaller and larger meetings to a virtual format? We’ve been holding IEP meetings virtually. Can we continue to do so? Parent and teacher conferences for MTSS, SSTs, and virtually anything could be converted to virtual. So can PTO meetings. Parent information and open house events can be produced in a fashion that have some live elements while other portions are pre-recorded and streamed. Think about it: if we eliminate the driving to the school for many (most?) of our meetings, how many more families can we effectively reach? Again, NOW is a good time to explore that possibility, because it’s applicable no matter what circumstances arrive for you in August.
  2. Our relationship with families of students has changed over the past two months. What have we learned and how do we apply it positively moving forward? If you’ve read much of this site, you’ve heard our concerns with the phrase “dealing with parents.” Parents (families) are highly influential in the motivation and subsequent performance of the students in our schools. To do anything other than seek the best relationships with all of the parents of our students is counterproductive at best. How do you reset and reshape the family-school relationships at your school? Everyone should have seen that it sure works better when we work together. Conversations in May, June, and July can lead to a deeper partnership in August and beyond. Don’t miss these moments to shape a reset that can make A LOT of difference on many levels.
  3. There’s a reasonable possibility that some portion of next school year could be “school-at-home” again. What have you learned about assessment and grading in a distance learning environment that will help you moving forward? This is, as they say back home, the portion where I’ve “gone from preaching to meddling.” Grades are always a controversial topic. It might be a bad time to honestly talk about them. It may, however, be a great time to talk about them. My guess is that may differ based on your location (and the mindset of your faculty). Here’s what everyone should have noticed: there’s a big difference between assessment and grading. For all the time we have spent on each of them, it’s amazing how much further we still need to go. Is now the right time to sort through how we assess performance to design learning? How grades are snapshots and not framed portraits? How learning, growth, and mastery fit in? Your teachers are on the job through May. We have June and July beyond that. Clarity on what your school uses assessments and grades for would be a great start.
  4. Classrooms that were control-centric before we moved to school-at-home were ill-prepared for distance learning. Those that were relationship-centric were able to transition more effectively. Preparing for potential distance learning is about tablets and broadband, but it’s also about relationships. How do you really make relationships the cornerstone of all of your classrooms? Student motivation isn’t only about the relationship with the teacher and the culture of the classroom, but those are two things that influenced who did and who didn’t do work when the aspect of control was mostly eliminated. Influence is always stronger than control in the long run… control, however, can be effective in particular environments. School-at-home? Not that environment. What might you do now in conversations over the next month and beyond to help your teachers explore control and relationships? Is that something that can be of benefit no matter what the circumstances of your reopening may be?
  5. How do we stop ourselves from going back, working too much again, and being too out-of-whack in our lives?  COVID-19 has been fatal to over a quarter of a million people to date. It’s awful. There has been tremendous suffering and loss. It’s been devastating.  Flowers can grow in the middle of a pile of rocks, so even in the worst of settings, something good can grow.  I’ve enjoyed meeting with principals and assistant principals over the past two months and hearing about what they’re doing in their yard, and with their kids, and in their lives. What the restrictions on our movements and our access to work has done, it would seem, is something worth learning from. We are sleeping more.  We are taking time to breathe.  We are enjoying life and the people in our lives who make it worth living.  I hope we don’t go back to being just as we were before all of this. My hope is this experience will help you focus on all that you have to be joyful about and grateful for. I hope that appreciation will last when we reopen schools, and when you go back, you will be returning as a reset version of your old self. I hope that we won’t get right back into the everlasting sprint that we had evolved into. We can and will be good leaders, but we need to lead ourselves first. This is the reset I have the greatest hope, the most sincere desire for. The reset in you. A stronger, more confident leader, fortified by having caught your breath and enlightened enough not to easily give it away. This reset is one that isn’t contingent on anything except you. Not necessary to wait for more information on this. You can, right now, begin planning what you will do upon the return. Think about what you’ve learned. Reflect on what’s most important. Pledge and plan to grow from this experience and your reflection on it.  Reset.

There’s A Lot You Can Be Doing Now To Prepare for Next Year

You don’t know everything about the conditions of your reopening of school, but you know that it will be different.

As you plan for a new school year, it’s natural to have a yearning for the way things were, before the quarantine. Most school leaders would like to find a way to return to the comfortable, familiar ways in which schools operated before we stopped in-person school in mid March.

Of all the scenarios for the beginning of next school year, a return to the way things were on March 11 seems the most unlikely. So how will things be? What can you do about them now?

Right now, we lack all of the information to enable us to plan with certainty; in that, we can be certain. As a school leader, rather than be paralyzed by what you don’t know, what if you took another route? Instead, what if you become energized by the possibilities? How can you do more than just return; how might you lead a reset that changes your school for the better?

In the future, what can we do differently now that we’ve done most everything differently already? If you were ever hoping for a window of opportunity to bring about change, this will be it. The truth is, we have lots of things that we have been doing because… we’ve always done them that way.

Guess what? Not anymore. We have done nearly everything in a different way over the past two months. Some things we will want to return to, but others? Maybe not.

Now is a REALLY good time for you to engage your people in conversations about what those things are. Talk with your administrative team; have small group sessions with your teachers; and (in an age-appropriate fashion) brainstorm with students. Ask your parents what they think has worked better in these days. Get input. Gather ideas. Pose the question, when we return to school-at-school, what should be different than before?”

If you can ask these questions with the mindset of a researcher, eager to discover the truth, you’ll get meaningful data that can help you make good decisions. Be humble, be courageous, ask what others think.

Year-End Traditions And Good Ideas in A Virtual World

What’s everybody else doing? What are other people doing about grades? Honors night? Graduation and prom? We share some of the ideas from your colleagues to help you process what’s best for your school and your community.

Herff-Jones (information, not an endorsement) has developed a virtual graduation tool based on the platform of Stage Clip, seen above.

Click above to hear the HS Principal Conversation from April 7, discussing year-end traditions.



C.T. Hussion and his team at Union County High School are kind enough to share the questions they used to check in on their students this week.  Another example of the collaboration we all need to be successful in these unprecedented times.  Thanks, C.T.! 

UCHS Student Pulse Check
As we are adjusting to school online, we would like to remind you that you are more than just a bunch of grades and assignments to us. We would appreciate it if you could fill out this form completely so that we can get an idea about how this is working and to help keep up with you and what’s going on in our Panther community. Thanks!

*Required Answer

1. Email address *

ACADEMICS:
Please answer the questions that follow about your academic experience since we’ve moved online.

2.  What is the longest that you spent on a single daily assignment for one class last week? *

___  Less Than 30 minutes
___  Around 30 minutes
___ 1-2 Hours
___  2-3 Hours
___  Over 3 Hours

3.  In total, about how long did you spend on your online schoolwork each day for all classes combined? *

___ 1-2 Hours
___ 2-3 Hours
___ more than 3 Hours

4.  Please describe the online lesson you enjoyed the most last week and what it was that you liked about it.

(Open Response)

You are important to us! Please tell us how you’re doing.

PERSONAL:

The Principal Show: Episode 11. Showcasing Our Seniors

In this episode, we look at ways to honor the Class of 2020.  Dr. Miki Edwards of Morgan County HS shares the “Secret Senior Sign” project.  Dr. Alan Long of Jefferson County HS and his staff have developed a plan to hold graduation on time as scheduled… in a creative way. Finally, Rick Shrewsberry of Herff-Jones shares the resources HJ has developed to help schools deliver a virtual graduation ceremony.

Contact information:

Miki Edwards:   miki.edwards@morgan.k12.ga.us 

Alan Long:   alan.long@gassp.org

Rick Shrewsbury:  RShrewsbury@herffjones.com 

Rick invites you to join an informational webinar tomorrow (April 10).  Here’s the link:

High School Principals Virtual Meeting 4/7/20

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-yzxwa-d886f9

We had a virtual meeting to discuss what everyone is doing in light of COVID-19 in regards to graduation, prom, grades, etc…   People from all across Georgia came.  This is the recording of our conversation.

 

Guest Moderators:  Dr. Jim Finch, Principal, Mary Persons HS and President of GASSP

                   Dr. Alan Long, Principal, Jefferson County HS and Incoming Executive Director                                                         of GASSP

                   Dr. Mark Wilson, Principal-Matters

Meaningful School Traditions~ In A Virtual World

Image Credit: BBT

With school-in-person cancelled for the remainder of the 2019-2020 year, administrators are addressing lots of questions about how meaningful year-end events will be conducted. Prom, graduation, fifth-grade recognition, ninth-grade orientation, third-grade field day. Honoring retiring teachers, holding year-end banquets and awards, powderpuff, and cleaning out your room for the end of the year. There are a LOT of things that are supposed to be happening now. With the public health dangers we are confronting, how do we handle our most cherished traditions?

Here are a few thoughts for your consideration as you develop your plans.

  1. There is not just one correct answer to these questions. It is reasonable to think that one course of actions will work well at one school, while the polar opposite is more effective at another. Knowing your students and community and what is important to them is critical now. You always have limited resources of time, money, and energy, and in these circumstances its important to use them in the most effective manner. Postponement? Cancellation? Different Format? After exploring the different options, you and your local school and community will have to determine which path is the right one for you.
  2. Things aren’t like they’re used to be, but you can use what you DO have to get what you want. This isn’t ideal, but we aren’t without resources. We have you, your team, and your skills to create, imagine, and design experiences for your students, their parents, and your teachers. You can do this! It begins with listing what you want to do, and then matching it up with what you have. You aren’t going to be able to do the spring orientation for your sixth-graders (or ninth-graders or kindergarteners) in person, but you CAN do a virtual tour like realtors do of houses they are showing. You can have orientation teams (via Zoom) complete with “tour guides” (students already at your school) and can develop relationships with incoming students now. Their parents? You can still hold an event (or multiple events) to welcome them to school, complete with appearances from teachers, counselors, even other parents already a part of your school family. It’s not how it’s been, but you have a lot you can use to do what you want to do.
  3. It’s time for extreme collaboration, not competition. If you have a good idea, share it, please. If you see someone doing something that looks like a winner, let others know. There is no award for “Best in Quarantine.” Everyone is trying to do the same thing: make lemonade out of our big box of lemons. We don’t need to feel the need to be first to put something cool on social media. As professionals, we ought to all want each other to prosper during these (and all) times. Some of the kids being recognized at your neighbor’s school may be at yours in the fall. Even if they aren’t let’s use this time to connect and share so that we all can do well in replacing our traditions with new traditions, or workarounds during these interesting times.
  4. Don’t Miss ‘Now.’ Think about how to honor and recognize your students now while you are able. You may be committed to an in-person event later, but you still have ‘now,’ and you won’t be able to return here later. So, in the now, how can you honor your seniors? Your retirees? Your students? You can plan to convene together in person when crowds are safe and permitted, but you can ALSO create an experience for now. With the resources that you have available, how can you properly recognize and appreciate all of your people?

So, bring the creative minds of your team together and explore how to do what you want to do with what you’ve got to do it. Good luck!

Tweets may have to replace treats for now but as always, it’s the thought that matters the most.

Exemplary Work in Remote Learning and Leading (Volume 3)

People everywhere are seeing what we all have always known– that teachers, administrators and staff are dedicated, resourceful, and capable of amazing things.

I continue to marvel at how in a matter of hours we flipped to a digitally-delivered learning environment AND, added in preparing, distributing and delivering meals to boot!

As we approach week two of this learning and leading opportunity, please take a moment to see some exemplary work from some of your colleagues. Maybe these examples will give you ideas, encourage you in what you’re doing, or inspire you in your work.

THANK YOU for your service, and thanks to all of your people for what they’re doing for your students and your community.

Get some well-deserved rest this weekend, please!


Leslie Dooley is the school counselor at Russell Middle School in Barrow County. She and the staff there are preparing for a “You Matter” Spirit Week next week!

Billy Kirk (Principal) connects with his students every day at Lumpkin County High School. He brings them that consistency every day now as well as he sends out his daily announcements to all students and the faculty.
Jennifer Abercrombie is the Principal at Crisp County Middle School. She shared this example, and writes, “We usually have our monthly gatherings to recognize accomplishments and “Shout Outs” to staff members. We did a virtual “Shout Out” board and shared through Google Drive to offer encouragement and highlight the positives during this school closure time. It has grown daily.”

Pretty confident that you know about this, but still worth noting that State Superintendent Richard Woods announced that “educators, parents, and students can expect that no state testing will be administered in Georgia this year.” This development will lead all of us to examine what our academic goals will be in the coming days and weeks.
Jennifer Westbrook is the Principal at Mt. Vernon Elementary School in Hall County, where the fourth grade is meeting daily via Zoom.

So important to point out the monumental effort that is happening at schools and systems everywhere to feed our communities. This morning at Pepperell High School (Floyd County Schools), Principal Jamey Alcorn welcomed his colleagues to join in an effort to “operate the drive thru” for the Pepperell community. We ALL are gaining a greater appreciation for what our cafeteria heroes do every day!
Dr. Robbie Hooker, Superintendent of Social Circle Schools is reading Pete the Cat to his students. This unique season gives us an opportunity to promote reading and time to do things that we otherwise might not find time to do.

If you and your teachers aren’t using FlipGrid, you ought to give it a look. It’s perfect for the work that we’re doing now, and gives the teacher an opportunity for assessment of learning, as Central High School in Carroll County is using. Jared Griffis, is the principal of Central HS.
Liz Raeburn, Principal of Bryan County Middle School, is an idea fountain every day of the year, every year. She is someone you should watch as creativity becomes an even more valued commodity. She contacted the author Gordon Korman and now is bringing a great audiobook to her students.

Kierra Rojas is an instructional coach for Griffin-Spalding Schools. She is lifting up Moore Elementary School first grade teacher Jasmine Gipson as she continues teaching literacy skills remotely.
Something that we can keep going in our remote school universe? Physical Education. It’s important to keep our students (and teachers?) moving during these days, and here’s a simple but potentially impactful idea from Spalding High School (Griffin-Spalding Schools). Here’s another great idea from SHS– a practical idea of how students and parents might structure learning days at home.

Dr. Mark Wilson principal-matters.com

March 20, 2020 @MarkWilsonGA

Remote Learning Examples: Volume 2


What are others doing? What can I be doing?

We ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER! Here are twelve terrific ideas from your colleagues from today. You may already be doing some or all of them, but maybe they’ll remind you of someone who needs your attention, or inspire you in your work. THANKS to all of our colleagues for their work today and to these colleagues for sharing a portion of theirs.

THANK YOU for the leadership you are providing for your school and for your community. If I can be of any help to you please contact me at mark.wilson.ga@gmail.com .

Keep doing well and keep doing good! MW

principal-matters.com @MarkWilsonGA March 18, 2020

The “Seven Cs” of Remote Leadership

Remote learning has been around for some time and nearly everyone has some experience with it. Remote leadership is a bit of a different story. While full-time, all-the-time, digital learning leaders have experience in this, for most everyone else, this is new ground (and especially at such a large scale).

What does it take to be effective in remote leadership? Here are seven “Cs” that describe the remote school leader:

Cool, Calm, …. these are stressful times, and, as always, the leader sets the tone for the others. You are bound to get frustrated. (We DID shift our method of delivery across thousands of schools in a matter of hours, days as the most!) There are some things that aren’t going to fit neatly into our new norms. But as always, the leader who stays calm under stress helps reduce it for others. To finish off that phrase, you want to be cool, calm, and…

Connected. As different as things are for everyone, you have a unique opportunity to connect with your people. You have more opportunity to schedule your time than you usually do. In doing so, you may want to consider keeping an ongoing list of who you’re in contact with, to make sure that you don’t inadvertently leave anyone out. You can connect with your folks in one of the many, many platforms that we all are going to get very proficient on! Stay connected.

Confident. The person who thinks they can and the one who thinks they can’t are both right. (Revised from a Henry Ford quote) This is a time for leadership, and leadership requires confidence. So, you’ve never done what we’re doing now. That puts you even with everyone else. You have done things in your previous experience that should give you the courage to know that you’ll take on these new challenges and succeed. Believe in yourself, especially as things get more challenging. I can’t help but think about my mother and father who grew up and lived during the Great Depression and World War II. As challenging as what we’re working through now may be, we can stand tall on the work of those who have come before us, especially when it comes to summoning up the courage and confidence needed to move forward each day.

Creative. What a great time to be a creative leader, and what an opportunity we have to do things we normally haven’t been able to do! You can meet with your people in small groups, 1:1, large groups. You can create digital games and challenges. You can use your creativity to keep the energy and excitement going. And, if you’re one of those people who often say “I’m not creative,” guess what? You can see what others are doing and creatively copy what they’re doing! Keep it interesting for your folks. Have some games and giveaways. Create the space for joyful work amongst your people.

Consistent. Jerry Bavero, principal of Union County Elementary School has a “pep rally” for his entire school every single day of the year to start the day. He’s working to provide consistency and normalcy for his students and teachers by continuing to do it… digitally each day. Whatever you usually do at school… shout outs for birthdays, the pledge, things of that sort… consider doing it virtually to help everyone in your school fam have a little bit of anchor to connect to.

Caring. Bibb County Schools has started a hashtag, #BibbAthleticsShoutOut to share profiles about their Senior Athletes, particularly those who are currently missing their spring sports season. This is a huge loss for those kids and their parents, and this small, but caring touch helps them know their work hasn’t gone unnoticed. As the leader, we naturally look around and notice… we notice who needs a little extra and we work to get it for them. Now’s a great time to be an observant noticer, and to show that you care. It’s really the little things that make the most difference in challenging times. This is what you’re great at on a regular day, and now you’re called to do it in another way, at another level.

Chances are, you’re thinking by now, “those seven Cs aren’t any different just because we’re leading remotely.” You’re right. You’ll need to adjust your approach and change your platforms, but yes, these are the same things that you do 247/366 already. Which means, you should stand tall and know that you’re ready for this work. In times like these, you don’t have to help anyone “find their why?” Now is your time to lead them, to support them, to nurture them and to do what’s needed, because that’s what you always do.

Thank you for your service.

Exemplary Work in Remote Leadership


Thank you!

The work that you, your teachers, your custodians, your nutrition teams, your technology people, your staff have been doing is nothing short of amazing, inspirational, and powerful.

Thank you all for what you are doing to bring learning, caring, calm, and a sense of normalcy in a time that is anything but.

Working through obstacles is what we’re good at.  Leading people through tough times is what you’re good at as a leader.  That’s what is needed right now, and that’s exactly what you do, what is needed.

THANK YOU for what you’re doing.  Like every other day you spend as an educator, never undervalue the importance of what you are doing for others and for your community. 

Again, THANK YOU.


Great Examples to Share from Around Georgia

You know what’s awesome?  Spirit week.  Guess what?  You can have it remotely.  That’s what John Rhodarmer, Principal at Armuchee High in Floyd County has rolled out for his faculty and students. 

Karen Carsten, the principal at Tritt Elementary in Cobb County, held a leadership team meeting yesterday.  The opportunities for connection and leadership are plentiful! 

Remembering to show gratitude and support, and to celebrate it publicly is a great way to keep the fuel going for our hard-working teachers.  Dr. Olga Glymph is an assistant principal at Milton HS in Fulton County. 

Priority: Hiring Season

One of the most important things you do as the principal or assistant principal is to keep things calm. When others are beginning to panic, the seasoned leader keeps her head and in doing so helps others to relax, think more clearly, and act more effectively.

The most effective principals make things better by slowing things down, getting emotions under control, and keeping their work from being a frenzied rush.

That’s a great way to approach your work… except when it’s “Hiring Season.”

When it’s hiring season, you need to be working with urgency. There are only so many candidates for the positions you may need, and you need to prioritize this work. It’s complicated by the timing: hiring season comes when you’re registering students and families for the next school year, preparing your school for end-of-the-year testing, and doing the daily, busy work of the school. Maybe that’s why some leaders don’t get hiring season right— the other priorities are too much and you aren’t able to immerse into hiring because of those other tasks at hand.

If that’s you, here’s something for you to consider: what you do during hiring season is a gift that keeps on giving. If you do well, it’s a treasure; if you do poorly, it’s a gag gift. You can put in the time and energy needed to do well in hiring, or you are at risk for spending much more time correcting your hiring mistakes and cleaning things up. It’s SO much better to take time and hire effectively than to suffer through poor choices in hiring. Those poor choices can hurt your students, your teachers, and others’ perception of your judgment.

So, if you have people to hire, put other things down, read resumes, call references, host visits to your school. Either get busy hiring, or you’ll be busy next fall wishing you’d done better on the front end.

In the chart above, you’ll see a number of things to consider during the hiring process. First and foremost, make sure that you are connected at the hip to whomever works with you on Human Resources. Each system has their own nuances about the hiring process and you need to follow the policies and protocols that your system has in place. Beyond that, those who invest more time into a task are more likely to be effective in completing it. Don’t rest until you get your people in place, begin their transitional phase, and start to engage them in the culture of your school.

In 2020, school leaders should expect to spend more time than ever in developing the talent in your building to grow effective teachers and a top-notch faculty. You make that job harder than it might have to be if you do poorly in hiring. All of the time you spend now is time invested into getting the teachers and staff that will make a positive impact at your school.

© 2020. Dr. Mark Wilson principal-matters.com

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Five Strategies To Use to Connect With Parents

As educators, we spend a lot of time with other people. That time can be ongoing, longer relationships or brief, specific encounters. You can categorize mosts of your interactions, at school as well as in the rest of your life, into two columns: transactional encounters and transformational relationships.

When we have transactional encounters, they don’t necessarily have to be bad. They are defined as a limited interaction for a short period of time and may or not be repeated. When you’re out to eat and get a chicken sandwich, you are having a transactional encounter with the person who takes your order. It can be a good one (when it’s their pleasure to see you) or a not-so-good one (when you’re in the drive-thru and they make you park your car because you had a salad). When you go to get your drivers’ license renewed, it’s a transactional encounter. You are unlikely to see that meeting turn into a long-term relationship.

Transformational relationships as the name suggests are quite the opposite. They are beyond an encounter and are instead a chapter in a longer, ongoing book. Transactional encounters are about the transaction; transformational relationships are about the relationship, the people, and how they change individually and together over time.

That takes us to the parents of our students. The time we have together with them is very limited. The nature of our interactions? Unfortunately, they can tend to be matters that are transactional in nature. We spend time with parents when they have an issue or concern, when they are completing required paperwork, and when they are delivering and/or retrieving their children.

What if we worked more intentionally to extend our school family to our parents? What if we created an environment in which those encounters became less transactional because we’d spent time getting to know each other in advance? We also should never forget– the right kind of attitude can make a transformational relationship out of a transactional encounter. Think about your favorite restaurant, coffee shop, or office you go to. Chances are that you feel the way you do about that place at least in part by how you’re treated, by how someone there sees you as a relationship waiting to be developed instead of transaction that has to be completed.

It can be a positive thing for an administrator to know a lot of the parents at the school from previous experience and longterm relationships. That fast-forwards the matter of trust and makes for better relationships and partnerships.

It can’t stop with a widely-connected administrator, however. The relationship of the parent to the school is also defined by their relationships with teachers, with office staff, with bus drivers. If we work at it, transactional encounters don’t have to be only that. Putting your child on the bus can be transactional, but with the right bus driver it can be a relationship that defines a positive perception of everything about the school.

How do we do it? Listed below in the infographic are five ways to connect school and home. There are probably five million things you can do to develop these connections. (We stopped at just five). These ideas are ways to make deeper connections with parents without the need of extensive time. Connections lead to relationships, which lead to trust, which open doors for true partnerships between school and home, between teacher and parent, between people in a community working together for the well-being of individuals and the greater good for all.

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How To Partner With Parents For Success

“Decades of social science research have demonstrated that differences in quality of schools can explain about one-third of the variation in student achievement. But the other two-thirds is attributable to non-school factors.”

Richard Rothstein, 2010, How To Fix Our Schools

Working to lead students to success without developing a partnership with their parents is like driving a car with a flat tire. Cross country in the rain. Without windshield wipers.

You get it. Research tells us that the influence of parents, or others raising a child in place of parents, is among the most impactful in determining student achievement. We know that a particular type of parental involvement is very effective in leading to student achievement, but at schools we typically don’t spend much time to foster that behavior. John Hattie’s meta-analyses show a high effect size for parental involvement* (.58). There are other things that are prominent at schools everywhere that don’t have the same research basis, but we do them anyway. For example, homework (.29 effect size); 1:1 technology (.16) and mentoring (.12). (Remember that anything below a .40 effect size is not considered to be successful in advancing student achievement.)

So, it’s possible that we do things that may not yield a lot for our efforts while missing out on something that could make a great difference. Why? We know that we tend to do things the way they’ve always been done. Even when we make an effort to “increase parental involvement,” we often spend time on things that don’t necessarily produce a high yield.

Let’s look at Hattie’s study of different types of parental involvement (2018) and their effect on student achievement.

Supervising Child's Homework                        0.19
Parent Participation in School Activities 0.14
Communication with School and Teachers 0.14
Parent Listening to Child Reading 0.51
*High Expectations for Student Achievement 0.58

(and verbalizing these to the child)

According to Hattie, more than homework, more than 1:1, more than mentoring, more than getting parents to come to school events, more than communication between teachers and parents, what really makes the biggest difference is when parents establish and communicate high expectations for student achievement with their child.

It would seem to reason that we the school would work really hard to encourage and influence parents in communicating these high expectations. Yet, when I talk about school separately to parents and teachers/administrators, there is often frustration on each’s part with the other. Rather than dissect those arguments, perhaps we the school would benefit in our mission by seeking more positive relationships with parents. If we could become partners with parents(and often we do!), we can more intentionally focus on a tidal shift of educational expectations among the families of our school. To become partners, we first have to have a relationship, which follows making connections with each other. Those relationships lead to trust, and with trust influence, particularly if we never grow tired of working to earn that trust.

If it sounds like a lot, it is. Relationships take time; partnerships take time, trust, and intentional focus. As much effort as it may take, the benefits of doing so are well worth the effort.

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Influencing Others Through Relationships

One of the most common leadership mistakes is thinking you’ll get maximum performance from others without first building relationships with them. As school leaders, our success is measured not only by our own actions but even more so by the work of those we lead. The same is true of our teachers and their students.

What is it that relationships do? They give you access to the key to leadership: influence.

If you want to lead other people as a teacher leading his class or a principal leading her school, you want to become a powerful influencer. The reason being, you can’t make anyone do anything they don’t want to do. Using your authority, you can make things uncomfortable for others in their decisions, but going along with you is still a choice for them.

So why do people do what they do? Here are three things that influence our choices: 1) beliefs; 2) experience; and 3) environment.

Whether we’re thinking of students or adults, most of the choices that are made each day in your building are filtered through each person’s beliefs, previous experiences, and perception of the environment.

The key to successful leadership is influence, not authority.

~Ken Blanchard

So, as leader (or teacher), you can run yourself ragged spending all of your time hyper-focused on the choices (also known as behavior) of those you supervise and serve. Where our time would be more wisely invested would be in developing relationships instead of directing actions. Some actions, obviously, require immediate attention or redirection, but until the student (or teacher) changes beliefs, gains new experiences, or is presented with a changed environment, their choices will most likely remain as they are.

Instead of making them do, influence them so they’ll want to do.

Back to influence. Think about the people in your life who influence you. What is true about them? Most likely, you’ve developed some sort of relationship that has led to trust. When we trust someone, we are willing to believe them, to be influenced by them.

Make connections and build relationships. We connect with others, continue our conversation, and in time, the conversation leads to a relationship. Relationships, in turn, lead to trust.

Student behavior can be influenced through relationships more effectively than it can be controlled by rules.

If we know the power of influential relationships, why does it remain the road less traveled? Why do we rush to an insistence on other people’s behaviors when we can influence them for good through relationships?

Relationships take time, energy, and a lot of upkeep. But then again, mandating behaviors from students or adults takes a lot of the same. It’s something to consider though: would your time and energy be spent more effectively influencing those you’ve build trust with or insisting behavior from those you haven’t?

© 2020. Mark Wilson.

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Positive Relationships: Path to Success in Your School

Nearly everyone talks about the importance of relationships at a school. So many conversations work around into the comment, “it’s all about relationships.”

For the principal or assistant principal to work well with the faculty and staff? It’s all about relationships. The teacher and her students? Also, all about relationships. Partnership between the school and parents? Again, relationships.

So, you know that they matter, but how do you promote their importance to your people? Even better, how do you help someone develop great relationships when they don’t come so easy for them?

” I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot. Together, we can do great things.”

Mother Teresa

Chances are if you’re a school administrator, the people who hired you noted your natural knack for building relationships. As the leader, you want your faculty and staff to also be great at relationships. Here’s a challenge: what comes naturally to you can be hard for you to teach to others.

Here’s a way you can help others in your school develop the kind of relationships that inspire everyone to do their best:

1.) Talk about relationships. See the graphic above. It’s important to ask your faculty about the fundamental nature of their relationships with students and with each other. The growth begins with a conversation.

2) Encourage reflection. Open the conversation about relationships, then ask your faculty and staff to reflect on their relationships. What are the products of their relationships? What kind of relationships do they have with students who do well in school? And, what kind of relationships do they have with those who don’t do well?

3) Prioritize ongoing growth. If you think that relationships are important, you can bring attention to reflection and growth in relationships. Celebrate those who foster good relationships. Create time for your teachers to recognize their colleagues who excel in relationship-building.

As the principal or assistant principal, if you want your teachers and students to be successful, you should be interested in their behavior and in the quality of their relationships. What people do and how they interact with each other is the definition of your climate and the strongest indicators of your culture. Like anything, your intentional focus in these areas is your best bet to get what you’re looking for, and in building a school where people are successful and enjoy the experience.

© 2020. Dr. Mark D. Wilson

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Passion For Learning! A Force To Be Reckoned With

Attitude Check

Above the door leading into the Professional Learning room of a school I was visiting was a sign that greeted participants with this question:

What attitude do you bring to today’s learning? 

It’s a great question to pose, as it forces its readers into a brief moment of reflection about their approach to the learning that awaits them on the other side.

After Further Review

After the visit and while riding around the hills and plains of Georgia, further reflection led me to ponder a different question, one that wasn’t posted or printed, but one that made me go hmmm?

Shouldn’t educators be passionate about learning without a sign to remind them? 

The sign about attitude on the PL room door… I didn’t ask, but I’m guessing that it was put there either to prevent visibly-bad attitudes about learning OR in response to such attitudes in meetings past. I’ve been around professional learning for decades, so it’s not shocking to think that teachers (or administrators!) might be less than enthusiastic about some learning, but despite that acknowledgment, it’s still disappointing.  How can we get our students to be passionate about learning if we aren’t passionate about it first?

It’s probably easy to contend that while we may not always be passionate about all professional learning, we can still be enthusiastic when in the role of teacher, particularly if we enjoy that content more.  But here’s the problem with that line of thinking:  the students may find the content intended for them just as uninspiring as the content from the PL room that the teacher didn’t engage with.

Passion For Learning

Here’s a question to consider:  When you learn a passion for learning, isn’t everything else easier to learn after that?

Our students would be well-prepared for their next endeavor if they left their class at the end of the year, full of curiosity, a thirst to know things, and a satisfaction in the process and product of learning.  Truth is, we don’t spend enough time on those things, but what if we did?  Would our students approach their learning differently?  Would the content we share be more readily mastered if we taught the value of learning before (and during) our specific instructional goals?

Back to the PLC Room

Let’s connect the classroom back to the PLC Room with this question:

Are your expectations of passion for learning higher for your students than for your teachers?

We have PLCs and other groups and teams of teachers all across the land who value learning, believe in collaboration, and treasure the opportunity for learning with their colleagues.  There are a lot of these teachers and administrators in schools and systems all over the map.  There are, however, teachers and administrators who don’t feel that way.

How about at your school?  How passionate about learning are your teachers?  How passionate are YOU about learning?

When you are leading learning with your faculty, are you modeling quality, empassioned instruction?  PLCs and professional learning ought to be fun.  How is adult learning normed at your school?  What percentage of the time that your adults are in learning settings are they sitting and listening, and what percentage of that time are they talking, sharing, and doing?

One of your most important roles as the school’s instructional leader is to set norms for learning.  Is the learning you facilitate with your teachers engaging?  Are you passionate about it?  Do you work to create a great learning experience with your teachers?

Good Goes Around

Teachers with a passion for learning tend to lead classrooms that foster that same passion.  The principal and administrative team can fuel and foster that passion by leading professional learning and PLCs that circulate a love of learning among all its participants.  When that passion becomes the norm, your teachers will race to get INTO professional learning and their PLCs rather than to race OUT.  When you establish THAT culture about learning, you will thrive not only in PLCs but in your classrooms across the school.

And then you can take down the “what’s your attitude…” sign.

© 2018.  Dr. Mark D. Wilson.   All Rights Reserved.

Passion for Learning
A passion for life, and a passion for learning is a part of the culture at Rock Springs Elementary School in Walker County, where they host “Crush Your Goals” Assemblies.  Woooo! 

Help! I’m Working All the Time And Not Getting Anywhere!

If you’re working long hours every day, taking work home every night, spending lots of your weekend doing emails and paperwork, and always feeling like you’re running behind, rest assured you’re not the only one.

Just because others are doing it doesn’t make it any less damaging to you as a leader.  At this time of the year you may be feeling the strains of all of those hours that you’ve been logging since July coming home to roost.  Continuous overwork leads to fatigue, poor executive functions, inability to solve complex problems, issues with interpersonal communication and relationships, and shaky judgments.

In other words, overworking leads to less-effective performance in pretty much everything that your job is all about.

First, if you’re working all the time and feeling out of balance, here are three reasons why you may have arrived at this destination:

1.   You’re Doing Too Much One of the biggest reasons principals and assistant principals get overwhelmed is this one:  they try to do too much.

When you have more to do than you can possibly do, and you aren’t sure what ONE thing to do first, principals often try to do EVERYthing.  They end up not doing ANYthing particularly well, but they continue to try to have their fingers in everything.

Newly-arrived principals often do too much.  Sometimes it’s strategic so they can learn how things work;  other times it’s from not knowing who can be trusted to do things, and to do things well.  This can be a transitional practice, but can’t be sustainable.

Finally, there are some leaders who struggle with “doing too much” because… they choose to do too much!  They operate from the  idea that “the only way to make sure that it gets done right is to do it yourself.”  This wears the principal out and also develops a faculty who isn’t prepared to think on their own.
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2.  You’re TOO Accessible. 

The modern-day leader has been told by everyone that you need to be accessible.  That’s true, but you can take it to an extreme and when you do, you make it difficult for you to be efficient and effective.

If you are available all day every day, and then again at night whenever people want to text, call or message you, you are too accessible.

The most efficient and effective leaders find the balance between being (and seeming to be) inaccessible and being overly-accessible to the point of harm.  How is it harmful?  If you’re not careful, your folks develop a co-dependent relationship with you.  If you’re willing to do most of the thinking, lots of the problem solving and ALL of the decision making, people will let you.  That’s REALLY dangerous, because the more you operate that way, the less capable your team is to do those things (think, problem-solve, make decisions) and the MORE they will rely on you to do those things.

Don’t go to the other extreme in an attempt to find balance; the answer lies in between.  The answer does NOT lie in you doing all of the brain work.

3.  You’ve Developed Habits of Inefficiency.

Often, BECAUSE you’re doing too much, and BECAUSE you’re too accessible, you inadvertently and often unknowingly develop some really inefficient habits.  One of your challenges is this:  you’re at the top of the food chain at your school.  Unless you have a coach, an attentive supervisor, or a really good mentor, it’s EASY to fall prey to inefficient habits and have no one to prompt you to reflect and evaluate what you’re doing.

The isolation of leadership can leave you ill-prepared to examine or alter your habits, and if they go unchecked for a while, they become your routines and eventually your beliefs.  Beliefs are harder to change.

For example, I was visiting a principal who was so intent on listening in on what was happening in the adjacent front office that we could barely have a coaching conversation.  Every person who came into the office and every interaction that the secretary was having stole the principal’s attention.  Over and again, people came into the office while we were meeting (some with a knock, some with an knock while they were opening the door).  None of them were arriving with things that should have been tagged as “urgent.”

What had happened there was this: EVERYTHING became urgent, and everything had to run through the principal, and it had gone on long enough that it had become normal.

During our coaching session we talked about…. you guessed it.  How the principal was struggling to get it all done.

FULL DISCLOSURE:  Regarding the struggle of workload for the current-day principal or assistant principal, despite the aforementioned you are NOT the problem.  We have continued to add on responsibilities to these positions without additional support or people to assist in completing them.  Even if you’re doing it all most efficiently and effectively, it’s STILL a lot.

The suggestion here is this:  can you make your job more reasonable?  Can you be more efficient?  Can you examine your habits and do things better?

© 2018.  Dr. Mark D. Wilson.   All Rights Reserved.

It’s October. What have we learned so far?

While the temperature soared around 90 degrees in much of Georgia today, the calendar told an entirely different story.  It’s October.

So, what have you learned so far?

You’ve been in school long enough to generate the necessary data to make important inferences.  But, if you don’t invest adequate time to look and listen, you may miss the moment.  You have an opportunity RIGHT NOW to make adjustments that can be the difference you’re looking for, but if you’re not careful, you’ll  just keep driving forward.  There’s always enough work to keep you busy, but if you want to make progress, take a deep look at where you are now, and what adjustments need to be made to move forward as you’d like.

All right. How?  How might you take stock of your current situation and plan the next steps forward?  Here are some specific steps to take to gather the data needed, and analyze it meaningfully for change.

1.  Planning Meeting.  Bookend your quarterly examination with strategy meetings, one at the start and the other at the conclusion of your review.  You convene a planning meeting of you and your guiding coalition.  (That group might be your administrative team.  It could be an extended version of that group.  It could be any group that you determine to be helpful in reviewing your progress and strategizing next actions. Don’t EVEN try to do this alone.  You won’t have the perspective you need, nor the time to do it by yourself.)

The planning meeting is to compile a list of everything you want to know at this point.  What does August and September have to tell us?  Many of those answers should be in easy-to-access data that you’re collecting.  Other questions may require additional effort.  It’s one thing to know which students are soaring, which are floating, and which are sinking.  That’s the OPENING, not the whole story.  With that information, how might you determine WHYthose students are in each of those three categories?

One of the things your planning session might accomplish is to determine who you need to listen to, and who will do the listening.  If you truly are committed to progress, face value isn’t going to be enough.  You will need to find out WHY people are behaving (and performing) as they are.

For you as an administrator, you will want to know the same things about your teachers as we’ve already suggested regarding your students:  who’s soaring?; who’s floating?; and who’s sinking?   Yes, you have TKES to support your work but, just as is the case with the student data, this is an opener, and not the whole show.  You will want to know WHY teachers who are soaring, floating, or sinking are doing so.

Your planning session is to develop the list of what you want to know– what August and September have to tell you.  Remember this:  if you want to move the needle, you’re going to need to plan, and if you are going to plan, you’ll need to INVEST time in this process.  Many of you have Data Teams that routinely and regularly are looking at data, but this quarterly review is a bit different.  You can BUILD on the work of your data teams, but this is bigger-view exercise; you will need to get away from distractions, allot adequate time, and focus on the work in order to successfully progress.

Once you determine what you want to know, it’s time to move to step two:

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2.)  Gathering Information. You’ve made your plan; now you work it.  You collect the data you need to give you an idea of what progress has been made during August and September.  THEN, you begin a series of conversations with a number of people to gain a clear understanding of not only WHAT happened, but WHY?

Some of these conversations can be held in small groups; others may need to be 1:1.  You can get a jump start in gathering perception data by administering surveys to both students and teachers.  From those surveys, you can get a broader picture of the WHY…  for example, if you ask students who are soaring why they are doing well, they might tell you that their teachers are particularly engaging or insistent in their expectations.  The survey may accomplish much of what you’re after, but if not, having face-to-face small-group conversations may get you the rest of the way.  You don’t necessarily need to interview every teacher and every student, even in small groups;  but you can assemble some representatives for focus group work.  Also, you (the principal) doesn’t need to do all of the interviewing.  With good coordination, you can spread it out among the members of your guiding coalition.

The bottom line is this:  spend adequate, but not exorbitant time seeking the answer to ‘why’ are the results we are seeing taking place.  It will involve polling many of your Ss and Ts, and interviewing a representative sample for deeper understanding.

If you want to make progress, you have to listen to the people who are engaged in the work at the foundational level (the teachers and the students).

3:  Strategy Meeting.  Now you’ve gathered data and it’s time to convene the initial group again.  The first meeting was to design a plan to hear what August and September can tell you.  Step two was to go and listen;  now, you’re at the third and final step– what do you do with what you have learned?

The strategies that arise from this data analysis can be structural, on a school-level, or support to effect the classroom level.

For example, let’s say that your data tell you that students in your third grade are minimally progressing in mathematics during August/September.  Your brief surveys and follow up conversations tell you that students believe that instruction is moving too quickly for them.

At this point, you and your administrative team determine what you might do to approach the progress you’re after.  Maybe you focus on supporting the teacher in formative assessment; maybe you review your MTSS strategies for these students; perhaps you spend time in the classroom to take a deeper look at what may be regularly occurring.

The intended goal is this:  using the information you’ve collected, how might you align your resources and strategies in the most impactful way to lead students towards the progress you seek?

August and September have a very rich story to tell you about what’s been happening in the walls of your classrooms, the halls of your school, and the minds of your students.  You just need to invest the time needed to plan what to ask, listen carefully, and adjust as needed.

The first quarter is ending; it’s time to make the adjustments you need to go into halftime with a lead.

© 2018.  Dr. Mark D. Wilson.   All Rights Reserved.

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