What Would Help You In Your Professional Growth? Time.

After being a school administrator for fifteen years and beginning my tenth year in full-time support of school leaders next year, I’ve learned a lot about leadership development.

Principals and APs are already short on time. Yes, you want to learn and grow but there are only so many hours in the day? There are a lot of resources on the internet, social media, and other places, but you can spend a lot of time hunting for good, reliable content and not really get it. Or, if you do, you get caught up in the distractions (pop up ads, anyone?) and it takes more time than it ought to.

That’s where The Leadership School can help. We create and curate content in easy-to-search ways. Want to know “How To Lead A Great Parent Meeting”? We can get you to short lessons from active practitioners without ads, distractions, or sorting through page after page on a Google search.

We do the Googling for you. You get to skip to the part where you have the good content.

And, you don’t have to leave your office/home/back porch/wherever you are to get it. That saves you hours of windshield time. We anticipate what you’ll ask, but if you need something we don’t already have? Just ask. We’ll get you content to answer the question quicker than you can fill out a request to go somewhere for Professional Development.

The people behind The Leadership School are lifelong educators who have been helping leaders for decades. We’re here to help you too. Check us out at http://school-leader.com and get what you need. Professional learning on-time every time!

The Leadership School

How do we bring the best leadership development to school leaders everywhere?  How do we create a space for those leaders to learn together, to connect as a community?  How do we make it of the highest-quality, but at a price that works for everyone?  How do we make it work for anyone, anywhere, any time, with live events, in-person meetings, and new exclusive content every week?

The Leadership School.  A Community of School Leaders Learning Together
The Leadership School. Trailer #1

Your Job? Helping Teachers Grow.

Becoming a Principal can be a curious thing.

You get the job before you know the job, and then a big part of your job is to figure out what your job really is.

Are you with me?  Please let me explain.

The expectations of the principal haven’t changed over the years… instead, they’ve multiplied!  People still expect the principal do things they’ve done for decades– be the face of the school, support the students at extracurricular events, open car doors in the morning and solve bus issues in the afternoon.


And develop a comprehensive school improvement plan.  And a hospitable culture to rival Chick-Fil-A.  And infuse STEM, Mindset Training, and Differentiate for teachers and students alike.

That’s just a sliver of all of the things you’re asked to do, as you know.  But here’s the challenge:  out of the many important things that you do, what’s the most critical for you to do to live up to the standards set for your performance?

Help your teachers grow.

Yes, your responsible for safety is always the most important thing you do, but the most critical for you to be deemed successful is to help your teachers grow.

It’s for that reason everyone says you need to be visible.  It’s to help your teachers grow that you go to grade-level meetings, and PLCs, and book studies.  It’s the goal of your school’s evaluation program.  It’s the most critical thing you do.  In its absence, you are at best a caretaker of the school, not a leader.  Our business is learning;  our key representatives in the business are our teachers;  their performance IS your performance.  It is on this that you focus if you want your school to meet the needs of the students, because it’s through your teachers that you reach out to each and every one of your students.  Your heart and your head through their hands.  Hands whose work YOU are responsible for.

Your commitment to the task at hand– leading your teachers in their professional growth– is the pathway to success for you, your teachers, your students, and your school.  Using the evaluation system as a support and as a needs assessment, your role as the school leader is to find out what your people need and get it to them.  (Just as the teacher’s role is to do the same for her students!)

I’ve heard school administrators tell their faculty members, “my job is to make your job easier,”  That’s a notion worth a challenge.  The truth is, the teacher’s job isn’t really easy, and while administrators offer support, our best play isn’t to present ourselves as Tech Support or the Geek Squad.  Perhaps our goal should be to be more like Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid?  A trusted, wise coach whose wisdom matches up with his authority.

Making your teachers’ jobs easier may be a lot to promise, but what if your focus is on helping your teachers find more meaning in their work?  What if your “job’ is to help them learn so much about doing their job that their confidence stands taller than their troubles and their doubts?  That’s a lot more substantive and sustainable of a gift.

As we enter September and the second phase of the school  year, the performance of your teachers will become more and more an indicator of the success of your students, AND your quality of life as the principal.  Their growth is your job.  Make sure your calendar reflects it as the priority that it is.

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


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Trust and the Principal.

Everyone who begins a new tenure at a school as the Principal hears the same advice: (including from Principal Matters!)  don’t start making changes right away, and maybe not any big changes in your first year at all.

You’ve heard that.  It most usually holds true.  The ‘why’ of it, however, isn’t always discussed.

It’s pretty simple.  People reserve their full effort until they trust you as the leader. 

An initiative you lead after you’ve gained the trust of your team has very different outcomes than one you initiate before they’re ready to join you.  Of course, there are always leaders who fail to heed this advice and plunge in anyway.  Some of them aren’t given a choice by their supervisors and are called upon to do immediate changes.

If you begin to make too many changes before you’ve earned trust, now you run the risk that not only do they not trust you, but they are not sure they can trust your judgment.  (Others often view the leader’s judgment along with the results; if you push something before you gain trust and it flops, then your judgment falls into question and you’re further set back in your journey to gain their trust.)

OK, here’s how it plays out in practice.  Sometimes it is really necessary to change some things sooner than you’d like.  If your teachers are yelling or disrespecting students, that’s nothing you can wait on.  If you have staff who leave their classes unattended, don’t come to work on time (or at all!) you can’t wait on that either.  If there are practices that a reasonable person would consider to be unsafe, you have to get going on those as well.

Success falls upon the prudent more than the overly-cautious or the impulsive.  Do what must be done, and then gain the necessary trust to do what should be done.

Your staff probably can be divided up into those who are quick to trust, those who may never fully trust, and the overwhelmingly largest group (68%… you know the bell curve) who are waiting to see which of the first two groups are correct!  For those, trust is a function of time, a matter of developing relationships, and observably consistent behavior on your part (i.e.- what you do and what you say match up)

Trust will come (if you are trust-worthy) over time, and then moving the organization forward becomes a much different (and more effective) task.

Funny thing about earning trust… takes much longer to earn than to lose.  Being a person who can be trusted, a leader who seeks the best for her people, a team member who sets aside his personal agenda for the better of the school.. that’s how you can keep trust once you’ve gained it.

On Monday Night (from 8:00-9:00 PM EDT) you can access the first episode of season two of “The New Principal Show.”  Our topic:  Trust and the Principal.

You can join the LIVE show here:  The New Principal Show! LIVE .   If you miss it, you can catch the recording as a podcast here:  Podcast: TNPS! .

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

Season Two

The New Principal Show! August 13- Season Two Debut

Being a Principal is the greatest job ever!

AND, it’s really a challenge.

You need to be in conversation with other practitioners.  We provide the opportunity for you to do so without leaving your home.

The New Principal Show! is back for Season Two and begins on Monday, August 13.   From 8-9 PM at this link:  https://www.gotomeet.me/principal-matters

  • We have a LIVE show once each month;
  • Each live show is posted as a podcast the next day at https://thenewprincipalshow.podbean.com/
  • We have additional, new podcasts weekly at the same site.

At the LIVE shows, you have a chance to:

  • interact with other practitioners;
  • use the chat function to talk about topics via text;
  • use the microphone function to talk to others and literally join the conversation;
  • get support and encouragement from others who want you to be successful!

There’s no charge; we aren’t selling anything.  We just want you to do well.

Join us.  Details below, including the schedule for this year!

Season Two


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

The New Principal Show! Season Two Begins August 13

We’re pleased to announce Season Two of “The New Principal Show!”, debuting on Monday, August 13.

Features for Season Two include:

  • Ten Live Shows. Once each month (from August through May), we will host a LIVE show, featuring guests, and providing an interactive opportunity for anyone who joins.  You can reach these shows by joining us at gotomeet.me/principal-matters at 8:00 PM, beginning on August 13.  (Full live show calendar listed below);
  • Twenty Additional Podcasts.    Each of our live shows is recorded and uploaded as a podcast at our podcast landing site,  thenewprincipalshow.podbean.com  This year we ALSO will be posting twenty additional pre-recorded podcasts for a total of 30 podcasts for this season!   Podcasts also are released on Mondays at 8:00 pm (EDT/EST).
  • We’ll be making releases of our guests in advance of each broadcast, and are excited about the opportunity thirty episodes gives us to have dozens of educational leaders on the show!  More details coming soon.

Join us on Monday, August 13 at 8:00 PM for the season premier.  It’s going to be fun!

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


Ten Things To Remember As Teachers Return To School

While I was at dinner, I heard someone in the restaurant, obviously a teacher, talking to a friend in line.  I heard her reply, but context leads me to believe it was the question every teacher is hearing now.

“Are you about ready for school to start?”

The teacher, replied back, “yes, I’m excited to get back to the kids and to have a routine, but I’ll miss my summer!  We go back next week.”

So, if your teachers haven’t returned to school yet, they’re thinking about it.  And others are asking them about it.

For you as the school leader, it’s a time you should be excited about.  These teachers are your stars;  they are the ones who will lead your students to discovery, to curiosity, to knowledge.  You should be as excited for them to return to you as the parents are to send their children back to you and your teachers.

As you prepare for their return, here are Ten Things To Remember about their return to school.

  1. Help All Your Teachers Get Off To An Inspired Start.   You can tell them all of the rules they’ll ever need to know on the first day you have them back, or you can get them excited about what they do and the promise of a new year.  Which method leads to instructional success?
  2. Teach your teachers what you want them to know; don’t just tell them.    It’s easy for you to look at the list of things you want your teachers to know, and the short time you have them to yourself and to try to tell them too much.  Does it really serve you (or them) well for you to try to cover more things than they can digest?  The school year lasts a while; you don’t really need to tell them everything at once.
  3. Together, Design a Great First Day With Students.   What one thing do you want your teachers to focus on in preparation for their first day with their students?  If you take your time with them to prepare them for that goal, will the beginning of school go smoothly?  Are you clear in your description of what you want the first days with students to be?  Painting that picture is important if you want your expectations to be met.  Taking the time to get the FDOS (First Day of School) right will pay dividends all year long.
  4. Atmosphere Contributes to Performance.   If your first days with your teachers seem rushed, over-scheduled, and full of tension, that will set a tone that you may not mean to set.  What if you and your administrative team met your teachers as they entered the school on the first day?  Giving them high-fives and fist bumps like you’d like them to do when their students arrive?  If you model this, would it be more impactful than if you merely told them?
  5. Define the Focus for the Year.   Recently, I heard some nice, wonderful school leaders tell their faculty what the focus would be for the upcoming year.  They then unveiled a powerpoint presentation for over an hour and shared Fourteen Areas of Focus for the upcoming year!!!   My expectations for their success are… very guarded.  If you tell your team fourteen things are important, they may not actually focus on the one that really is the most important. Please don’t say ‘priority’ if you don’t mean it.
  6. Give Your Teachers Space and Time to Connect with Each Other.  Your teachers will be working together, collaboratively, this year.  Don’t forget to give them time to connect and build trust with each other during the first days of school.
  7. Give Special Attention To Your New Teachers.   Who on your administrative team will advocate for each of the new teachers on your staff?  Sure, they have a faculty mentor, but on your team, who will shepherd each of them through the first days?  If you are checking in on them (in person) a couple of times each day during pre-planning and the first days, you’ll set the tone that you aren’t going to leave their success to chance and that you are going to be there for them.
  8. Be Rested and Ready for the Teachers’ First Day.    Here’s an idea worthy of your consideration:  do all of the planning for your teachers’ return, and on the night before they arrive, get refreshed for the next day.  (Exercise, walk, do something non-school;  then get a good night’s sleep)  Before you start shaking your head “NO!”, hear me out, please:  You have to stop your preparation for the teachers’ return sometime.  Stop it with enough time to get yourself to your best as they arrive.  If you are full of energy that first day, you set the tone in a good way.  If you are dragging on their first day, it’ll do the opposite.
  9. Focus on the Good.    Chances are that most of what you plan for the teachers’ first day will go well… but chances are something may not go as you planned.  This is a time when your teachers will see how you respond in such a scenario.  Is it better for them to see you adapt gracefully or to respond fretfully to the unplanned or unexpected?   If the food for breakfast arrives later than you planned, you can let it ruin your day, or you can keep your focus on the good.  And there’s lots of good on the first day for teachers.
  10. Take Time for Your People.   Will your school get off to a better start with you getting around the building and seeing all of your people on their first day(s) back?  How you spend your time on those first days shows others your focus, and the winning hand in school leadership is always a focus on leading your teachers.


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The New Principal and Instructional Leadership

When superintendents ask me if I know good candidates for principal positions, I always ask them what they’re looking for, but I know what they’ll say.

“We’re looking for… an instructional leader.”

With our focus on learning and student growth, it’s what you need to be to do what you need to do.

As the new principal, you’re a lot like a freshman in college.  Not only are you tasked with challenging work, but you’re getting acclimated to a new place, new people, and a new lifestyle.  Sometimes for that college freshman, the main thing can get swallowed up by lots of other adjustments.

The same thing can happen to you as a new principal.  That’s why it’s important to keep your focus on instruction and your leadership growth in that area.  To support you in that work, we hosted an episode of The New Principal Show! in season one with  amazing co-hosts Cindy Saxon and Casey Bethel to help you in your work as an instructional leader.  As we get ready for season TWO  of TNPS!, we are re-delivering you last year’s shows to get you back in the swing.  Please enjoy this one whenever you listen to podcasts!

[podbean type=audio-square resource=”episode=shs6j-70f1de” skin=”1″ auto=”0″ height=315 ]


© 2018 Mark D. Wilson

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The New Principal Show! Live from Summer GAEL- A Recap

Principals, APs and other school leaders gathered yesterday at Jekyll Island at the Summer GAEL Conference for our LIVE session to support new principals.

Our topics included discussions on the previous two blogposts found here:  Principles for New Principals  ( https://principal-matters.com/2018/07/11/guiding-principles-for-new-principals/ ) and This! Not That! (https://principal-matters.com/2018/07/11/this-not-that-twelve-practical-steps-towards-successful-school-leadership/ )

We also heard from three leaders who have accomplished the chief goal of first-year principals:  they are now second-year principals!  Dr. Susan Stone of Jasper County and Tanya Welchel and John Rhodarmer of Floyd County shared some of the “You Won’t Believe This” moments from their first year in the principalship.


Here’s the reason those stories need to be told:  you really don’t get a course in college to prepare you for every circumstance that might come your way.  These wonderful folks did well because they were adaptable, nimble and confident.

There’s no instruction booklet to cover all of the possibilities that come your way in school leadership.  You are able to do more than survive-  you can thrive IF you are able to rely on your experience, your knowledge, and the core of who you are to make good decisions and do the right things.


Who YOU are will determine what your school achieves.  The most effective school leaders work on themselves first– not out of selfishness, but out of an understanding that your growth is critical for that of your school’s.  That’s why our hope is that you’ll never stop learning, and that you’ll make room for your own growth.

Here’s to a great year of learning! We’ll try to make it convenient for you.


©2018 Mark D. Wilson

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This! Not That. Twelve Practical Steps Towards Successful School Leadership

School leaders are doers.  They are also dreamers, negotiators, and experts in human behavior, but as a group, we like to do things.

In that spirit, we share with you this list of twelve practical steps towards successful school leadership.  Each of these steps is a “This! Not That!” for simplicity.  Don’t be fooled; the ideas behind them aren’t simplistic.

Each of these steps is a lesson unto itself, and we’ll take up those lessons in the coming days here at Principal Matters!  For now, here’s the list of This!  Not That! (School Leader Version)

Do This! Not That!.png

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Don’t Be Accidental; Lead With Vision

Why does AdvancED insist that a school and system conduct a process with all stakeholders to design their vision, mission and beliefs? Why is this so important that it is a requirement to renew one’s accreditation?

Have you ever given that much thought?

Earlier in my career as I was moving through the ranks in administration, it seemed that I had the “accreditation magnet.”  Whenever I chose to change jobs and move to another school, once I arrived, I was informed, “by the way, we’ll be going through accreditation next year.”  Because of that ‘good fortune,’ I had the opportunity to work on a number of strategic plans and accreditation visits.

I wish that I knew then what I know now.

For one, if you are only examining vision, mission, and beliefs every five to ten years, it’s not very likely to be driving the work of your school or system. 

vision socratesMy advice to school leaders?  Talk about about vision every day.  Don’t miss a chance to bring focus to the mission.  In every thing you do, you’re shaping the beliefs of your school.  Formally examine vision/mission/beliefs at least annually.

Not for compliance, not for practice, not for show; examine vision/mission/beliefs to bring a focus to the work everyone does on a daily basis.


Here are some very unproductive things to say and do when reviewing vision/mission/beliefs of your school and system:

  • What did we put last time? 
  • Let’s figure out how to make this as easy as possible for everyone.  Most of our work can be done on a google doc.  We really won’t have to spend much time on this!
  • We just went through this for something else  one year/two years/three years ago… let’s use that!
  • I found this from another school in our system/another school in another system/my sister’s school in Florida; we can use this as a guide to get us started.
  • What is it that they want? 
  • Make sure we have an agenda and sign-in sheet for our meetings.  We need to ask parents, students and community members.  Let’s get four of five of each to look at what we’ve got so far and give us feedback. 
  • 21st century, world-class, synergy, global…

What can change the mindsets that lead to such colossal wastes of time?

Not what, who.

You can make the vision, mission, and beliefs lead your school in success if you will embrace their value and make them a priority.  People at the school will follow the lead of the leader.  Are you the leader?  Do you want your people to be driven by vision, mission, beliefs..purpose?

AdvancED requires us all to engage in the process of determining our vision, mission, and beliefs with our stakeholders.  They do so to ensure that we’ll do it.  Truth is, we should do this on our own if no one ever asked us to do it again.  How can you move from compliance to excellence in your school?  One way is to approach vision/mission/beliefs as if it were your idea.  That’ll be easy to do if, it really is your idea.  Work on vision when you don’t have to.  Talk about it every day, right up to when others begin to talk about it for you.

If your school isn’t running on vision/mission/beliefs (purpose) what is it running on?  What’s driving your school and the way your people approach their work, their relationships at school, their day?

Don’t let that be accidental.  Lead with vision.


Twenty Questions: The Administrator’s Version

This week at Principal Matters! has been one question after another.  Our focus has been on gathering meaningful perception data while the opportunity exists.  You can’t get year-end, summative perceptions until near the end of the year.  If you wait too late, however, you’ll have missed the moment and thoughts will fade away about this school year and move on to the summer or other things.

For your consideration, we’ve shared potential questions you could ask your students, their parents, and your teachers.  There’s no pride in authorship of these questions; the greatest hope is that you take time to be intentional in your gathering of perception data.  You will always be amazed at what you learn when you ask the right questions.  What are the right questions?  You can answer that one by examining the context of your school and determining what it is that you need to know.  There are probably some questions that are universal to most any school site, but the biggest thing to remind you is to get perceptions from students, parents, and teachers while you can.  If you wait until the very end of the year, you are probably pushing it.  Sometime between now and then is most likely a good spot.

reflectionSo, if you’re asking questions of everyone else, who’s left for today?

You know who.

Self-reflection is the school of wisdom.”   It’s important that you not only ask others for their perceptions, but that you take time to collect your own.  It’s even better if you have a trusted colleague or professional cohort with whom to share your reflections.  Best case scenario?  You have that group (3-4 principals, maybe?) and you reflect on the same set of questions individually, then get together to share your thoughts.  There is great potential or growth in such a process!

Here are some possible questions for you to consider for your own year-end reflection, whether you do it separately, with colleagues, or a little of both.

Twenty Year-End Self-Reflection Questions for Principals and APs

  1.  What do you make of your school’s progress this school year?  How did it align with your expectations? Why or why not?
  2. What about your school’s performance?  Was it what you had expected?  Why or why not?
  3. As a whole, how much did your faculty grow professionally this year?  To what do you attribute this?
  4. What do you believe is the perception of your school for the parents of your students?  How have you arrived at that conclusion?
  5. Do your students enjoy going to your school?  Is there an advantage for a student to go to your school instead of some other school?
  6. What is your school good at doing?  Are there three things that you can confidently share with the public that your school excels in?
  7. In what ways did you excel as a leader this year?  What did you do well?
  8. What was your biggest failing as the school’s leader this year?  What did that experience teach you?
  9. What are you struggling with as this year comes to a close?  What have you just not figured out at this point?
  10. What is your area of growth for this summer?  What skill or skills do you need to improve?  What area do you need to gain more knowledge in?
  11. How well did you support your assistant principal’s growth this year?  Is your AP better today than a year ago?  How well have you built capacity for your AP to represent you in sharing the vision, mission and beliefs of the school among the faculty and staff?
  12. How did you do in building relationships this year?  Where did you excel, and where did you flounder?
  13. How is the climate of your school?  What will you do to maintain a positive climate at your school for next year?
  14. What did you do to deepen the strength of your school’s vision/mission/beliefs during this school year?   How successful were you in that work?
  15. What did you get right and what did you get wrong in terms of time management this year?
  16. On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 is low; 10 is high) how well did you achieve an appropriate work/life balance this year?  What will your plan be for next year?  How will you remain consistent in that work?
  17. As the school’s leader, what did you accomplish this year of which you’re the most proud?
  18. How strong are your relationships with Central Office?  What can you plan for next year to strengthen those connections?
  19. How well did you connect with other colleagues from other schools and systems?  What will you do moving forward to make this a priority?
  20. Are you enjoying being a principal?




Support Teacher-Leaders with Acknowledgement, Attendance, and Appreciation

As the principal or assistant principal, teacher-leaders are critical for your school’s success.  More than anything, they need your support.  What does that look like?  Here are three things that you can do to effectively support your teacher-leaders.

  1. Acknowledgement:   Seems simple, but among the most important ways to support your teacher-leader is to acknowledge their efforts.  If you have someone who is heading up an effort at your school, make sure to acknowledge what they’re doing.  You may need to accomplish this in a number of ways.  The most important is face-to-face:  make sure that your teacher-leader hears you say “thank you.”   It’s been my observation that most teachers are wonderful people who will go a long way on just a little.  If you have a teacher who’s taking the lead on a new reading program for the school or her grade level, make sure you acknowledge that you know what they’re doing.  If a couple of your teachers are leading the Honor Society Induction, drop them a note to thank them for their work.  Acknowledge the efforts of your teacher-leaders in meetings, in newsletters, and in your social media efforts.  Don’t just include those who are sponsors and coaches, but also those who are leading academic efforts.  Again, this seems so simple, but it is so important just to acknowledge the extra effort being extended by your teacher-leaders.
  2. Attendance:  Be there.  It goes hand-in-hand with the acknowledgement of their efforts.  Show up.  When one of your teachers is leading the way in using technology in her classroom, be there.  Not just to write it up as an observation, but  to be there to support her work.  You know to be at the marquee events, but the principal who shows up at all of the other events as well is one who is building a culture of teacher-leadership.  Again, this may seem very intuitive for you, and if it does then you’re on the right track.  Sometimes just “showing up” is enough to demonstrate your support for your teacher-leader in a significant way.
  3. appreciationAppreciation:   It’s the next part of this progression:  after you acknowledge that you know that your teacher is leading, and because you attend demonstrations of the work, you are able to show your appreciation to your teacher.  This goes a little deeper than acknowledgement.  Since you’ve been in attendance and seen the work, now you can really show your appreciation.  Find ways to show your gratitude to your teacher-leader for the work that they have done.  One of the most important parts of appreciation is thoughtful follow-through.  “Thank you” is nice;  even nicer is something like this:  “thank you for opening the world up to our students through the work that you did on this project.  The level of commitment that you demonstrated is a great example for all of your students…   Appreciation is demonstrated not only by gratitude, but though an understanding of what’s been accomplished that can only be reached by spending time to observe and reflect.  That’s why appreciation is a step beyond acknowledgement.

Supporting your teacher-leaders in their leadership work and their development is an investment of time but it is most likely going to be something that will be natural for you as a leader.  If you support them with intentionality, you’ll be amazed at what it will do for your culture-building efforts.

This is the final episode of a two-week series on teacher teams and teacher-leaders.  If you take a look back through the last few days here at Principal Matters!, you’ll see how we have arrived where we are today.



Learning to Lead: Experience Wanted

Are leaders born or are they taught?

Regardless of which side of that argument you come down on, you’ll probably agree that experience can be a great teacher of leadership, whether you have predispositions to lead or not.

If that’s true, shouldn’t principals be ever-seeking opportunities for leadership for teachers, students, and staff?

Over the past two weeks, we’ve looked at a topic that’s inspiring conversations at schools nearly everywhere:  teacher teams and teacher-leaders.  How do we have the most effective teacher teams?  How do we prepare and support the teachers who lead those teams?

That line of questioning led us to yesterday’s topic:  What if we focused on leadership  with everybody?  Today’s column carries that question to its natural conclusion:  HOW do we connect everyone to leadership opportunities? 

learning to lead

Here are some steps that can support your teachers and students as leaders:

  1. Permission to Lead:  Having a culture of leadership at your school begins with… giving everyone permission to lead.  Sounds unnecessary, but it’s important as the principal to set the tone that everyone’s ideas and contributions matter.  If your teachers and students believe that you’re there to say ‘yes’ then they’ll be more likely to step up to lead.  Make it clear and say it plainly.  Leaders wanted… all over the school.
  2. Identify Your Passion:   Principals need to be asking teachers and students about their individual passions.  We need protocols that support this work.  It can be done easily electronically, but it should be done universally and often.  If you have people thinking about their passion at school, it’ll change the culture immeasurably.  Everyone does better when they’re interested; if you set the tone that everyone’s a leader, step two is to engage everyone in exploration of their own interests and a particular passion.
  3. Gather Your Team:  Once you have permission to lead and have identified your personal passion, it’s time to find like-minded folks to join you on this journey.  You need to build a team.   It can be small (1-2) or large, a standing committee or an organically-formed group who join your interest.  If you’ve built a culture of creativity and collaboration, now all you need is to find each other and begin to act like a team.
  4. State Your Mission:  There’s you, your passion, your team, and now you need a mission.  It needs to be clearly stated and shared for understanding with your team.  The mission drives you through uncertainties and sets you on the course of your journey to success.
  5. Design Your Plan:   Often, people want to go straight to this step without the preceding ones.  That can be problematic.  You don’t need the plan first to get your team.  You DO need your passion, and then your mission.  Once you’re set with the important beginning elements, THEN it’s time to design a plan to support your mission.  
  6. Implement!  Ideas into action! Work your plan.  Just do it.
  7. Own The Results:  Being in charge means accountability.  Many of the candidates for leadership positions have the interest in the position but maybe not the experience.  This is what I believe to be one of the most important components of learning leadership.  Without a sense of vulnerability and a risk that your idea might not work, there’s not a lot to learn.  Leadership skills grow when you have to work with others, you own the results, and you are responsible for both parts (the results and the people involved).

How can you connect your people into this leadership framework?  The more that teachers and students lead, the more that teachers and students learn.  Leadership can (and does) happen in the classroom, but everything that happens in the classroom isn’t necessarily leadership.

Inspire leading by inspiring learning.  Foster a sense of exploration and curiosity.  Ask people what they’re passionate about.  Challenge both teachers and students to create things.

The more leaders at your school, the more ideas you’ll have and the more effective your school will be.





What If We Focused on Leadership With Everybody?

Principals and Assistant Principals hear a lot about leadership.  If you serve the school in one of those roles, you are identified as a leader by title.  You’re also called upon to extend leadership to others, which often means teachers, a leadership team, and others who are involved with you in the administration and leadership of the school.

We’ve been looking at teacher-leaders over the past two weeks, examining what the principal and assistant-principal(s) can do to develop and support teacher-leaders.  In today’s column, we toss out an idea that might make it all come together for you at your school.

The idea is simple:  build more leaders by developing a leadership development program for everyone.  

You might be thinking, “wait!  I am having trouble trying to get a few people to do well in leadership.  Why would adding on more be a good idea? ”  While that argument may seem logical at first glance, consider this:  what if you could establish as a norm for your school ‘leadership.‘  (replacing what norm that conflicts with it now?  Followership? Indifference?)

What if your school was designed behind this premise:  everyone is a teacher, everyone is a student, everyone is a leader.  If you can build a culture in which teaching, learning, and leading are the foundation, you will find it much easier to have effective teacher teams.  You’ll find that as personnel changes occur, you won’t be starting again at the beginning, but you’ll have people ready to take the lead.

What if you taught leadership to all of your teachers?  To all of your students?  To all of your staff?

What if everyone identified areas in which they wanted to lead?  What if your teachers reported their evidence of leading just as frequently as they uploaded their lesson plans?

What if you developed, borrowed, or purchased the necessary resources to lead a focus on leadership at your school?  Would your school be a more effective learning institution if your teachers and students saw themselves as leaders?

Right now, do you have a split among your faculty members?  If so, are they split by leaders and… non-leaders?

simon sinek courage of leadership
It’s easy enough just to say that everyone is a leader and that teaching is leading and leading is teaching.  Is that really enough, though?  Can you develop an explicit framework and a set of strategies to truly build a school of leaders?

I’ve visited schools that have adopted a framework for studying leadership on a broad scale.  (i.e., Leader in Me)  In those schools, teachers, parents, and students alike speak the same language of leadership.  A priority is placed on service.  The school talks about vision, mission and beliefs in the context of the school on a regular basis.  These schools are on the move.  Leadership becomes a common language and collaboration becomes the norm.

What if everyone at your school learned more about leadership?  What if they did many of the things that you have done and continue to do to be an effective leader?  (reflective practice, discussing your work with fellow practitioners, focusing on root-cause problems?)

Would your school be stronger if your teachers and students studied effective communication?  If everyone took time to learn techniques in interpersonal skills?

Just as we’ve had DEAR (Drop Everything and Read), what if we had DEAL (Drop Everything and Lead) when we all focused on leadership lessons, introspection and growth.

Here’s where I typically arrive while studying leadership:  when you’re working on being a better leader, you are also usually simultaneously working on being a better person.  If there’s even a fraction of truth to that idea, it’s worth the pursuit.

Leadership for everyone.  Connecting people with their passions.  Building a culture of supporting others around you.



#Leadership 365


“You Can’t Always Get What You Want” But You Often Do Get What You Expect – Teacher-Leaders

One of the things that has become clear to me over the past five years is that principals who aren’t happy with the way things are going often have no further to look for a reason than the person sitting behind their desk.

Not the visitor’s side of the desk.  YOUR side.

This column isn’t intended to unfairly cast a negative look towards principals.  What it is, however, is a reminder why outcomes are as they may be.

Take for example, teacher teams and teacher-leaders, the topic we’ve been looking at over the past few days.

On occasion, I’ll visit a school and the principal will share with me that one or more of her teams aren’t working well.  Team members aren’t pulling together.  There are some members of the team who are being negative.  The buy-in is shallow and not deep.

When I inquire about who is in charge of the team, it often is someone who the principal really doesn’t have confidence in to lead the team.  Sometimes it’s because the team leader doesn’t really have the dispositions for leadership.  One example is the team-leader who hates conflict and doesn’t want to make anyone mad (and ends up doing all of the heavy lifting on their own just to keep peace).  Another is the team-leader who doesn’t care if everybody is mad and bulls ahead without building consensus.

The problem is when the principal knows what the problem is and doesn’t do what’s necessary to remedy it.  Assigning someone to a leadership position isn’t enough to help them be prepared to lead.  It takes ongoing support, encouragement, and direction.  This is where some principals miss the mark.

you can't always get what you want

You can’t always get what you want.  Sometimes you don’t have ready-made leaders available to drop into each spot where a leader is needed.  What you do always get is what you’ve put into a situation.  If, as the principal, you haven’t worked to help your teacher-leaders grow, that’s what you’ll get:  outcomes that match your input.

If, however, you’ve established a routine of supporting and coaching your teacher-leaders through their development, you’ll still get an outcome that matches your input, but that outcome will be more of what you were hoping for.

In short, as far as teacher-leaders and their efficacy, you typically will get out what you put in.  If you are fortunate to have ready-made leaders who require little from you to get going, consider yourself lucky, but make time to keep their development going.

What I’m suggesting is this:  if you want more effective teacher-leaders, you most likely will need to be intentional and explicit in your support and development of them for that  role.  Across the landscape, this is the exception and not the rule.  If we want our schools to progress as they should, we need to change it around.  It should be rare to find a principal who doesn’t have a strong teacher-leader development program.

If we do, we’ll have teacher teams that work collaboratively to improve instruction and carry out the school’s mission.  Without it, we’ll be hit or miss with the effectiveness of our teacher teams.



When You Bring Your “Leadership Team” Together What Do You Hope to Accomplish?

Here’s a question for you if you’re a principal :  what is the purpose of your “leadership” team?

What is that you want to accomplish by bringing a group of teachers together and calling them “the leadership team” or something similar?   Have you pondered that question or are you having a leadership team because there was one when you got there?

It’s reasonable to suggest that a leadership team might serve several purposes depending upon what you’ve charged them to do.  The purpose of your leadership team should precede picking your teachers, but in many cases it doesn’t.   So, what is your leadership team about?  Why do you bring them together?


Here are a few purposes of school-level leadership teams.  Think about which best describes yours.

  1.  Administration:   This remains one of the functions of many grade-level and department leaders in schools around the country.  In these configurations, the leadership team is responsible for completing purchase orders, distributing materials, and for the most part serving as a distribution center for the members of her department or team.
  2. Representative:   Some leadership teams are set up like a faculty senate or a student council.  The members of the team represent a group; they come together and listen to a variety of things on an agenda.  They may give their opinions, and in some schools they even ‘vote’ on items.  This representative function looks different than a purely administrative design; the teachers represent their colleagues and come to your leadership team meeting to interact with the information and make decisions.
  3. Ambassador:  This is the reverse of the representative form of leadership team.  In this format, you bring teachers in and prepare them to represent the leadership team with their grade-level or department.
  4. Hybrid:   Many schools have a hybrid of the previously-mentioned leadership teams.  They do some of the administration work, and some representing of their teachers, and some representing to their teachers.
  5. Distributed:  In this model, you distribute the leadership of the school to a number of people.  Some may be department heads or grade-level leaders, others might be responsible for a program or initiative (PBIS, Freshman Academy, Pre-K).  This is different because you give broad authority to the individuals in charge of each group of teachers.

Which describes your leadership team?  There isn’t a right answer, but it’s one that you should be intentional about.  Obviously, some schools have a faculty who is ready for more responsibility than another.  The same is true for leaders; some leaders are more apt to share responsibility than others.

What you ought to be considering is this:  what model of leadership team would best serve the school and the students?  As we spent a week’s worth of columns last week looking at teacher-leaders and teacher teams, if you’re a regular reader, you probably know that this fits in somewhere with that initiative.

We will spend more time this week looking at teacher-leaders, the administrators who support them, and how we design for success.  To begin that conversation, here’s a homework assignment:  which of the models above best describe your current design of your leadership team?





Help! The Third-Grade Teachers Aren’t Talking!

Teams of teachers can do amazing things together.  Sometimes, however, they don’t.

In my work supporting leaders in schools, “teams gone wild” is a frequent situation that I’m often asked about by principals and assistant principals.  This week at Principal Matters! we’ve examined teacher teams and specifically teacher-leaders.  Today, our focus is on diagnosing the dysfunctional team.

So the question at hand is , “why do some teams work well while others don’t?”  Here are some things to consider as you evaluate the efficacy of your teams.

Why Is My Teacher Team Not Working Well?  

  1. The Leader.   Pardon the obvious irony here, but this is always the first place to look if things aren’t going well. 🙂  (We are here for the truth!  Don’t be offended).  If the team isn’t functioning as it ought to be, is that a function of the team’s leadership?  In yesterday’s column, we looked at seven things that principals can do to help teacher-leaders lead effectively.  Often, if you can review the process of how your T-L is leading the team, you might find possible solutions.  It could be in the style in which your T-L is directing the action.  Remember, this isn’t about blame or fault, but it is about developing practical solutions.  This is another reason to have ongoing leadership development with your T-L; it provides a window of opportunity when you’re needed to consult.
  2. The Team.   It might be the team.  Sometimes teams (teams in general as well as teacher teams) just aren’t a good mix.  As the principal of the school, it’s important to think of the composition of your teams.  Will the team members collectively be greater together than they are individually?  Are the team members a good combination that will work together?  As you plan your assignments for each school year, it’s important to think about whether your team members will gel or not.  There are variety of personality trait quizzes that you can use to get a feel for who your teachers really are (if you don’t know already).  One of the best ways to have a highly functioning team is to begin with a team whose members complement one another.  If it is the team, then you may have to take a more active role to shape their destiny for the remainder of the year until such time you can change assignments.  
  3. negative peopleThe Obstinate One.   Ancient proverb:  “One bad apple spoils the barrel.”   (Not sure how we got our bananas and bunches mixed in with apples and barrels, but “apple.. and… barrel” is the official verbiage.)   That said, sometimes the team’s issues aren’t the leader, and not the team as a whole, but they’re that one person. It’s interesting to look at your faculty members and think about what other roles they can play.  You have some teachers who would be great anywhere… and you have some that can mess up the dynamics on most any team.  They may or may not be a good classroom teacher individually (some of the people playing these roles are) but they don’t get along well with colleagues.  Just as you do with your teachers and their students, it’s better for your T-L to work to improve the situation (with your coaching and support).  It establishes their authority with the team and allows them to build the relationship.  If that doesn’t work, you have to get involved and do what’s necessary to get them on board.  (that’s a topic for a whole column waiting to happen in the future..)
  4. Hayfields and McCoys.   Sometimes a team doesn’t work well and its not the leader, not the team, and not even the roadblock person.  It’s a turf war going on.  Sometimes it’s two people; sometimes sides are drawn and nearly everyone is at odds.  I always am interested when I ask teachers about their school and they tell me “we’re like a family here!”  That can be good, but sometimes… it can mean they’re like a family.  The truth is this:  over the course of a year, and for some teams over the course of multiple years, nearly every team is bound to have some ebb and flow.  We have it within our families, so if it’s truly like a family that’s what you may get.  If you can drive your folks back into the notion of being a team of professionals, you may be able to recapture their mental model of what they’re doing.  However, if feuds are more than temporary, they can shut down the success of the team.  It’s worth monitoring. 
  5. You.   It’s been my experience that teachers and students will focus on and do well in areas that are established as important to the school.  You need for teachers to be able to work together without you there all of the time (it’s just impossible for you to be everywhere all of the time and you need to build capacity).  What you must do is maintain appreciation, support, and attention to their efforts as a team.  Recognize what people do in teams and they’ll do it well.  Assign them, give them a T-L and forget about them?  That’s the recipe for non-functioning teams.  You have a lot of influence on whether teams will work well or not.  They have to go through the learning process together on how to be a good team.  If you fly in on your magic carpet and fix everything all of the time, that may lead to learned helplessness rather than the capacity to lead that it’s supposed to get to.  Always measure your response.

Coming up next week (after our regular weekend columns), we’ll look more into teams and move from today’s diagnosis to some suggested cures and preventions for what might ail your team.  Have a wonderful weekend!



What Principals Can Pour Into Teacher-Leaders

This week at Principal Matters!, we’ve focused on teacher teams and teacher-leaders (T-L).  To catch you up for today, here’s the picture that’s painted so far:

  • It’s necessary for teachers to work together in teams for our schools to be effective;
  • Teacher teams need purpose, selflessness, and professionalism to be their best;
  • Administrators shouldn’t expect teacher-leaders to automatically know how to lead; training and support of teacher-leaders is essential.

As principals ask teachers to become teacher-leaders and lead teams of teachers within a grade level, department, or other group, what do those teacher-leaders need in order to be successful?

  1. Clarity:   Leaders in practically any pursuit need to know the scope of the work, the expectations, and the timeline.  Teacher-leaders are no different.  Principals need to take the time to make sure that the T-Ls know what they’re being asked to do.  While this seems like a minor point, it is often a show-stopper.  Clarity is essential.
  2. Leadership Skills:  While this is a broader topic, it’s equally essential for the success of the group.  The T-L needs leadership skills in order to take the group on the journey to success.  This doesn’t mean that you only engage those teachers who already possess leadership skills; it means that you take time to support them in their growth.  Leadership skills in this sense are about people and how to work with them.  They are about the purpose and uniting everyone to work together to accomplish it.  You can count on the necessary learning becoming evident during the course of the work.
  3. Management Skills:   Remember, management isn’t a bad word.  In it’s absence, things are … mismanaged.  Leadership is a different set of skills, also critical for a team’s success, but so is management.  Leadership is about the people and purpose; management is about the process and the protocols. All four parts matter.  Some leaders… whether administrator or T-L… are better with one than the other.  Helping your T-L as needed with the operation of the team, the timing of meetings, the flow of the work, is just as critical as anything else.  Teachers, pressed for time, do not suffer disorganized people lightly.
  4. Commitment:   If you want to have great T-Ls, you have to make a commitment to their success.  This primarily consists of you making your T-Ls leadership growth a priority.  You demonstrate this by dedicating your time to observe their work, lead them in reflective practice, and have conversations with them about their growth, their struggles, and their lessons learned.  Give them meaningful feedback.  Helps design what they need to continue their growth. Without this commitment and following through, you are leaving the growth of your T-Ls to chance.  Who knows? Maybe you’ll be lucky!  But is that a great strategy for success?
  5.  Collaboration With Other T-Ls   You can leverage to an even deeper level if you bring your T-Ls together after they’ve spent time learning and then reflecting on their work.  Most of the time when we bring that group of teachers together they serve more of a role as a “faculty senate” or teacher’s council to discuss matters of the school.  What if you flipped that framework, and instead of them representing their colleagues in discussions of dress code and tardies, they were representing the school’s mission of quality instruction to their teams?  Longer conversation for another time, but consider what value you are getting when you bring your teacher-leaders together.  You can use a survey-monkey or google poll if you want to get teacher’s opinions on school-wide topics.  What you need are leaders of your teachers throughout the school, so when you have them together talk about leadership, not parking and duty.  
  6. Encouragement:  Feed your people.  Give them what they need in terms of gratitude, acknowledgement, praise.  Don’t forget to thank them for what they’re doing.  Notice how they do it.  Encourage them.  Strategically and consistently encourage them in the personalized ways they like to be encouraged.
  7. Celebration:  Celebration is different from encouragement, but it might also be encouraging.  Encouragement is formative; celebration, although it can happen at many mileposts, is more summative.  When you ask your T-Ls to do something and they do it well, celebrate it.  It’s important for them but also good for the entire team to know that they are on the right track and making progress.  Celebrate the whole team, and the teacher-leader is boosted up.

leaders create leadersWhile you could make a more exhaustive list, or even have different items that you place importance on, using these seven would most likely help you develop an excellent teacher-leader. In fact, if you moved some titles around, this same list could be used for superintendents and principals as well.

Leaders, even full-time leaders like principals and assistant-principals, need growth and support.  When we are building capacity with teacher-leaders whose primary roles are classroom teacher, we should plan for more learning and support, not less.

The growth of your teacher-leaders might be one of the most valuable uses of your time as a school leader.  Short of cloning you, this is the next best thing.  Let’s work hard to get it right!



Teacher-Leaders Need Training and Support

The work of teachers and schools is increasingly more complex than ever before.  We evaluate our teachers’ effectiveness in preparation and delivery of instruction; communication and professionalism; engagement, assessment, differentiation, and design.  Our expectations for the outcomes of their work is that all of our students will grow in their competencies, and that those who are competent become exemplary.  It’s our school’s design that they do so while collaborating with their colleagues in order to support the team and grow as individuals.

All of these efforts are well-intended and are reasonable expectations for our teachers.  At the core, schools are learning institutions and our emphasis in recent years to include all students is both noble and right.

The problem is this:  in most settings, we’ve increased expectations without increasing the resources to support the work of our teachers.  The number of principals and assistant principals remains the same; the time needed to support the work of our teachers has increased, in some cases exponentially.

leadership isHow do we get it all done?  The answer can’t be “work harder.”  Or even, work longer.  Those aren’t sustainable and lead to burnout and/or crash on the parts of our school-based leaders.  The administrative churn is real, and more and more school leaders are working to deal with anxiety, stress, and a crisis of time.

The path forward to success is through the development of teacher leaders.  If you’re thinking, “wait, aren’t they just as taxed for time as the administration, maybe even more so?” you’re right.  We can’t merely shift the burden of responsibility and accountability from administrators to teachers.  The teacher shortage is real, and more and more teachers are working to deal with anxiety, stress, and time, just as their administrative colleagues. 

The pathway to a successfully-designed school environment isn’t a shift in duties and responsibilities, but a new approach in how we interact with each other and the work we have to accomplish together.

Many schools and systems have begun the shift into a distributed form of leadership that brings teachers, usually assembled into meaningful teams, together to design instruction, improve performance, and learn together.

That’s not new.  What might be missing for you and your team is a continuous, strategic approach in supporting the work of those teachers who lead other teachers.  What do they need?  What are you asking them to accomplish in this role?  When can you provide them leadership development that helps them in their teacher-leader role?


Most of our teachers who are asked to assume leadership roles have had little to no formal PD in leadership.  While many of them have learned a lot about leadership already, much through their work as teachers, coaches, and sponsors, an intentional approach to their work as leaders can provide the needed framework for them to successfully lead their colleagues.  Beyond the initial training, continued support from you and your administrative team can assure that their work continues on the trajectory you are seeking.

It’s like this:  as administrators, you don’t have time to do everything.  One of the most essential things you can do to improve student achievement is to focus on talent development, or the strategic growth of your teachers.  Given the restraints that time places on you as the leader, you need leverage, and that leverage exists in your school in the form of teacher-leaders.  While it’s hard for you to personally devote enough time to each of your faculty members for them to adequately grow, it’s imperative that you dedicate the necessary time to grow those you’ve tapped as the teacher-leaders.

Your grade-level leaders, department heads, and others need you.  They need you to help develop them as leaders, then support them in their work.  Get out your calendar and select upcoming dates for your work with them, and then pour into them what they need to join you in the  leading and learning that will help your school prosper.



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