Practical Tips for School Leaders

Leadership Reflection

Excerpt from Leadership Now, April 30, 2020

Leadership Reflection:  How much thought have you given to innovative thinking, expanding your perspective, and changing your thinking about processes in the school?  The crisis of Covid-19 gave no time to pause or plan for the changes necessary to provide instruction to 43,000 students while schools were shuttered.  Outside-of-the-box thinking has been required to act quickly to lead during unprecedented times.

Five weeks into virtual instruction that resulted in more contact with families by phone or email, meeting with PLCs/teachers using TEAMS, conducting parent meetings including IEP’s or retention meetings virtually, how has your leadership thinking and practice changed?  Have you or your staff members implemented and experienced a change in practice which resulted in improved methods for serving students and families?

Recently I heard it said that the budget meetings, conducted virtually, were efficient and very productive.  New tactics were deployed because budget committee members were required to practice social distancing, yet the task needed to be completed.  Might budget meetings continue to be conducted virtually in future years?

In your leadership role, how do you practice curious mind thinking?  Nobel prize winner, Physicist Richard Feynman, reminds leaders to leave room open for doubt so the door to critical thinking and learning prevails:  “A scientist is never certain. We all know that. We know that all our statements are approximate statements with different degrees of certainty; that when a statement is made, the question is not whether it is true or false but rather how likely it is to be true or false…Scientific knowledge is a body of statements of varying degrees of certainty-some unsure, some nearly sure, none absolutely certain.”

As ‘the school’ changed in response to the Covid-19 crisis, how certain are you on how school should look in the future?  Are you evoking curious thinking as it relates to the future of delivering instruction, leading schools and assuring all students have access to academics, arts, athletics and other experiences they need to become our future leaders?  Are there things you were sure of before March 15, 2020 that cause you to ask, “Is here a better way?”

Taking Care of the Adults

Whether it’s the teachers, the staff, the parents or you let’s take a moment for self-care reminders.  “Should the cabin lose pressure oxygen masks will drop down from the overhead compartment.  Please place the mask over your own mouth and nose before assisting others”.

Why is it important to take care of yourself and remind other adults, who give so much to students each day, to take care of themselves?  Educators are nurturers and frequently put themselves last!  If self-care is a priority, adults have more the ability to be calm and thoughtful when others need attention.  The benefit of routines for self-care lead to more energy, a clear mind, less stress and the ability to support those around us.  During this time of social distancing, it is imperative that self-care be practiced as isolation can result in depression, frustration and even anger.  Think about it, none of us are connecting with people the way we did in early March.

How does self-care work? Here are a few simple practices for the adults during social distancing and empty brick and mortar classrooms:

  • Connect with other adults including colleagues, peers, friends and family through virtual chats, phone calls or other interactions which can be practiced within a safe distance. The use of TEAMS is a great platform to chat and see colleagues.  PLC meetings can begin with team members sharing recent grow (a practice or learning stretch) and/or glow (accomplishment/celebration) regarding instruction or a personal triumph.
  • Taking a moment for yourself at different times during the day. Make this a priority and treat yourself to time for reflection, meditation, a creative project, a bike ride or a walk.  Activities like this help refocus energy and help us let go of worries.
  • Break a sweat by engaging in a sport or activity which gets the heart pumping and the blood flowing. It may be easy to sit so try an activity that challenges you physically every day – run, dance, Zumba, surf, swim, play tennis, train for a triathlon, etc.
  • Get plenty of sleep. Schedules have changed.  However, that doesn’t mean routines need to be interrupted. Go to bed and get up at the same time you normally do as that will assure the sleep cycle your body needs.  Make good nutritional choices.  I read recently that people who work from home tend to grab the clothes they wore the day before to just be ‘comfy’.  After a good night’s sleep, it is wise to shower, eat breakfast and get prepared for the day ahead as if you were going to school or an important meeting!
  • With the complexity of changes in our work and our lives, there are new worries, concerns and pressures. Laughter is a great medicine when times are tough.  Take time to celebrate your profession, your talents and gifts.

Entrepreneurial Leadership

This morning I read a leadership blog sharing thoughts on Entrepreneurial Leadership and it brought to mind many leadership practices which are evident in the schools and district offices.  It reminds me of a selected leadership book, Teacher Preneurs (2013), which many of you read a number of years ago.  In reflecting about the past four weeks, which characteristics of entrepreneurial thinking surfaced as the school and district culture changed?

In Teacher Preneurs the authors project what successful innovative teachers will do to change the face of schooling in the year 2030.  Here we are in 2020 and teacher leaders are delivering lessons using many new methodologies.  They are on the front line where bold new practices are required if they are to meet the needs of their students during this crisis.  Jose’ Vilson asks, “What if accomplished educators’ jobs could be restructured, enabling us to use and spread our expertise in innovative ways while also keeping one foot in the classroom?” (p.17)

Have we not asked all teachers to do just that?  They are communicating with colleagues differently, networking with students, learning by innovating, taking risks, solving problems, being empathic to the academic, social and emotional needs of their students while reflecting on their professional practices.  The authors state they believe that education calls for a culture which is innovative and creative.  To make that happen we must ask teacher leaders to be journey leaders as the new culture is established.

How do school/district leaders lead the cultural changes?  Blog contributor, Joel Peterson, CEO, CFO, Professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business, has developed a framework to assist leaders as they grow in their professional capacity.  He defines the entrepreneur as a person who innovates, initiates and steers with a mind to the future. Entrepreneurial leaders are resilient, they shift different leadership styles as needed.  They demonstrate the ability to solve problems and are agents of change. They are strategic and have the vision to know why, what and how to manage and inspire the people in the organization to move forward.  He suggests four activities to sharpen the practices of entrepreneurial leadership; building trust, creating a mission, securing a team and delivering results (2020).

Why are these skills important as the school/district culture changes?  How do you deploy these four practices in your role?


Leadership Now, Building a Community of Leaders. Leading Blog
, April 24, 2020.
Berry, B., Byrd, B., & Wieder, A. (2013) Teacher Preneurs, San Francisco, CA.: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

From Instructional Leadership in Action

University of Washington Center for Educational Leadership

As brick and mortar schools have darkened the classroom lights and deployed online instruction, we are learning from educational leaders across the country on how they continue to lead their faculty for instructional improvement. The following are reflections shared by a Superintendent of Schools in Minnesota.  He asked his teachers and administrators to focus on what they could do better for their students in the short and long term. School stakeholders engaged in the following discussion across the district:

  • What should student engagement look like? How can faculty determine student progress and address continuing needs?
  • Use of student and parent surveys to understand their perspective of the current state.
  • He worked virtually with principal teams to define instructional leadership during a crisis and disruption to the norm
  • He engaged personally with principals to ensure reflection and thoughtful progress

The visual below, developed by Jenn McDermott, reflects the process of getting better as a school/system and may be referenced regardless of the situation or challenge. This process is clear and transparent; it asks the educator to determine the ideal state, use evidence of progress (data), feedback, coaching (relationships) and learning together (PLC) to drive intentional practice toward achieving the ideal state (results).  Note: The box in the upper far-right side of the graphic refers to the 5D Framework for Teaching (Univ. of Washington and the 4D Framework for Leadership (Univ. of Washington). The process is easily converted to the use of the Marzano Instrument and the FSLA.

The graphic supports instructional leadership as a process in any situation including the present state with new demands. While you continue to lead instruction as teachers deliver online lessons and students engage in online learning, I invite you to reflect on the following.

  • What is the current state of teaching/learning?
  • Are students participating and achieving at the level you expect?
  • How will you continue to provide feedback and coaching to build capacity of the teachers?
  • What actions will you put in place to achieve your vision?

Leadership Tip

John C. Kotter reminds us that management tends to work through a formal hierarchy while leadership does not.  “In a world that is continually changing, where additional leadership is necessary, more individuals outside one’s chain of command take on added importance, as do intangibles not on the organizational chart, intangibles like culture.”

In response to the coronavirus and online classrooms, has the leadership team of the school changed over the past few weeks?

Before the beginning of March what three to five words would you use to describe or define the culture of your school? How do you assure that the culture of your school has remained intact?  What intangibles are you focused on?

In Time For Change, Muhammad and Cruz (2019) define leadership by referencing the work of three scholars.  First, John Maxwell defines leadership as the “ability to influence—nothing more, nothing less”.  Second, Muhammad and Hollie (2012) describe leadership as “the intentional act of increasing the productivity for one’s organization”.  Finally, in the work of Dufour and Marzano (2011) they define school leaders as providing “teachers with the resources, materials, and support to help them succeed at what they are being asked to do”.

How are you combining these three expectations of leadership to lead during this time of transformational change?

What strategies could you share with your colleagues to assist them in their roles?

Happy Thoughts

Source: Erin Lynn, Assistant Principal, FCMS

Three Types of Humility that Impact Your Leadership

Excerpt from Leadership Now, April 14, 2020

Harvard Business School Dean, Nitin Nohria, spoke to the Harvard graduating class of 2016 in which he addressed Hope, Humility and Honor.  Of Hope he referenced Ernest Shackleton in his actions as he led in a difficult situation.  Shackleton “continued to be optimistic himself, but continually instilled hope in his crewmates.  He refused to allow crewmates to give into despair…”

Of Honor, Nohria said we should think of honor as a verb. He said it is putting action to our commitments.

He discussed Humility as three types:  intellectual, moral and personal.  By breaking humility into three types the author says it might help us nurture the behavior(s) more fully in our own lives.

Intellectual humility is the knowledge that no matter how smart we are, we can always learn from others.  In thinking about intellectual humility, I am reminded of how much I am learning every day from observing the work that is going on in the schools in addressing the new culture. Teachers are learning from each other, students are learning in a unique classroom setting, parents are supporting the learning environment in ways they never imagined, and school leaders are having very different conversations with teachers than they have had in the past.

I have heard Mr. Forson talk about his learning at home as he helps his children and, in the district, as he listens to parents and engages with school and district leaders.  He has mentioned how important reflection is to him in his practice.  I am learning to be more confident in my use of technology as I scan the internet for new leadership practices across the state and country. As I read and reflect, I think about my time as a Principal and ponder if I would be able to lead effectively in the culture of remote classrooms.  I wonder how I would have put practices in place to lead teachers and instill confidence in them to blaze novel trails.  Would I have remained calm in the face of so many unknowns?

I admire all of you for being ahead of the curve with our present school culture.  What steps are you taking to intentionally learn from others and assimilate those learnings into your practice? How do you share this with colleagues and subordinates?

Moral humility is the “awareness that no matter how self-assured you are about your moral compass, you are vulnerable under stress or in certain contexts, to losing your way.”  The role of a school leader is very complex in situations we have been trained for and have experienced.  We have discussed strategies for maintaining a balance between our personal and professional responsibilities and roles.  Are you taking good care of yourself?  Are you able to know when to say no if you need to?

In the context of working from home it is easy for me to be distracted.  I have found that following a schedule is important and digging deep into my work gives me intellectual stimulation and comfort.  As it is for each of you, my work has always been in a school where I could go in and out of classrooms and talk to students and teachers.  I thrived professionally on the challenges in the school; always something different which kept me focused and moving forward.  Yes, there was stress, though solving one issue provided momentum for addressing the next problem!  I have been reading your school posts and reflections from some of our school APs.  Leadership practices continue to be anchored on moral humility, students first through honoring the instructional practices of teachers.

Personal humility is the skill of listening intently to others, celebrating small milestones, recognizing the contributions of team members and accepting the praise of others.  The quote from Lao Tzu, “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”

It has been my honor, over the past few years, to work with you and get to know you as leaders, I recognize each one of you is very humble. I hope you will continue to share your awesome practices with each other.  As a district, we will continue to grow in our leadership capacity if we are willing to share our thinking and our actions.  Dr. Julie Smith calls this ‘professional displays of effection’ or PDE!

Each of you continues to accomplish many things every day. I hope you will take time to reflect, learn from others, act with moral clarity and purpose and celebrate the difference, as a leader, you are making!

How do these three types of humility resonate for you in your life?

Excerpt from “The Principal”

Excerpt from
The Principal, Michael Fullan, 2014

In The Principal Michael Fullan defines three keys to maximizing the impact of school leaders. The third key is becoming a change agent. All of you have been thrust into this position as a result of the new school culture you are leading. He references the work of Lyle Kirkman and Seven Leadership competencies he identifies for effective leaders. Fullan believes the work of Kirkman is important as leaders are asked ‘to act while doubting what they know’, (Sutton, 2006).

The reference to the competencies is to invite you to reflect on those you do well and those that you believe you need to spend time developing. They provide a framework to use as you assess your own practice and continually learn in each area. Below are the seven competencies:

  • Challenge the status quo – No question everyone has been asked to do this with limited preparation.
  • Build trust through clear communication and expectations – Delivered frequently with honesty, vulnerability and transparency
  • Create a commonly owned plan for success – PLC’s, Team meetings, schedules, communication
  • Focus on team over self – What do the stakeholders inside and outside my school need from me?
  • Have a sense of urgency for sustainable results – Each of you has embraced this challenge with the end in mind; the wellbeing of teachers and staff and the continued learning of all students
  • Commit to continuous improvement for self – Taking the pulse of what is going on continually by talking to team members, looking at evidences, seizing opportunities to self-learn and helping team members be more effective in the new environment. Reaching out to others.
  • Build external networks and partnerships – Learning from colleagues across the district, getting new ideas, sharing experiences and knowledge to contribute to the ongoing improvement of the school/district.

Fullan ends by asking leaders to consider, ‘How should school leaders move forward and help others move forward under difficult circumstances and with less than complete information?’ (2014)

Have you stopped to reflect on your skills in managing change?  For many this is instinctive while for others it poses the question of the day. Celebrate the boundless work you are leading in the face of tremendous change.

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