Lessons for Principals: What Two Weeks Away From Social Media Taught Me

Well, I failed.

I set out 2017 with a goal of #Leadership365, my aspirational quest to write something of value for school leaders every single day of the year.

“They” say that if you can make something a habit, it becomes a part of your life and you’re able to more readily do it.  Many research studies have reached that conclusion with varying numbers of days necessary to be able to make a goal into a habit.

Through this vehicle, I made 114 consecutive days before I didn’t.  From January 1 until April 24, I was able to write a column intended to support principals, assistant principals, aspiring leaders, and others interested in leadership musings with a decided school-level leadership spin.

And then, I didn’t make it on April 25.  Or April 26.  It was much easier to develop this new habit, the one where I didn’t write a column for school leaders.


Now it’s May 7, and I am rejoining the online world and reconnecting with the many offline friends that read this column.  To reenter this universe, this column is dedicated to sharing with you lessons learned from two weeks away and how they relate to the work of school leaders. Said a different way, these are the things that I learned from failing; failing to meet my goal, failing to create and deliver content to those who had been used to it being there, and failing to maintain the discipline from 114 days for the entire 365.  As always, these failures will be reported through the lens of school leadership.  Here goes!

1.  It’s More Difficult To Accomplish Goals On Your Own Than When Working With Others  As the leader of the school, you have lots of goals.  Just as was my experience, sometimes you aren’t able to keep them going.  Why?  What I found to be true is what I’ve read numerous times from leadership books and research.  Self-discipline is expendable.  (The work of Dan and Chip Heath in their book Made to Stick comes to mind.)  We are so much more likely to stick to a task when our work is connected to someone else.  That’s worth considering in your work with your faculty and staff;  not only are we better together, we’re more likely to get things done together than alone, especially over time (which is what every school year is, an extended period of time).  If I’d been paired up with someone to do this blog, we’d not have missed a day, I’m convinced of it.  

2.  Getting Away is Essential for Effectiveness and Excellence.   There hasn’t been a time that I was just “mailing it in” this year in the 114 columns that have preceded this one, but I am feeling better about the next two weeks and the things that I have to share than I do a couple of weeks ago.  You don’t really have the luxury to take two weeks off during the school year while serving a principal, but as has been mentioned here many times, balance really is the key.  A big part of that balance is finding space; space to breathe, space to regain momentum, space to be inspired from unexpected sources.  The last two weeks have given me space that has made me come back to you renewed and ready again.  Don’t lose sight of that not only for yourself but for your faculty and staff.  Some of the most powerful notes in songs are “rests.”  Same for us in leading.

3.  Failure is an important part of success.  You know this as well as I do.  There is much to learn through our failures.  I’ve learned that if I want to get a column out every day no matter rain, sleet, snow or hail, I better develop another plan because this one isn’t sustainable.  What are you trying to do on your own that meets that same description? As the school leader, we often take on things that are less a function of our own discipline and more related to the design.  Now that I look at how this has played out here, I realize that I should have planned breaks throughout the year and asked for help.  Just like you, I have a bounty of friends and colleagues that I know would be willing to write a column for this blog.  I just need to ask them.  Thinking back on my fifteen years as school administrator, there are a lot of things that I can say that about.  We really are better together, and I believe this column and this effort to support school leaders will actually be stronger if I solicit other’s voices to join.  Plus, I can take the time off to get recharged and come back with more meaningful words to support your work.

So, I’m glad that I failed at #Leadership365.  It has been a valuable lesson to me, and hopefully through your lens can be insightful for your work.  I’m not going to change the name of this year’s effort, and you can look for me to be taking a few days off from time to time with some experts preparing columns in advance to share on those occasions.  Please let me know if you’d like to be a part of this effort!

Thanks for your patience during this learnable moment.  I’ll see you back here tomorrow.




How The School Year Concludes? It’s Up to You

You are working hard to keep everyone focused on instruction, but it seems that the distractions of your time are growing even larger.  There are observations and evaluations to complete.  Testing is about to begin.  It’s also the start of the hiring season.  By the way, there is also a full slate afternoon and evening events that commemorate the end of the year.  You had been keeping up by doing a lot of work at home, but now you are going to these school events almost every night, so keeping up is getting harder.

Welcome to March, Principal!

The school year has its seasons, its energy, its flow.  There’s the beginning of the year, from August until somewhere in early October when the newness of the journey naturally brings enthusiasm and excitement that keeps things going well.  This is a time when new ideas are prevalent and nearly everyone is forward looking and forward thinking.

Act Two of the show is the holiday season. From somewhere around mid-October, we begin to see the attention of our students (and teachers as well) be cast towards the events of the fall and winter… Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.  The community’s calendar is driven by occasions and events around these dates.  At school, while we work to   keep the focus on instruction, the calendar often drives the thinking of our people.  This isn’t always a bad thing as this part of the year can be known for creativity, engagement, and shared celebration.

We’ve just completed one of the most arduous seasons of the school calendar.  Winter.  Whether its a warm winter as this one turned out to be (at least here in Georgia) or a more traditional one, this part of the year can be a challenge.  Returning to school after a long break isn’t always the smoothest transition.  January and February can also turn into a grind if you haven’t built in some energy boosters along the way.

That brings us to now, the final, critical stretch of the school year.  The “March to May!”  It’s one of the busiest (if not the busiest) segments of the school year.  Transitions are coming.  Students and their families will move to your school; others will leave your school and transition on to their next stop.  As mentioned in the opener, there’s testing, observing, summative evaluations, interviewing, hiring, awards, field day, graduation, concerts and celebrations.


With all of this in the air, it’s easy to lose focus, but it doesn’t have to happen.  If the school leadership insists that school keep going until the final bell on the final day, that’s what will happen.  If you aren’t so insistent, results may vary.

The school year should end on a crescendo, not a thud.  It’s literally up to you which way it goes.  As the leader, you set the pace:  what you prioritize will get accomplished.

Here are seven tips to keep the momentum alive throughout the school year:

  1.  Establish that “finishing strong” is a part of your school’s culture.
  2. Work to develop a mindset among your faculty and students that every day is a great day for engaged learning.
  3. Ask your teachers to replace their “countdowns” in their classrooms with previews of what awesome things are yet to come in their class.
  4. Keep observing teachers and classrooms even after you’ve completed the summative meeting.  Give feedback.  Show them that your presence was always about their growth and improvement and not just for compliance by showing and giving meaningful feedback beyond the requirements.
  5. Be more visible instead of less.  Sometimes the volume of work that principals and APs have at the end of the year drive them to their office more during the end of the year.  That can lead to lower engagement in classrooms, more behavioral issues, more referrals and more to deal with on your plate.  Be proactive and preemptive and get out there even more than before.
  6. Lead your teachers in deeper engagement at the conclusion of the year than more shallow.  Share with your teachers the notion that this is the time to do more challenging work, not acquiesce to doing less.  The students should be at their most prepared and developed of the year.  If the lessons are engaging enough, the students will rise up.
  7. Show what your students can do and what they’ve learned through capstone events.  Bring in families, other classes (the next grade level can see what they can do after a year of learning), publish it on YouTube.  Have capstone events where students demonstrate their learning.  This is engaging, summative, and intentional.  It demonstrates our commitment to learning much more than watching Shrek.




Leadership: Working On Balance

Our most effective principals are able to bring balance to the school community while maintaining balance themselves.  Sounds easy?  Not so much.

As we continue to seek ways for principals, assistant principals, and teachers to be successful in their important work, its critical that, just as we look at the “whole student,” that we also examine the whole leader. 

This is a concept with which you’re familiar:  we can’t really expect to help a student be successful in school without a thorough and accurate examination of the student as a whole.  We know that the student doesn’t exist in a vacuum.  We can work (and we should) to help students focus on what’s happening at school, but all of us know that there is more to a student than just what you see in front of you at school.

So it is with school leaders as well.  I’ve shared this idea with Ps and APs hundreds of times:  the most important thing we have going for us in schools is who you are.  Here’s why:  who you are precedes what you think.  What you think in turn drives what you do.  What you do has a great influence on what the others at your school will do.



As a leadership coach, I can help you organize your actions and focus on the what you do portion of your work as a leader.  The challenge is this:  if someone has to help you with what you do, you’ll need them to be around a lot.  It’s only when they can begin to influence who you are that you’re able to become self-sustaining.  Same logic applies to your work with your people (teachers, staff, even students and their parents).  This has always been more about your work as a leader to help others be the best version of themselves than getting others merely to follow a set of instructions or directions.

Who You Are is the key to your success as a leader, and that’s why balance is so critical.  It’s easy to get out of balance when you’re a principal or assistant principal.  The truth is, these jobs have evolved into time-consumptive, all-encompassing pursuits where the default mode is work all day with the people who are present at school and work all evening on the associated required paperwork.  It’s that format that is leaving us with the turnover we’re experiencing in school leadership nationally.  It’s a faulty design; you can’t take your most effective, capable and competent people, put them in leadership, and churn through them in five years.  It’s a bad design for schools and systems and even worse for the leaders themselves.

There is hope, however, and that hope comes in really learning about balance and seeking to make it work on a daily basis.  Everyone talks about balance, knows that it’s important, and knows what it is.  It’s having the discipline to seek balance for yourself, for your school, and in your work that will lead you to prolonged growth and success, good health, and a greater quality of life.

Examining balance and getting it right means that you look not just what you do at work, but who you are as the whole leader.  That examination means that you look at yourself and your performance in several areas, including the following:

  1. How you relate to others in your school “universe”;
  2. How you perform and accomplish the tasks necessary in your job;
  3. How you relate to those important to you in your life away from school;
  4. How you interact with the world separate from your school and your home;
  5. How you are developing habits that promote short-term and long-term health and energy;
  6. How you are growing professionally and personally; and
  7. How happy, joyful, and fulfilled you are.

That’s too much to cover in one post, so we’ll be examining each of the seven areas of the whole leader individually in a series of weekly posts beginning next Sunday.



When Principals Have Adequate Support Schools Are More Effective

There are several reasons why some principals are successful and some struggle. The previous week’s blog posts have explored the first seven of those reasons; we conclude this series by looking at an area that ought to be a strength for all principals.

The job of principal is complex, multi-tiered, fast-paced, quickly-changing and often exhausting.  Despite it all, it’s the greatest job you’ll ever have… as long as you get the support you need to develop the skills and knowledge necessary to do it well.

To be honest with you, I’m basically amazed at two things regarding principals and support:  1) that some principals, even now in 2017, don’t have access to the support they need to be successful; and 2) some principals who have access to the support they need fail to take advantage of it. (an even bigger head-shaker)

There was a time that principals could go directly from the interview process into the principal’s office, ready for whatever may come their way and able to onboard with little to no additional support.  Here are three reasons why that isn’t the case anymore:

  1.  The Job is Too Complex To Prepare for Everything In Advance.  In olden days (the 80s, maybe the 90s?) a prospective principal candidate might be able to glean the necessary knowledge and skills in advance of taking the job.  In 2017, the job is too complex and things are changing too rapidly to thoroughly prepare in advance.
  2. The Turnover Rate is Large and Rising.  This is simple math.  We have more new principals entering the position each year.  The impact downstream is that new candidates are reaching the office of assistant principal and then principal with less experience than has been the case in the past.  An abundance of new principals signals that we are in a period when larger numbers of school leaders have less experience than their predecessors. That should mean increased efforts for principal support.  
  3. Principals ALWAYS have needed support.   We didn’t just arrive at the point where principals need support.  We’ve always been there.  Many principals throughout the years have developed their own networks of colleagues with whom to learn.  The decisions you have to make as principal are made better when you leverage the collective experience of a cohort of colleagues.  That’s not new, but what should be new is a universal commitment to supporting principals in their participation in collegial cohorts.

So what should principal support look like? Here’s a framework with a description following the graphic.


The most effective principal support systems have four complementary components:

  1.  Peer Cohort;
  2. One-On-One Coaching; 
  3. Formative Feedback;
  4. Supportive Environment.

Principals are more effective in their work through an intentional combination of these four components.  More about how those four work together in a post next week.

This is a part of an ongoing series of Eight Reasons Why Principals are Successful…or Struggle.  Our first entries were:  1. Preparation; 2. Communication; 3. Leadership; 4. Judgment; 5. Confidence; 6. Time Management; 7. Balance.   Please look at earlier blog entries to see the series in entirety.  Thank you!

#Leadership365   /41

When You’re Out of Balance, Leadership is a Struggle

Steady.  Calm, cool, and collected.  Doesn’t get flustered.  Grace under pressure.  Ice water in the veins.  Keeps it together.

There are a lot of things that people expect from their principal, but among the top things on the list is the ability to exhibit steady leadership even when things are stressful. 

The principal has an enormous influence on the mood of others at the school!  You can change the climate with your attitude on a daily basis.  If you are bringing excitement, enthusiasm, and joy to your work it is contagious.  On the other hand, if you’re bringing an uptightness, nervousness, and uncertainty it too will spread to others.

The people at your school are counting on you to bring things into balance.  To be a calm leader that brings confidence to others by being a consistently positive and steadying influence on the school’s environment.

Here’s the issue:  that’s a hard thing to do if you are out of balance yourself.  It’s not easy to steady the ship with wobbly legs!

It’s like they tell you on the airplane… in the unlikely event of a loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will descend from the compartment above you…please put on your oxygen mask before you attempt to help others.   This is something that as principals we don’t always do so well with. Please remember, bringing balance to situations, people, and the operation of your school is an important part of the principalship; it’s just hard to do if you are out of balance yourself.

Balance for the principal is about:

  1. Spending time away from work with friends and family;
  2. Spending time for your own relaxation, recreation, and renewal;
  3. Focusing on healthy habits (sleep, diet, exercise)
  4. Avoiding a preoccupation with school;
  5. Developing strategies to manage stress.

When I work with principals, particularly new or newer ones, balance isn’t always the first thing they focus on.  Most of them believe they need to reach some level of efficiency before they can really get to that.  The PROBLEM with that line of thinking is that when you’re the leader who is out of balance, you don’t perform at the same high levels of effectiveness as the leader who IS in balance.  So, if you’re waiting to “get caught up” before you get in balance, well… that is like the idea of “someday. “

Get balanced now.  When you’re out of balance, you are more likely to struggle.  When you’re not in a healthy place, you’re more likely to be aggravated by small things.  You are much more susceptible to illness (colds, etc..)   Your decision-making suffers.  Your interpersonal skills are diminished.

Don’t wait for someday to get balanced, and don’t fall into regret that you didn’t do it yesterday.  Today will be fine.  Actually, today is the perfect day to reach towards the balance that can make you whole, and make you the awesome leader you were meant to be.

This is a part of an ongoing series of Eight Reasons Why Principals are Successful…or Struggle.  Our first entries were:  1. Preparation; 2. Communication; 3. Leadership; 4. Judgment; 5. Confidence; 6. Time Management.  Please look at earlier blog entries to see the series in entirety.  Thank you!

#Leadership365   /40




Time Management: The Principal’s Challenge

One of my greatest privileges is to lead groups of principals and assistant principals in professional development.  Part of that experience is the opportunity for our leaders to be together and to share concerns with others who understand where they’re coming from.  When we gather, I often toss out the query, “what is it you’re struggling with?”  At least one– and usually more– of the principals immediately say time management.  What causes you struggle as a principal or assistant principal?  Time management.

In respect to that recurring theme, here’s a list of Five Truths About the Principal and Time Management.

1.  You will never be “caught up.”  If you’re an experienced principal, you already know this.  If you’re new or newer, you’re learning it.  If you are obsessed with having a clean desk, being completely caught up, and getting all of the items on your ‘to-do’ list checked off, being a principal can be a tough ride.

2.  It’s Actually About Priorities, Not Time.  While we talk about time management, it’s really about  priority setting.  You can say anything is your priority, but you define what matters most in deciding where you spend your money and your time.  If item number one is true (and it is, it’s on the list of truths!) then the effective principal will focus here, on priorities.  Your effectiveness if about the choices you make with your time more than it is the efficiency of your time, or the quantity of minutes/hours you work each week.

3.  Spend Your Time Doing The Principal’s Work  One of the common challenges that I often see with new principals is in their choice of what they do at work.  Some new (and even some veteran) principals continue to do the work of the AP and don’t get to the heart of the work of the principal.  There are things that need to be done that ONLY the principal can do.  Determine what those things are and make them a priority.  No one else will ever get to them.

4.  If you don’t spend time in quadrant two, who will?  Covey’s quadrants of time (crossing the axes of importance an urgency) give us a framework in which we can measure the value of our choices with our time.  Covey suggested that leaders spend much time in quadrant two– items that are defined as important but not urgent.  When I meet up with principals and ask them what they’ve been doing, I’m often saddened when I hear one say “you know… just putting out fires!”  Admittedly, there is some of that must be done, but if you’re doing it most of the time, you’re not doing it right.  In the absence of work done in that quadrant (planning, developing strategies, reflecting) then all that is left is urgency.  You have to get here.  Don’t make excuses; get here or you’ll be on the urgency carousel forever.

5.  Quality Time is More Important Quantity Time.  Slow down and do things well.  If you try to do too much-too fast, you’ll begin to feel like you’re not doing anything well.  Also, this isn’t a game that declares that the winner is the person who spends the most time at work.  Actually, that’s not the trophy you want to win.  It’s much better to be the leader who gets the most done in the shortest amount of time.  Be effective.  Everyone is working hard, but the principals who are most effective are the ones who are working hard at the right work. 


This is a part of an ongoing series of Eight Reasons Why Principals are Successful…or Struggle.  Our first entries were:  1. Preparation; 2. Communication; 3. Leadership; 4. Judgment; 5. Confidence. Please look at earlier blog entries to see the series in entirety.  Thank you!

#Leadership365   /39

If You Think You Can, You’re Probably Right: Confidence and the Principal


As the leader, if you don’t believe it’s unlikely you’ll get others to believe you either.

Confidence is one of the reasons why principals are successful, or, in its absence, why they struggle.  Your success as the principal is more about what you’re able to get others to do and not just what you can accomplish on your own.  Your skills in bringing others together to work towards the vision of the school is more critical than your ability to do it all yourself.  Many school leaders are selected for the job because they can get things done; once in the position of leadership, it’s more about what the others around you accomplish and how you lead them on the journey to success.  That’s where confidence plays such an important part.

There’s a subtle difference between the leader who visualizes what things will look like when the organization is running at its best and the leader who, at their core, is doubtful the team can be successful.  Those doubts usually begin in a lack of confidence in their own ability to get the faculty on board to move forward together.  The principal who isn’t sure that it’ll work usually becomes a part of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

When the principal is confident, she/he can generate enthusiasm about the work at hand and get others to join the effort.  It’s hard to sell something you don’t believe in, but if you genuinely believe in something, it’s not like you’re selling anything at all.  In our business, there are plenty of things to believe in:  the power of learning; that all students can learn; that everyone deserves an opportunity; that teachers make a difference.  When you deeply believe in those or other core values of your school, your influence has no bounds!  Your confidence spreads and gets others over the hump in their  struggle with self-doubt.  Confidence is contagious; so is doubt.  Be intentional in what you’re spreading.

What do you do if you really have doubts?  Preparation is a key to confidence.  (For evidence, watch classroom instruction that has been well-prepared for vs. a classroom where the teacher is winging it)   Continue to learn.  Spend time with other practitioners.  Be a part of a principal PLC.  The more you know, the further you’ll go!

It’s not just knowledge though.  It’s also attitude.  You have to summon the best of what’s inside of you to do what you need to do to lead your people.  In any organization, the people don’t want to follow you if you don’t seem confident you can get there!

A note worth considering:  you can take confidence too far.  When you do, you reach the end of the scale and have landed into arrogance.  That is as unproductive as living on the other extreme, doubt.  When you can live between those two poles, you’ll be in a much better place to serve your faculty, staff, students, and community with strength, humility, and the belief that you’ll lead the team to success.

This is a part of an ongoing series of Eight Reasons Why Principals are Successful…or Struggle.  Our first entries were:  1. Preparation; 2. Communication; 3. Leadership; 4. Judgment.  Please look at earlier blog entries to see the series in entirety.  Thank you!

#Leadership365   /38

Professional Reading Saturday: Turn The Ship Around!


Turn the Ship Around!

By Captain David Marquet, USN, Retired

“Leadership should mean giving control rather than taking control and creating leaders rather than forging followers.”

David Marquet, an experienced Navy officer, was used to giving orders. As newly appointed captain of the USS Santa Fe, a nuclear-powered submarine, he was responsible for more than a hundred sailors, deep in the sea. In this high-stress environment, where there is no margin for error, it was crucial his men did their job and did it well. But the ship was dogged by poor morale, poor performance, and the worst retention in the fleet.

Marquet acted like any other captain until, one day, he unknowingly gave an impossible order, and his crew tried to follow it anyway. When he asked why the order wasn’t challenged, the answer was “Because you told me to.” Marquet realized he was leading in a culture of followers, and they were all in danger unless they fundamentally changed the way they did things.

turn-the-ship-around-2That’s when Marquet took matters into his own hands and pushed for leadership at every level. Turn the Ship Around! is the true story of how the Santa Fe skyrocketed from worst to first in the fleet by challenging the U.S. Navy’s traditional leader-follower approach. Struggling against his own instincts to take control, he instead achieved the vastly more powerful model of giving control.

Before long, each member of Marquet’s crew became a leader and assumed responsibility for everything he did, from clerical tasks to crucial combat decisions. The crew became fully engaged, contributing their full intellectual capacity every day, and the Santa Fe started winning awards and promoting a highly disproportionate number of officers to submarine command.

No matter your business or position, you can apply Marquet’s radical guidelines to turn your own ship around. The payoff: a workplace where everyone around you is taking responsibility for their actions, where people are healthier and happier, where everyone is a leader.




#Leadership365 /35

Lead! It’s What Successful Principals Do

One of the differences between successful principals and those who struggle is the capacity to lead.  What does that mean?

Many people who attain the position of principal have gotten there because they can get things accomplished.  They are doers, workers, task-driven and on-time.  Those are great qualities and traits and are important if you’re a principal, but perhaps more important is your ability to get others to be the best they can be.  To collectively build a vision and spread that vision everywhere you go.  To delegate. To empower.  To inspire.  To lead!

When they threw you to the wolves did you come back leading the pack?

One of the shifts that new principals have to make as they move up from their work as the assistant principal is to become the leader.  The truth is, everyone doesn’t like being the leader.  A big realization that you reach as the principal is that your success depends upon your ability to get others to be successful.  You can’t do it alone.  You can’t even manage every piece of it.  You are leading the orchestra, not beating the drum anymore and that is a different skill set, but one that is needed to be the leader.

How do you get to be more effective in “leading”? If you aren’t yet a principal but want to be, seek experiences in which you are able to “be in charge” and to lead.  Make mistakes.  Reflect and learn from them.  The more that you experience, the better you can become. (as long as you have a feedback, reflection, revision loop).

If you’re already a principal, you get better as a leader by spending time with other people who do what you do, or have done what you are doing.  Leadership tends to gravitate towards isolation unless you are intentional about your growth.  Get in a cohort,  learn from other practitioners, talk about it.  Read about leaders and how they are able to get other people to join them in the journey to success.

Bow your neck and let the greatness that resides in you be shown for everyone to see!



Leadership365  /34

This is part of a series of Eight Reasons Why Principals Are Successful… Or Struggle.  It began on January 30. Please check back over the posts beginning then to see the series in entirety.  Thank you! Mark

Five Traits of Principals Who Communicate Effectively

Communication and the Principal.

As we continue to examine what areas distinguish the successful principals from the struggling ones, communication is near the top of the list.  Nearly everyone who accepts a principalship has good intentions, wants to do a good job, and has previously been successful professionally.  That alone doesn’t guarantee success.

Communicating effectively can be a great pathway to success as a principal.  On the other hand, principals who struggle with communication find the job more difficult than it ought to be. If you get the reputation that you are hard to communicate with or do a poor job of sharing information, it’s difficult to overcome that perception. If others perceive you as a good communicator, however, they develop added confidence to what you say (unless you prove them wrong).

Principals would do well to work at becoming better communicators.   Most everyone thinks they are a good communicator, however, so progress can be stalled by an inaccurate self-appraisal.  One way to measure up and to build a plan for improvement is to consider what the best communicators do.  To that end, let’s look at five traits of principals who communicate effectively. 

Five Traits of Principals Who Communicate Effectively

1.  Listens to Understand:  When you are the leader, everyone wants a minute of your time.  The most effective leaders really listen to others (rather than formulate your response while they’re talking).  More than that, you go beyond the question or concern to the reason behind it.  When you listen to understand, you are interacting with your people; the you listen to reply you are merely responding to them.  It’s the subtleties that make the difference between struggling and successful leaders.

2.  Values and Respects Others: You may have 150 conversations during the course of work hours but to those who speak with you, it might be their most important conversation of the day.  Their time with you might be the subject of dinner conversation at home or the first thing they share with their significant other. The most effective leader embraces the role and makes interactions with faculty, staff, students, and parents important.  This is an inside-out action; you have to first value and respect others in a genuine way to be able to communicate with them as such.  They will know from your tone, your level of attention, and how you speak with them.  And, if they believe you value and respect them they will be more likely to join you on your school’s journey to success.

3.  Speaks Well, Not Ill of Others:  Speaking negatively of others is an invitation for your team to do the same.  If you, however are caught speaking well about other people, it shows that you notice and that you care. 

4.  Communicates Clearly and Concisely:  The leader can often have the burden of knowing too much.  All of the things that we are asked to initiate at our schools are complicated and voluminous.  We do well when we filter all of the things we know into bite-size portions that our teachers can swallow.  The most effective leaders also proofread and have others read their work for clarity.  It ALWAYS makes sense in your head; will it make the same sense in someone else’s?

5.  Shares Information in a Timely and Appropriate Manner:  Teachers don’t like surprises unless they are chocolate covered.  Keep information flowing in a timely way.  When we get information distributed timely and effectively, it helps our team grow confidence in our leadership.  When we are getting important things out at the last minute all the time, our teachers begin to wonder about our ability to steer the ship.  Little things get to be big things.


Leadership365  /33

This is part of a series of Eight Reasons Why Principals Are Successful… Or Struggle.  It began on January 30. Please check back over the posts beginning then to see the series in entirety.  Thank you! Mark

Knowledge, Skills, and Dispositions: Principals Need All for Success

The job of school principal is a significant  one for the life of the school.  It brings with it immense responsibility, massive work load, and daily unpredictability.  Despite the challenges, it is (in my opinion) the greatest job you will ever have as long as you are prepared for it.

If you’re already a principal, you may have just chuckled thinking about how no one can really prepare you for the unexpected things that come your way in the fast-paced flurry of being a principal.  While you could never replicate all of the things that will happen to you as a principal, you can prepare for the position, and most importantly continue to grow as you reach the principal’s office.

During my career, I worked as a school-level administrator for fifteen years and am now in my fifth year in a support role for principals, assistant principals and a trainer for those who aspire to be school leaders.  What I’ve learned is the individuals who become successful in the role of principal have the knowledge to do the job, the skills to get things done, and the dispositions to be successful regardless of the circumstances.

Conversely, the people who struggle have a gap in their capabilities in one or more of those areas.  You wouldn’t think that candidates with a hole in their knowledge of the job would get the position, but the constant turnover rates often lead systems to select the best candidate available which may not be everything they want.  If you are playing catch-up, gaps in knowledge are the easiest of the three performance areas to tackle.  After all, there is a lot to know!  Some things you need to know as principal aren’t accessed on a daily basis from the assistant principals role (I almost always hear of APs wanting to know more about budgeting).  Systems that build intentional pipelines to the principalship are more successful in helping their individuals be intellectually prepared for the position.

10-skills-for-effective-school-leadersThe list of skills you need to be a successful school leader is a long one.  NASSP (National Association of Secondary School Principals) created such a list in 2010 and has revised it since.  They arranged the skills of effective school leaders in these categories:  Educational Leadership, Resolving Complex Problems, Communication, and Developing Self and Others.  The degree to which the principal is skillful in those areas can be predictive of her/his success as the leader.  When principals struggle, it can often be tracked to those areas, particularly communication and leadership.  You have to be able to get people to see the vision, join the journey and commit to excellence.  Some people are better than others at doing those things, and prior experience in “being in charge” and leading others is good preparation for the principalship.

Finally, success or struggle as the principal often comes down to dispositions– your attitudes and your habits.  The job of principal if done well is one involving and including others at a deep level.  It requires a motivator, a connector, a consensus builder, a conveyor of hope and high expectations.  The pace of the school comes from the leader and this is the toughest of the three performance dimensions on which to work.  Real change comes from inside and only when you make the decision to change. A good attitude alone isn’t enough to be successful, but it can be the difference maker to help you as you grow in your knowledge and your skills.

More on what makes principals successful tomorrow!

Leadership365  /32

This is part of a series of Eight Reasons Why Principals Are Successful… Or Struggle.  It began on January 30. Please check back to see the series in entirety.  Thank you!



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

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

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