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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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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Leading A Culture of Professional Growth for All Teachers

Do you have MTSS for your teachers?  We often think that we don’t have to differentiate for our teachers since they’re professionals, they’re adults, and they’re paid to come to work.

What if we could develop a more effective approach to helping our teachers grow by differentiating our work with them towards their development?

The following graphic is here to provoke your thoughts about the nature of professional growth for ALL of your teachers, and a framework in which you may find success.  Share it with your administrative team.  Talk about which of your teachers would belong in which tiers, and then consider the possibility of a more effective school driven by the recognition of the varying needs of your teachers towards their learning and growth!

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

Supporting growth for all of your teachers

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It’s Not The Ideas; It’s The Implementation

OK!  You’re convinced that the growth of your teachers is critical for success at your school and now you’re ready to do something about it.

You’ve been credentialed to evaluate teachers, you’ve been recognized as a good teacher yourself, and you have served as an instructional coach and/or a team or department leader.

In short, you’ve got game!

Here’s the challenge:  what got you here won’t keep you here (and it won’t get you there >>>  either!).

Your self-discipline, attention to details, and amazing work ethic got you through the door and into school leadership.

Your ability to lead adults (not always the most coachable learners in your building) is now the pathway to your continued success.  However, one or more of your teachers isn’t doing what you want them to do.

Getting mad at them for not being “on it” at the same level as you  isn’t very effective.  What IS more effective is taking a look at the progression between the idea (whatever part of instruction you’re focusing on) and successful performance.  Hopefully, the chart will lead to conversations between you and your administrative team, and will help you see the progression that happens for students in class… and for your teachers with you just as well.

The progression is:

  1. Awareness;
  2. Understanding;
  3. Application;
  4. Performance.

Often as school leaders, we assume that our people can come right out of the gate into the fourth level of the implementation progression, Performance.  That notion rarely works out like that, and we can spend more time going back through the steps than if we had began directly with an intentional awareness campaign, followed by checking for understanding, assessing for clarity by observing the application of the idea, and finally sharing in the joy of performance of a new idea, something of which you can celebrate among your faculty and staff.

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

Four Steps in Leading Improvement in Instruction

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The Teacher’s Journey: The Paths That Led Your Faculty Together

As the new school year begins, it’s important for the principal and the administrative team to focus on the mindset of the teachers as they prepare to welcome the students for another year of exploration and learning.

Here is an activity you can use that can help connect your teachers to their purpose, to their colleagues, to the school’s vision, and to their work this year.

Life Maps.   As you look out at the faculty you’ve assembled, it’s important to consider that they are unquestionably the greatest resource you have to accomplish the good work of the school.  So, what drives them?  What path led them to be a part of your school?  What are their anchors?

Consider leading your faculty in an exploration of their journey by asking them to            draw their life maps.  (Remember “the Game of Life”?  Twisting, turning, full of                    curves and traps.)  It’s a simple exercise:  Give your teachers each a sheet of chart paper, some sharpies, and ask them to search google images for  ‘life maps’ , not for a template but for some inspiration in designing their own map.

They’ll need adequate time to reflect on their lives… their choices, their triumphs, their tragedies, and the essential points in their journey that led them to your school.   (This is probably a thirty-minute event).

After they’ve finished their maps, depending upon the size of your team, you have several options for your teachers to share the story of their journey.  You can break them up into small groups (6-8 is what we’ve learned works best) and ask each person to share their story.  Then, you can ask all of your faculty to post their maps in a hallway or room for a gallery walk.  As your teachers walk around and look at their colleagues journeys, give them post-it notes so they can make comments as they make their way around.  (Sort of an Instagram, alpha version!)

What can you hope to get from this exercise?  For all of the groups I’ve used this with, the individuals in the group have discovered a deep appreciation for the other members of their cohort.  Even at schools where the faculty has been together for a number of years, I’m amazed at how important parts of someone’s life has seemed to remain unknown by other colleagues.

This is more than an ice-breaker or a get-to-know-you activity.  WHO your people really are (and what experiences led them to this point) has a significant impact on HOW they work with others, and WHAT they will do each day in their work.  When your faculty members get to know each other and appreciate their paths, it breaks down walls, gives them a point on which to connect, and opens the door to deep collaboration.

Your school will be more effective if your faculty works collaboratively and with respect for one another.  As they learn more about each other and the paths that led them together, they have a greater likelihood of coming together to do extraordinary work with your students.

And if you arrive there, it was well worth the investment of time.

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


Recipe Card:  Life Map Exercise Activity

Life Map Exercise

Purpose:  Your teachers reflect on the journey that led them to this moment where they are a member of your faculty.  They gain insight through their own personal exploration, and in discovering the paths of their colleagues.


  1. Distribute a piece of chart paper to each member of your faculty.  Give them adequate table space to create their map.  (Note: Everyone completes their own map, but they may want options for this activity.  Offer choice to your learners.  Some might want to work in the same space as a colleague to talk while they work; others might need quiet.)
  2. Based on your group size (leadership team? whole faculty? departments or grade levels?), determine if you’ll have your teachers share their journey with the whole group or in smaller groups.
  3. Consider posting the maps in a gallery style and give everyone post-it notes to “leave comments” on other’s maps.
  4. Ask your teachers to reflect.  You can do this in a written format, or you may choose to do a stand-up rotation for dialogue.  Some questions for reflection could include:
    1. How does the path that led you to this point impact who you are as a teacher?
    2. What did you learn about your colleagues through this activity?
    3. Why do the journeys of you and your colleagues matter in the work of your school?
    4. What’s next in your journey?
  5. You may have other variables you want to add to this activity, but one of the biggest take-aways most groups have is how applicable it is to their classroom and with their students.  Getting to know your students and the journey they have been on is also an important pathway to their success.


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How to Tell Your Teachers What You Want Them to Know (In Record Time)

Not enough time.

The problem for every principal, particularly at this time of year.  During this season, it’s reasonable for you to be saying that you don’t have enough time for all of the things you want to share with your teachers before school begins.  The truth is, you don’t.  So, what’s next?

Many leaders do what they’ve seen in the past and forsake good teaching to their teachers for making sure that they “cover” everything that has to be covered before the year begins.  A reasonable question to ask is this:

What that you share during pre-planning is actually being heard by your teachers?  Of that, what is being understood?  And of that subset, what will they be able to effectively incorporate in their practice? 

Not to make you feel bad, but if you say everything that’s on your list, but they either don’t hear or understand, or if they aren’t able to transfer the information, what have you really accomplished? 

Adult learners need to process their thoughts out loud with colleagues in order to enhance the likelihood of understanding.  Standing up increases brain activity by five percent. (Walking gives you a fifteen percent boost).  Consider pausing to let your learners “mindshare” at least every ten minutes. 

What’s the solution?  Here are some practical, real-life things you can do as your teachers return and you get them ready for the year to make this time well-spent.

  1.  During your time with your faculty, check for understanding frequently.   If you are giving your faculty a series of things you want them to know, consider:
    1. pausing after each item, or at least after each set of items, ask them to share their understanding with the person sitting next to them; asking them to stand up is a good thing during this as well;
    2. ask some of them to share with the whole group; (consider asking three of your team to share; always have a person to serve as the timer other than you so answers will be as brief as you want them)
    3. acknowledge your team’s processing of the learning and reteach as needed to get to understanding.
  2. Plan your pre-planning work with your teachers just like they say to pack for a big trip:  lay it all out and then only take half of it with you.  Think about it like this:  if you could only share one thing, what would it be?  How about two?  What is the maximum number of items that you can share that you can be confident your teachers will be able to operationalize or act on?  You really don’t have to tell them everything at once and if you did they wouldn’t remember it.  What do you do with the rest of what you want to tell them?  (See number three below!)
  3. OK, here’s the situation.  Your bookkeeper comes to the faculty meeting before the year begins and tells everyone how to take up money for a fundraiser.  She talks about not leaving checks overnight in a desk; she tells them to write receipts; she asks them to not bring a bunch of change from the penny drive in at 4:15 on a Friday.  Fast forward to February.  Someone has a fundraiser.  It’s been six months since they were told how to do it.  They do it all wrong.  What is a better way to get this info to others?  Videos.  Technology.  What if you built a library of short (3-4 minute) videos to show your teachers “How To…” do the things you’d like them to do?  What if they went to that shared Google Drive when they needed to know things and it was there, waiting for them?  There’s really no end to the good you can do by building your “How To” video library for your teachers.  You can ask some of your all-star teachers to make brief videos on how to effectively call parents, working with struggling students, or even how to effectively utilize group learning.  You can make a 3-4 minute video about… whatever you want your teachers to know throughout the year.  In-Time learning is better than in-case learning every day of the week.  (NOTE:  these videos don’t have to be produced– they can be made with phones.  AND, you don’t have to be the star of all of them (some of them you will want to be).  Collect and curate the collective knowledge of “How To” do things at your school and you will have effectively given yourself time.
You can easily use a number of platforms to curate videos “made by your school, just for your school” that can save EVERYONE tons of time.  How to “do grades”?  Use a screencast to show them how.  

Good luck in your work with your teachers!


© 2018.  Dr. Mark D. Wilson.



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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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Twenty End-of-the-Year Questions To Ask Your Teachers

As has been our theme all week long, we look again at questions, and in this column, questions for… the teachers.

Yes, teachers get surveyed a lot.  You may prefer to gather this data in small groups, in meetings, or in a format that leads to more openness and deeper reflection.

In concluding the school year, it’s incumbent on you as a school leader to measure the growth and progress your school has made.  An important part of that measure is in debriefing your teachers.  You can do so as a part of their summative conference if you like.  The important thing is that you don’t let an opportunity to learn more about this school year pass by you.  The more questions you ask, the more you know about your school and your people, and the better you’ll serve them as their leader.

55 minutes of questionsBelow are twenty questions that you can ask your teachers before they break for the summer.  Maybe you’ll ask some of them; maybe all of them, and maybe none of them.  The important part of this examination is that you focus on the right questions for your teachers and for your school within the current context.  To get you thinking about what  to ask your teachers, here is a sample set of  twenty questions.  Enjoy.

Twenty Questions To Ask Your Teachers at the End of the Year

  1. What did you do most effectively this year in your classroom?
  2. How well did your students learn this year?
  3. What was an innovative strategy that you employed successfully this year?
  4. What was your biggest failure this year?  What did you learn from it?
  5. Describe the level of relationships that you had with your students this year.  Were your relationships with your students better this year than in other years?  Why or why not?
  6. Think of a student who you were never really able to reach the way you’d hoped.  What did you learn from your efforts?
  7. What did you learn about teaching this year?
  8. Based on your reflection about your work this year, what do you plan to focus your professional development on this summer?
  9. If you had ten minutes to talk about something you do well as a teacher, what would you talk about? (focusing on one thing)
  10. Were you a good team member this year?  What did you do to help your colleagues be more effective as teachers?
  11. If someone was charting your career as a teacher day-by-day from your first day/first year to now,  what would the curve look like?
  12. Teaching is challenging and often stressful.  How well did you handle the stress this year?  What do you find effective in coping with your work stress?
  13. What was your best year ever as a teacher?  Where did this year rank among your years of teaching?
  14. Who helped you in your work this year?  Who did you help in their work?
  15. What do you need from others who work at the school in order to be a more effective teacher?
  16. What do you think about the children who go to our school?  Are they all able to learn?
  17. What was your best experience partnering with a parent this year?
  18. What skill do you need to learn to do more effectively?
  19. Why do you teach?
  20. What is your number one highlight of this school year?

As always, there are many more questions that you could ask and many that can be appropriate within the context of your school.  Work hard to ask the right questions that help you gather the data you need to make good decisions about individuals, groups, and the school as a whole.  The leader who fails to listen better be a really good guesser!  It’s much easier and more effective to become a good listener instead.  It takes good questions, a commitment to take time to ask them, and an ear that listens to understand rather then to reply.

Before your teachers break for summer (and before anyone mentally checks out) invest your time into conversations with your teachers.  You can learn so much from listening!



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.



What Makes Teacher Teams Effective

If you’re doing teaching right, you’re doing it with others.  Teaching was once an individual endeavor, but we’ve learned how more effective we can be when we work together.

Some teams of teachers, however, are more effective than others.  You know that from your work as a school leader.  Do you know what makes one more effective than another?  Let’s take a look and perhaps it can help inform your work as you seek to design more effective teams.

Three Elements of  Effective Teacher Teams

  1.  Purpose:   The reason for bringing teachers together is to improve instruction.  It’s easier to improve your work if you’re a part of a larger effort with others.  Being a part of the team puts you in a culture of reflection, preparation, and continual improvement.  When teachers come together without clarity of purpose, they often struggle. It’s a good thing to have the purpose clearly stated and visible to maintain the focus.  When it works, everyone knows the purpose of coming together and they are energized by it.
  2. Selflessness:  If each member of the team is committed to serving the interests of everyone else before their own, the team will be exceptionally successful.  When a group of teachers come together committed to the school’s goals, to the success of all of the students, and to seeing their colleagues do well, everyone prospers.  Since selflessness is not the default state for humankind, this can require some work.  It’s well worth the work, though.  It’s true that there’s no ‘I’ in team, both literally and figuratively.  When the individuals work for the team, the team also works for the individuals.
  3. Professionalism:  As the leader, if you want to have teams of teachers who work well, make sure to include an emphasis on professionalism.  When educators (or any profession for that matter) behave in accordance to the highest standards for people in their field, you can begin your work at with high expectations.  Professionalism guides the behavior of individuals when no one is observing, watching, or inspecting.  If the school’s leaders can build a consistent culture of professionalism, they won’t have to spend nearly as much time checking up on what their teachers are doing.  People are quick to roll out the old phrase, “you have to inspect what you expect.”  While that’s true, it’s also true that your school is too large for you to be inspecting everywhere all of the time!  We are counting on our teachers to behave in a professional manner even when we aren’t there.

teamwork helping others

There are more than three elements of highly effective teacher teams, but if you get these right, you will be off to a good start.  In conducting school visits across the country, I’ve seen the best of teacher teams… and I’ve seen those who need a makeover.  That “makeover” is most likely to come from a source outside the team… you, the school leader.  If you’re deliberating on how to make one or more of your teams effective, consider these elements– purpose, selflessness, and professionalism.  Spend time with all of your teachers or just one team at a time.  Develop lessons and strategies to effectively teach the elements and you’ll be on your way to seeing the team produce results.  Once you have results, it’s an easier path to understanding.



Download is Not Dialogue; The Art of Discussion and the School Leader

Recently, I was with one of the wonderful principals that I support who had a question.  She had observed a class that had left her… underwhelmed.  The teacher had not really created the engaging classroom of curiosity, innovation, and learning that the principal was seeking.  It was relatively low level… most of the work done by the teacher, peripheral topics, low student engagement.  The sort of thing that once was commonplace but is no longer our standard for excellence anywhere.

The principal’s question was this:  what do you say in conversation with the teacher to  improve instruction?   It’s a fundamental question and one that everyone who observes classes should consider.  Remember, all of our efforts in teacher evaluation should be for the purpose of improving instruction.  That means that completing the observation is only a step in the process.  It’s like putting a coat of primer on a wall.  It’s just not finished!

Observations are important… if they lead to improving instruction.  The road between the two is the conversation between administrator and teacher.  That critical portion of the process requires the proper mindset in order to be successful.

In short it’s this: the most important part of the post-observation conference isn’t what you as the administrator say.  The most important part is the teacher’s understanding of what should be done to improve instruction.    It’s not just semantics; it’s a very real thing.  As an administrator, the critical task of such a conference is to be useful.  Not brilliant, not clever, not annoyingly comprehensive, but… useful.

It’s really about developing a dialogue rather than a download.

dialogueA download is when you drop all the knowledge you’ve prepared on the teacher, or if you will permit, the intended target.  We usually do this as administrators in what we believe to be a creative manner.  We’ll begin the meeting by asking our teacher, “so, how do you think it went?”  While questions are the gateway to understanding, that particular one is a relatively meager one to ask.  There are many other questions to ask, but that one is usually followed by… the download.  This happens quite frequently:  the administrator asks, “how do you think it went?”, followed by the teacher sharing her version and then, here it comes!  The administrator “goes over” her observations.  The meeting concludes with a ranking of some sort, which either ends with satisfaction on the part of the teacher, or dissatisfaction which leads to some defensive statements, maybe a few suggestions, but not really what the process was intended to be.

Instead of the download, you need a dialogue, and here’s the main reason why.  The teacher has to process what happened and figure out: 1) there’s a discrepancy between what happened in the classroom and what ought to happen in the classroom; and 2) there are steps she can take to lead a more improved classroom the next time they gather.

This IS the key part, and quite often it’s missed.  Unless the teacher sorts it out in her head and can truly see her classroom for what it is (and what it isn’t) any actions taken will be in the name of compliance.  Her attempt to satisfy the conclusions you’ve reached at the end of your observation download.  That’s not progress; that’s just a game of cat and mouse.

INSTEAD, the most effective administrators are skillful in leading others into a dialogue.  You ask questions; you create scenarios; you ask your teacher to paint a picture of what it ought to look like;  you don’t just download.  You talk. But you do more than that.  You lead your teacher to a deeper understanding of what her classroom ought to be.  You do so in a manner in which she can relate.  There’s not one script for this to follow; instead, it’s a differentiated approach designed to relate to the way the teacher you’re conferencing with processes and understands.

And at the end of such a conference, there’s a different kind of feeling.  A feeling that you are there to be useful in helping your teacher grow.  Not an argument over whether something occurred, whether it usually occurs, or anything like that.  If you invest the time into having quality conferences, you will be on the path to supporting your teachers in their journey to success, and that’s a place you’ll be welcomed.



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:  (

Leadership 365: Midyear Performance Review

There are formal processes in our jobs as school leaders that require a midyear evaluation or performance review for ourselves and for our teachers.  These can be used to improve instruction in our schools and help our students in their path to success.  As we use the instruments we’ve been given to assess our progress and to assess the progress of those we supervise, the most effective school leaders don’t just go throw the motions;  they instead use this opportunity to reflect, evaluate the progress that’s been made, and set the course for the work to come.

In our conversations with teachers, we can, in concert with the evaluation instrument, stimulate progress through good reflection.  Here are three questions you could explore at midyear that should stimulate great conversation with your teachers, and help you get to the core of the work:

  1.  What evidence do you have to demonstrate the progress your students have made to date?   If we’ve made progress, we should have data to support it.  If our focus is on student achievement, then we are measuring their progress and can show it at midyear.
  2. Would you please tell me the story about a student in whose life you have made a difference?  As we meet not only academic needs, some measures of progress are best shared as narratives.  We want to help our students make academic progress.  We also want to make a difference.
  3. With what student have you missed the mark so far this year?  What is your strategy for the remainder of the year?  As we look ahead to the remainder of the year, who is it in our classroom that we didn’t reach?  Can we set a course for success for this student?  Are we willing to move forward with them to do so?

These aren’t intended to be the only questions that would be discussion-worthy, but they are three that might lead to some further reflection, deeper thought, and continued conversation as you set off to help your teachers support your students!




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