The Strategy of Hope: A Professional Learning Series

I’ve heard it a lot and I bet you have too.

“Hope is not a strategy.”

I understand where the statement comes from. It’s a call to action, often to school leaders, that inaction isn’t likely to lead to successful outcomes. You can’t argue effectively with that! It’s a reminder that you can’t just wish for success; you have to work for it. That you need a plan and that “everything is going to work out” isn’t as effective as, “so. let’s examine the situation and develop a strategy to make things happen.” Look, I’m on board with all of that; some of the most important work school leaders do is in planning.

Planning is essential for organizational and individual success, but maybe let’s separate the idea of ‘hope’ from inaction. Hope is much more than a wish. I don’t think you get to devalue ‘hope’ and then praise ‘mindset‘, because hope IS mindset. I don’t think you get to make ‘hope’ seem powerless and then praise PBIS, because behavioral interventions are based on principles of motivation. Motivation (as defined by the Motivation Research Institute at James Madison University) is “M=E*V-C.” Motivation equals expectancy times value, minus cost. You can have all of the incentives that you could imagine (value) but if hope (expectancy) is gone, zero times infinity is still zero. So, hope may not in of itself be a strategy, but good luck having a strategy devoid of it! Mindset and motivation are essential for any strategy to be fulfilled, so let’s tip our hats to hope, the thread that makes strategies work!

It’s from that posture… an appreciation of HOPE … that we are proud to present to you a professional learning series designed to explore hope’s role in your work as an educator. This series features a team who have been dedicated to hope throughout our lives and careers. Joe Hendershott, Dardi Hendershott, Stephen Peters, and myself. Here are the details of The Strategy of Hope. We hope you’ll join us — THREE OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE OPENING SESSION IN APRIL, a Saturday Seminar in May (May 15), and a Summer Workshop in June. (June 14/15).

Ignite your plans by engaging the strategy of hope!

Influencing Others Through Relationships

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

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

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

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

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

The key to successful leadership is influence, not authority.

~Ken Blanchard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2020. Mark Wilson.

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Positive Relationships: Path to Success in Your School

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

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

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

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

Mother Teresa

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2020. Dr. Mark D. Wilson

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Passion For Learning! A Force To Be Reckoned With

Attitude Check

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

What attitude do you bring to today’s learning? 

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

After Further Review

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

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

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

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

Passion For Learning

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

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

Back to the PLC Room

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good Goes Around

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

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

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

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

Successful Schools Begin When The Adults Believe They Can Lead Success

Science has proven what you probably suspected.

The number one influence in schools related to student achievement is what your teachers collectively believe about your students. 

John Hattie and his team, using a meta meta-analysis have studied effect size of what works in schools.  Hattie’s work is chronicled in his numerous books, conference speeches, and papers, notably found in his book Visible Learning.

The single most important question for any school or school system is this:  what do the teachers at this school REALLY think about the students?

If the teachers REALLY believe that students can learn, that collective belief becomes who they are as a faculty.  The opposite is just as true.  If the teachers don’t believe they can make a difference, regardless of what other initiatives you launch, their impact will be limited.

What Hattie and his team have done and updated regularly is a list of factors (252 to be exact) related to student achievement and their effect sizes.  The higher the effect size, the more likely the positive outcomes on student achievement.

Ranking number one is collective teacher efficacy, defined by Hattie as the “collective belief of teachers in their ability to positively affect students.”

Another way to look at it could be the “group think” of the adults in your school;  that notion you’ve been working on since you’ve been in school leadership– culture.  Specifically, your school’s culture around whether they believe that together, they can make a difference.

In your efforts to improve instruction at your school, are you building confidence in the heads and hearts of your teachers that they can do their work well, and together make a difference?

At this point in the school year, you are deep into observations, observation write-ups, and the evaluation process.  Do the teachers truly see your work as a vehicle to help them be better prepared individually and collectively to make a difference for your students?  Or, do they see you much like you view the fire marshall when they make an appearance at your school?  (necessary but not necessarily welcomed)

The subtle difference of your work in the evaluation process can make a difference in the way that individual teachers at your school think about their work.  This isn’t a suggestion to “go easy” on your teachers in evaluation work: it’s quite the opposite.  Teachers who get meaningful feedback and timely follow-up become more confident to do the work, and then begin to believe that their work can make a difference. That attitude spreads; if teachers think that your feedback is a canned response, rushed, or for compliance, its influence on their belief in their work will be limited if anything at all.

Think back to your days as a student. The teachers who challenged you are the ones who made the biggest difference in your learning. If you can challenge your teachers individually to be the best they can be as a part of a team of teachers that are on an important mission, you’ll be amazed at how differently your school can be.  Like all good things, it takes time.

Where do you begin?  With one teacher at a time, but in each interaction sharing a vision of what you can do together.

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

For additional study, check out these links:

Hattie’s Visible Learning Listing

Issue Brief from CSRI

Research on Collective Teacher Efficacy

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Keep the Momentum Going! Here’s How.

Ever heard a principal say, “we had the best opening we’ve ever had.  I just hope we can keep the momentum going…”

Each year while teaching school leadership classes, I’ll ask, “who had a good opening to school?”  No matter where we are, the response is consistent:  nearly everyone raises their hand with a slight nod and a look of accomplishment.  We can usually get school started:  but then, how do we keep it going?

The answer can be found in this question:  why did the beginning of school go well?  With only a little bit of reflection, you can put your finger on it:  you had success because you planned for it.

Of course, you never have as much time to plan during the school year as you do before it begins.  That said, you don’t have to say goodbye to the act of planning just because the teachers and students have returned.

Here are three ideas to help you keep that “beginning-of-the-year” momentum going all year long!

  1.  Put Planning Times/Dates On Your Calendar Right Now:   Your intentions won’t keep the momentum going, but your planning will, and your calendar is the place from which action arises.  (To-do lists are where dreams go to die… RIP)  If you can schedule a Momentum Meeting with your school inner circle a week from now, would that make a difference?  Sure it would.  How about another Momentum Meeting  two weeks later?  Yes.  And, these meetings don’t need to be lengthy— but they do need to be very, very FOCUSED.  If you go longer than two weeks without developing and working a plan, the kudzu will grow up around you.  And you won’t be able to get rid of it.  Planning is winning and winning is planning.  If you don’t do it, your strategy REALLY IS hope.
  2. Don’t Forget:  What Worked on The First Day of School Can Work on Day 27.  And Day 39.  And Day 114.    Why does the first day work?  As mentioned above, because we plan, but a second reason is that the attitudes of the adults are at a high level.   We saw lots of high-fives and smiles at schools everywhere at the beginning.  (Check out these pics here: )  Why not every day?  Of course, it’s not as special if you do it every day, but couldn’t we do some things to make EVERY day a celebration of learning?  If we rock it on day one and then fall back into ruts after that, we won’t be keeping the momentum going.  It takes planning and intent, something you and your teachers should talk about together.
  3. You Gotta Believe.  There will be others who will not believe that you can sustain a positive, learning-focused, enthusiastic climate throughout the year.  As the leader, your will has to be stronger than their disbelief.  This phenomena begins with the leader, the person who audaciously believes that every day can be amazing, every student can learn, every teacher can grow, and that, when put together, all of this matters.  You have to believe deeply enough to get others to believe.  That’s what’s needed of you.  Your belief + Every-Other-Week Planning + Positive Climate at your school= Success for Students and Teachers.  Don’t get sucked into pettiness, or jealously, or anger.  You have to see over the mist and into the horizon and have a picture in your head of the good that is to come, even if others are only seeing the haze of the day.  That is the task of the leader, but also leads to your greatest joy.  That moment when everyone arrives at that place you’ve been seeing all along.

You can keep the momentum going all year long, and “all year long” begins today!  Good planning to you and yours!


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

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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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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.



‘Focus’ Is The Answer to Many of The Questions At This Phase of The Year

Earlier today, I was spending time with some wonderful administrators.  I asked them what they have been spending their time on recently. Testing! Evaluations! Student behavior! Teachers Leaving!  Hiring Teachers!

Sound familiar?

There’s not a way to eliminate the ever-increasing number of tasks that are specific to this time of year.  They are a part of the calendar and happen to occur either simultaneously or in quick succession.

At this time of year, we have the intersection of many things.  The current year’s conclusion.  Planning for the next year.  Lots of things that require time, details, and accuracy.  Not the time for an uptick of instances of student misbehavior.

All of these tasks can be pretty overwhelming for the assistant principal and principal. Still, you need to continue to lead your team on a journey to success.  What is your strategy to combat the distractions that this time of year bring to your teachers and students?


It is critical to keep everyone focused on engaging instruction each and every day, each and every class period.  It’s when we are distracted from the essential work of the school that we get sidetracked and it can be difficult to resume progress.  Better to stay on target than have to fix it later.


That said, how do you keep everyone focused?  As the leader, you have to continue to put the spotlight where you want everyone to look.  If you spend all of your time talking about other things, they will seem to be your focus.  If you continue to talk about what goes in the classroom, focusing on instruction, engagement, assessment, and growth, it will be what your teachers (and in turn your students) focus on as well.

There are several things you can do to help keep the focus where it ought to be:

  1.  Be Relentless:  If you let up, you’ll lose your momentum.  You have to keep the emphasis on instruction going on.  Observe classes.  Deliver feedback.  Schedule conversations with your teachers.  Don’t let up.
  2. Recognize Good Classroom Work   Take time to recognize the good that is going on.  Share it publicly:  announcements, Twitter, Facebook, email.  Any or all of those.  Spend time to acknowledge effort and recognize excellence.  Get it out there!  If people see you lifting up the work of others they may follow the trend.
  3. Generate Daily Conversation  You can do this by sending emails to your staff, or communicating with them via Google Docs or other electronic methods.  You can share questions for your teachers to discuss at their PLC or Grade-Level Meetings.  Get people talking about instruction and you will be norming your building to performing well.
  4. Provide Redirects Where Needed  Now is the time for classrooms to be more engaging,not less.  Teachers have had all year to learn strategies from each other  that can make the work in their room more engaging.  If people aren’t part of the solution, then they’re part of the problem.  Recognize the difference and help those who aren’t doing well but letting them know.  Redirect them to successful approaches.
  5. Stay Focused Yourself.  As the leader goes, so goes the rest of the team.  If you are in the present, focusing on your teachers and students and their needs, you will be setting the example that’s needed to keep everyone moving forward. If you give the impression that you’re off track, don’t be surprised to see your people follow suit.

Focus.  It’s the fix to most of your fixes.  It’s what you need to finish the year strongly.








The Words You Want to Hear: I Have An Idea

Ideas are incredible, and they are literally everywhere around your school this very minute.  The problem with a lot of those ideas is this:  their owners aren’t going to share them with you.

Your school is either a fountain or a drain.  It’s either a place where ideas are appreciated, encouraged, and valued or a place where people learn to keep their ideas to themselves.  So much of the climate for ideas, or lack of one,  begins with the principal and administration.

What do you do when someone has an idea?  Do you make things easier for them or more difficult?  Are you an idea accelerator or are you the brakes?

I know that you are called upon to be the leader of a safe, orderly school.  That is important and shouldn’t be taken for granted or lightly. Orderly can be good if used in the right measure. Order is easier to administer than freedom, and that’s why most schools lean towards a more structured, policy-driven model of administration.  The problem is this:  if you lean too far in that direction, you’ll end up with a place where the rules outweigh the ideas.  If it’s hard to get permission to move forward with an idea, the ideas will stop showing up.  The converse is true as well; if ideas are welcomed, you’ll have more and more of them.

At our school and at most schools everywhere, people have great ideas.  Teachers, students, and staff have great ideas and innovations just waiting to be heard.  At Morgan County High School where I was principal, we were having our annual “Club Fair” for our organizations to showcase who they are, what they do,  and solicit members.  One of our people had a great idea:  let’s do it outside and set it up with tables, music, food much like a festival.

That idea turned out to be a great one; the students enjoyed being outside, it was during our lunch periods so the clubs had a great turnout at their booths, and everyone had a chance to be creative in showing their wares.

Friday Alive .JPG

While at this inaugural Club Fair, a student started talking to me.  I asked him what he thought about the Club Fair and he said that it was good.  He said that it was so good that we ought to do it every week!  I asked him “what would that look like?”   He said, “we don’t need to advertise clubs every week, but we could have bands.  Students who play guitar and sing can do it out here.  And we can have a snow cone booth.  And it’ll be awesome.”

From that conversation was born a tradition at our school.  “Friday Alive,” a mostly-weekly (weather-dependent on whether it was weekly) celebration of creativity, fun, and student talent.  We’ll take a deeper dive on Friday Alive in a future post, but it was a place for student performers to share their work; we had poetry jams; the marching band was a guest performer; the step team; the cheerleaders; even our versions of “The Voice” and on occasion Karaoke Friday.  Friday Alive was, as the student described it to me to begin with, awesome.

Here’s the thing:  that idea probably never rises up unless he was a part of a climate and culture where ideas matter.  Here are a few reminders to the principal and assistant principal about making your school an idea factory:

  • Make it easier to get to ‘yes’ than to get to ‘no’.   This one is straight-forward and plain.  If the school’s administration is always going to say ‘no’, you can expect that people will stop asking.  If you’re someone who will listen and try to figure out how it can happen rather how it might go wrong, then you’ll have more ideas than you’ve ever had.  It really does begin with you.
  • Support other’s ideas without becoming their new owner.   When students and teachers came to me with ideas, I worked to get to yes.  That didn’t mean that I became the person to carry out their idea.  My questions were always “what will that look like?”  and “how can I support you in your idea?” 
  • Make your school a laboratory for learning.  Don’t squash an idea just because it may not work.  Sometimes the best ideas need a few runs before they fly.  (See “The Wright Brothers” and “Thomas Edison”)

As the principal, you are in a privileged position.  You literally have a creative team filling the classrooms around you.  You can do awesome things at your school if you embrace the idea and idea maker.  Whenever you hear those words, “I have an idea,” be ready to be what they need to make those ideas reality.

#Leadership365   /76

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.




Four Areas of Intentional Excellence: Identity, Mission, Purpose, and Vision

Baruit Kafele was one of the keynote presenters at the National Dropout Prevention Center’s (NDPC) Annual At-Risk Youth Forum and as always he came there “on fire!”

Princpal Kafele has been presenting nationally and internationally since 2011, as well as authoring Closing The Attitude Gap, The Principal 50 and The Teacher 50.  His message is always one that encourages educators to make connections with students, have high expectations, and to lead them to success.

At this gathering of educators who specialize in working with at-risk students, Kafele offered a particular message for the uniqueness of the group.   “Develop an intentionality for excellence,” Kafele said in his opening.  “Take charge of your actions and be intentional in what you do.”

Principal Kafele offered four areas that educators working with at-risk students should be intentional in.  They are;

  1. Identity;
  2. Mission;
  3. Purpose;
  4. Vision

Students need to know what it is that we have to offer them.  They need to know who we are and what role we intend to play in their lives.  Our identity needs to be intentional and consistent for them to be interested in what we have to offer.

Just as our identity matters and needs to intentional, so does our mission.   Kafele describes our mission as the what  we’re trying to do.  As educators we need to be aware of our mission. What is it that we are seeking to do?  Give students hope?  Open doors of opportunities?  We need to be clear and intentional in what we do lest we wander around without focus.

As mission defines what we do, purpose serves as the why behind our actions.  You know you want to help at-risk students.  Why?  You’re on a mission, but it needs to be a purposeful mission.  Understand the why.


Finally, the fourth intent of the at-risk specialist is vision.  Vision is what you are able to see your students as in the future.  Again, Principal Kafele is clear here:  be intentional in your vision.  Set out to see what your students can be.  If you give them vision, you can give them hope and that can make the difference.

How does it all look like when it comes together?  Principal Kafele suggests that it’s about the experience.  When the teacher provides intent with her identity, mission, purpose and vision, and does so inside a school experience that provides magic and moments, unforgettable things happen.

Check out Principal Kafele at  or on Twitter @PrincipalKafele

#Leadership365  /54

Wounded Students Need Healing Before Learning Can Happen

Some of the students in our schools are more than at-risk.  Some of them are wounded and the strategies to help them are different, according to Joe Hendershott.  Joe is the founder of Hope For the Wounded, an organization to support those who work daily with wounded kids.

Joe’s background is in education.  He’s been a teacher, assistant principal and principal in traditional and alternative settings.  Since 2006, he and his wife Dardi have led Hope For The Wounded and Joe has delivered presentations and facilitated workshops across the US and beyond.

During the National Dropout Prevention Center’s (NDPC) Annual At-Risk Youth Forum, I was able to sit in on one of Joe’s breakout sessions and in the first five minutes he was able to share clarity about students, their needs, and why often our best-intended efforts fail to help them as we think they should.

Joe mentioned this piece of data from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network:  one out of every four students in our schools have experienced serious trauma in their lives.  This is profound.  Life experiences can define the lens in which we see everything around us.  When we fail to recognize that impact and help students in meaningful ways, we can often interpret their behaviors errantly.


Joe and Dardi Hendershott and their nine children

This is why Joe defines the wounded student as being different than one who is at-risk, or who is exhibiting at-risk behaviors.  According to Hendershott, there is a difference between the two and teachers and school leaders both need to recognize the difference and have the tools necessary to appropriately help.

At your school, do you have about a fourth of your students who don’t perform as well as others?  Most schools everywhere I go have somewhere around that 25% threshold of students that need additional assistance.  Some of these students respond to what we do but others don’t.  What if we are prescribing treatments for at-risk students when instead we should be using trauma-informed practices to help wounded students heal?

Joe Hendershott’s work will appeal to your heart, but it has an equal fit in your head.  When you reflect on your work with students, you will quickly think of students who were suffering from traumatic incidents, sometimes early in their lives and sometimes ongoing.  What if we had another set of skills to help them to heal and give them hope?

Take a visit to Joe’s website,   You can get an idea about the work that his organization is doing and how you can join the movement.  Here at Principal Matters!, we’ll be featuring his book on our Saturday Professional Reading Shelf, so more to come here about the wounded student.  If you reflect on this concept, you’ll find yourself in the work and then you’ll be ready to take the next step:  identify the students (you probably already have) and provide them hope and healing.




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:

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:  (

Making School Work For All Students

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#Leadership365                    20/365

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

You can see the Professional Standards for Educational Leaders in entirety here:  (


Are Your Classrooms Healthy Places for Learning?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more about healthy schools, check out this link:


#Leadership365                    19/365


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

You can see the Professional Standards for Educational Leaders in entirety here:  (


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