Tag Archives: #SAVMP

Cultivating great teacher leaders, and ultimately, great teammates

I really love the fact that there are so many analogies between the world of sports and school leadership.  Frankly, if it weren’t for my experiences as an athlete, I think it is highly unlikely that I would have developed the necessary leadership qualities to serve schools in that capacity.  Every sports team has goals, like winning a championship, having a better win/loss percentage, giving time back to community organizations, etc.  And let’s face it, teammates have individual goals that are directly related to their individual strengths which then end up being mutually beneficial.

When I was preparing to be a school leader, despite course work and common sense telling me so, I never fully realized how important cultivating great teacher leaders (and ultimately great teammates) would be.

I have a real blessing to spend time in my role as a student teacher supervisor in the school where I was formally a principal.  I’ve seen accomplishments of teachers becoming formal and informal leaders in the building, and I can see where the leadership team I was proud to serve for a while helped to build capacity in these individuals to accomplish personal/professional goals for themselves or accomplish something larger for the school.

Here are some examples:

– Two faculty members I know of who are currently pursuing doctoral work

– Two faculty members I know of who’ve become department chairpersons, bringing a new set of talent to their positions and to the leadership team of the school.

– One faculty member who has become an informal technology guru, helping faculty and staff when she can.  She was a first year teacher only about 5 years ago.

So the big question is how did this happen?  I think there are ways that formal leaders, as they build relationships and trust can see where the interests, talents, and passion intersect for the betterment of themselves and ultimately, the students.  As a school leader, I found that I was most successful when I personally invited someone to be part of or lead a team that was tackling a problem directly related to their interests, talents and passion.  This isn’t the way to accomplish every task or problem in a school, but when people are specifically and intentionally invited to contribute in this way, it builds their capacity, which helps to strengthen the relationship, which positively impacts their ability to be great teacher leaders and great teammates.

Isn’t this what great sports coaches do as well?


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Being a Student Driven Principal

The suggestion of a blog post this week through the #SAVMP group has an awesome title!  We all have our strengths and weaknesses as school leaders, but when I was blessed to do that work, I felt this was something I always tried to keep in mind AND demonstrate each day.  It’s important to note that I believe everyone who is an educator (by my definition anyone working in learning institutions at various different roles who impact learning of students) has a desire to see each student learn.  Sometimes, we all have to be reminded, though, including me.  I didn’t expect during my time preparing as a principal how easy it would be to forget to be mindful of being student driven in all decisions, when sometimes getting overwhelmed by the day to day happenings as a brand new administrator.  However, as I reflected regularly on my practice, I continued to come back to the idea that as a school leader, it is vital to be the example of being “student driven.”  Below is a list of some of the ways I tried to do this in various venues.

1. Observations of student learning – that title is intentional.  We often say “observations of teaching.”  But really, student learning, driven by the facilitiation of a lesson, should be the focus.  In a post-observation conference, whether it be with new or experienced teachers, I ask how they know that the students learned what they needed to learn and how the students demonstrated that to the teacher.  Also, during the observation, I ask students who may appear to be less engaged what they are learning.

2. Interacting with students in common areas – A step beyond just being visible: Talking to students in hallways, cafeterias, extra curricular activities, community events, etc. This helps you get to know them beyond the classroom student, but even more so, it sets an example for a culture of appropriate interaction between education professionals and students outside of the classroom area.

3. Instructive discipine procedures – beyond punishment: It’s important for students to feel the consequences of their behavior; it’s how they learn the difference between good choices and not-so-good choices.  However, there needs to be instruction (this is where the admin who love to teach still get to do so) to help the students know how to make better choices the next time.

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Perking up PD

This week in the Teacher’s Edition (the U.S. Dept of Education weekly update), I saw a quote pertaining to the topic of PD.  It said, “Just as teachers personalize learning for our students, principals and coaches need to identify what teachers need… [and where] they want to grow.” (Teacher, Ohio). 

In addition, in a recent post on Connected Principals from jjohnson, this appeared:

“What I am learning about professional development is:
1. It must include differentiation for staff
2. It must include deep reflection”

When I was preparing to be a principal long ago, I remember talking about providing relevant PD, but I never expected what the term “relevant” would really mean.  I’ve seen the following over the years that I would consider to be good practices in differentiating PD.  Consider the list below as some ideas. 

– time of day: At one of the schools where I was an administrator, we offered many faculty meetings and other PD session in the morning AND after school.  Many of our dedicated staff had young children to drop off in the AM or older children participating in activities after school, and the flexibility was really appreciated by many.

– topic: many school leaders I know have created questionairres for staff around the PD they a) want, and b) need.

– intensity: there are many inservice teachers who would report having a “brush up” in classroom management techniques.  However, there may be teachers on the staff who need a more intense and immediate PD session or two.

– encourage the development of PLNs on twitter and other social media.


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Communication Essentials

Although it was only about 12-14 years ago that I was taking coursework to prepare to be a principal, the methods of communication were really limited compared to now, so it was more simple to talk about which medium was appropriate for which type of communication.

1) Most of the information – mailings, newletters, etc.  It was “innovative” then for teachers and administrators to create “Good News” only newletters and press releases, on paper of course.

2) phone calls…. lots and lots of phone calls.

3) emails, only occasionally, for in-house communication or with a couple tech-savvy parents who communicated that way.

I definitely was NOT prepared back then for the different levels of communication and the much more complex decision-making that needs to take place around what type of communication to use for each task.  School leaders now still need to disseminate crucial information and highlight the positives of the school. We can do that through websites, blogs, wiki’s, facebook pages, twitter accounts, instagram, etc.

Ultimately, though, technology can never replace the relationships we are building, but it certainly enhances them when the right tool is used for the right reason and for the right audience.  When you build a relationship with individuals, a school leader begins to understand the best ways to communicate different types of information to parents and the community.

On a more individual level, if there were a concern about a student, for me, that still comes back to the tried/true method of face-to-face meetings and phone calls.  However, I certainly had one parent in particular whom I can remember only wanted me to email him, because his work took him out of the country so often.  I always honored the requests of my audiences whenever possible.

The bottom line is that with all the  tools at our disposal for communicating with individuals and communities, school leaders need to pick the methods that work for their individuals and communities.  Sometimes this is a trial-and-error process.  However, matching the mode of communication with the audience and task is essential for a school leader.

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Parental Involvement – How do we reach them?

When I was preparing to work as a school leader (back in the early 2000’s), I never could have imagined beyond my wildest dreams that we would be working in between the technological and face-to-face spaces that we are each day with students, parents, employees, and the greater community.  Any of us preparing for this work before a couple years ago have really had to play catch-up in learning quickly about these environments and their intersection.

Let’s face it, though.  Some conversations and news need to be delivered through a phone call or face-to-face conversation (individual students’ academic and emotional progress, for example).  I think, though, there are lots of ways that technology can enhance the relationships with families.  I had a blog as a high school principal where I would highlight academic, athletics and other accomplishments of students periodically.  I know of a local superintendent who uses twitter to also highlight great things about his district, but he also uses it to highlight educational issues that impact the district and the community as a whole.  I’m starting to see lots of districts use twitter as a place to post schedule changes, announcements, highlights, etc.

By utilizing these tools, it can also keep us in touch with what the community members and students are saying…. a window into our customer service, so to speak.  In addition, the school can become a training ground for other adults in the building or community to learn more about these media to have a more accurate understanding of the world our children experience.

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Critical Conversations – Cause No Unnecessary Pain

Many school leaders entered education as idealist teachers, like most everyone else.  Through luck, desire, circumstance, hard work, or likely a combination of those, some have the opportunity to serve their schools as formal leaders of the building.  Along with this awesome opportunity to assist teachers in doing that vital work, the leader has to start to understand how and when it’s necessary to have the “critical conversations” with other professionals.  This can be really challenging, as many school leaders I know (myself included) struggle with conflict and feel uncomfortable when we have to confront our teachers about certain instructional practices or behavior.  During my preparation for being a principal, I don’t recall learning in great detail how to handle these situations.  It’s a real learning-by-doing skill to effectively and humanely confront other professionals.

Discovering a theoretical framework, though, helped me in learning when and how to have these conversations.  Nel Noddings, a wonderful educator and prolific writer on the ethics of care in education once stated that any grown-up, in thinking about a decision related to the education and well-being of a child should ask “Is this necessary?”  as all educators should aim to, “cause no unnecessary pain, separation or helplessness.”  This became a simple litmus test for me as a school leader.  If unnecessary pain, separation or helplessness were happening to any student in my school, then it was my job to have the necessary critical conversation to end that.  Period.


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Being a Respected Instructional Leader

Credibility as an instructional leader is paramount.  While I don’t discourage professionals who’ve held non-instructional positions in schools from beginning principal preparation programs, I am very clear with them that they will have to work harder to build that credibility amoung teachers.  Let’s face it: if you haven’t been there, done that, then you don’t have the credibility.

Even sometimes when you have been a very respected teacher in one setting, if you become a school leader, you have a lot of work to do in building that credibility as an instructional leader.  I wasn’t prepared during my own principal preparation for how much I would really be challenged by some veteran teachers to prove myself as a good teacher.

Context is important here too.  I had my first assistant principal position, at a high school, when I was 30 years old, AND I had to work very hard to make myself appear even that old due to my baby face.  Top that off with being a new entitity in a large county school district, and there you have the recipe for some initial complications.  The next part of the context that’s important was that at the time, this district was starting to look at the correlation (or lackthereof) between course grades and standardized test scores.  In addition, there was concern at the state level where I was working about the perceived overinflation of teacher evaluation scores.  Sound familiar??  This was almost 10 years ago.

As someone who worked very hard as a teacher to always make sure my students were engaged in meaningful work, I ended up having some interesting evaluations of teachers that first semester as an assistant principal.  I distinctly remember having one of my reports challenged to the building principal, as this teacher had never earned anything but the highest ratings on the observation tool of the time.  (A student was sleeping in class and remained so for quite some time without intervention or concern expressed by the teacher).  I certainly wasn’t wrong in my assessment of the various instructional concerns revolving around that incident, but over time and context (I ended up as a school leader in the building where I once served as a teacher, and that was a lot easier as far as the credibility piece), but I learned what might be valuable tips by trial and error.

1) When given the opportunity to plan and implement professional development, do it.  And don’t just deliver a lecture every time.  Be the example of good instruction, every single time.

2) Outside of formal observations, get into classrooms.  Often.  Follow-up with the teachers about what you saw.  It demonstrates engagement in their practice and in pedagogy in general.  Even better, you can participate like the students.  I used to visit a Math teacher and take her tests, challenging the students to beat my score.  These are great opportunities to continue to have on-going conversations with teachers AND students about what’s going on in class.

3) Most of all, remember that no matter which observation/evaluation tool is used, the same clinical observation steps continue to apply.

– Talk to the teacher before the lesson.  Find out what’s been troubling them in the classroom.  Offer to observe for that in addition to “filling out the form.”

– Observe.  My opinion is that it shouldn’t need to be announced.  (I realize the new evaluation systems across the country make this a concern for some).  Take good notes, especially watching THE STUDENTS.  Are they actively involved in learning activities?  What evidence tells you this?  Talk to a couple students about what their learning.

-Talk to the teacher after the lesson.  Ask their reflection on the lesson (often they will identify their areas of “growth” before you have to do so).  Offer your praise where appropriate.  Discuss areas of growth and how you as a leader can offer support, guidance, and perhaps thoughts from when you taught.

My experience was that over time, through doing some of the things I mentioned above helped me build credibility as an instructional leader.

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