Your Leadership “True North”

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I remembered the day before I began my first day as a Principal.  While I was excited, I was also very nervous and unsure about the journey I was about to begin.  I thought I was prepared but the more I thought about the “what if’s”, the more I recognized I was not entirely sure I had all the answers.  I wanted to help impact others and support their work on a broader scale beyond my single classroom that I had as a teacher. I knew that also meant my responsibilities were also much greater too. Those memories seem very distant now…but at the same time I feel similar emotions as we embark further into this school year.   The impact of COVID-19, social justice, budget shortfalls, staffing challenges all make this year similar in many ways.  Despite my best efforts to be ready for this year, I know I will not have all the answers. I also know that as a building leader, there is an immense amount of responsibility upon my shoulders as we must keep our students and staff safe while providing high quality learning experiences – all during a pandemic.  The expectations from those outside our building are in many cases unrealistic due to the many challenges and new practices that must be implemented this year.  As I was thinking about this year, I was reminded of the importance of Blazing my own trail as a leader as there is no principal manual for COVID so I will do my best to lead our school community through this year and grow in the process.

The areas below are 5 areas from my perspective that I must incorporate into our work and keep as my “True North” to help keep my purpose right in front of me.  These 5 areas are what all leaders consistently do within their work. These include:

Challenge the status Quo – It is important to remember that teachers will only take risks when the principal takes risks.  From my perspective, challenging the status quo means simply you “try new strategies in a pursuit of an unknown better”. In other words, you are not striving for perfection but rather learning through the process as the focus is on growth. This year is different and if schools will be successful it is because they had teachers who were willing to adapt, pivot and try something new. This can be best achieved as leaders keep the following in mind:

  • Importance of having “worthy rivals”.  This is not referring to other leaders who you try to beat our outdo, but rather your professional learning network (PLN) that supports you, helps motivate and provides honest feedback. They can be a springboard for new ideas.
  • People outside of your school rely upon communication for their perspectives, so consider what within communication can you innovate this year to connect with families and showcase the positives from your school.  
  • Don’t settle for “it’s working” when it can become what attracts great teacher leaders to your community and motivates them to stay and grow within their profession.  At the same time, what makes students excited to come to school?
  • As a starting point, help your staff remember their “why” as that will give them the courage to lead and try new things.

Inspire a shared Vision – This year has so many variables and so much new information.  Teachers and your staff may get overwhelmed. It is important that leaders help their staff members remember their purpose and that together we can accomplish anything.  This can be achieved by:

  • Always focusing on relationships first.
  • Build culture every minute, every day.  This is done through simple conversations and in many cases, listening and being empathetic.
  • Use stories as a way to connect staff together so there is a common shared understanding of the work.  
  • Bring it back to the kids.  
  • Leaders must be a filter. There is so much information thrown at leaders that then is supposed to be shared with teachers. Their key is to only share with staff the key information they must know so their plates don’t get too full.  Keep it simple for teachers so they recognize it is about making connections to students and making learning personal and authentic.
  • Communicate to your school community in an authentic way, effectively and efficiently. This is achieved by using consistent messaging , being simple and straightforward. It is also important to be genuine and use multi modal means of communication.

Empower others to act – Leaders must recognize our key role is to help Influence others and develop your team.   This is achieved by investing time with them so you get to know each person and what motivates them.  This allows you to Inspire them to try new approaches and rekindle their “why” they became an educator.  It is also important to seek their input as not only will that allow you greater perspective but also to avoid your own personal blindspots.  It is also important not to rely on the same teacher leaders for everything – find ways to incorporate different people and give them opportunities to contribute.  As leaders, find ways to get your staff excited about what they can accomplish if they work together and then get out of their way and let them do their magic.  

Model the Change – The greatest factor that causes change within a school is when a leader models the change.  People respect a leader by their Competence (which is how well they do their job) and their Character (which is how they do their job).  It takes more than 1 conversation to influence change, it takes repeated efforts that demonstrate consistency, common purpose and resilience. Leaders must remember their words and actions can inspire others and we should never forget that a 30 second hallway conversation may be the important part of a teacher’s day.  In addition, when leaders take responsibility for their professional growth, the teachers notice and that inspires them to also take advantage of opportunities to grow and learn together. Learning becomes the culture of a staff where the principal is a lead learner.

Enlarge the Heart – Culture is the most important thing in a school. This is true every year but this year – the culture of great schools is the factor that will allow schools to find success in the most challenging of times. Leaders must focus more on experiences for staff and help them to remember why they do what they do. Educators don’t get burned out because they don’t want to work hard, they get burned out because they forget why they do the work. We cannot just tell our staff we value them – we must show them. The little things (ex. Handwritten notes, stopping by their room during their plan to check in on them, giving them grace when they make mistakes) go a long way to strengthening a culture. 

This year is unlike no other due to so many external factors and the constant unknowns. Leaders must keep common principles in front of them so they can focus on their worth daily.  The areas mentioned above will help leaders navigate through the storm of COVID-19 impact to help their school have a great year.  True leadership occurs by intentional efforts when you work extremely hard to improve your own leadership.  I encourage all leaders to reflect upon your past experiences or failures as you strive for greater growth by keeping your “True North” as your focal point. This will allow you to focus on spending the right efforts towards the important work of leading others. It is never too late to change or adapt to create something better. We owe that to our students and staff that we serve. Comment below or reach out to me at leadlearnerperspectives@gmail.com

Learn 

  Engage 

    Adapt 

       Delegate 

         Empower 

           Reflect  

             Serve 

Navigating through the storm

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Years ago we were on a family vacation driving late at night on a remote highway in an unfamiliar area.  To make matters worse, a driving rainstorm occurred that made driving hazardous.  There were many times we considered pulling over on the side of the road but the shoulders of the road were too narrow and there was traffic behind us that made us keep going.  The drive that night ended safely as we reached our destination but it was very stressful and we had many different emotions.

As I think about this school year, there are some comparisons to that night that I remember that give me similar emotions as we encounter COVID-19 and the impact as we planned to start school. Our school year has finally begun and despite some challenges, we collectively pulled together for a great start to our school year. But we started in Distance Learning and now we prepare to switch to a new format of Hybrid Learning.  This new format will bring a new wave of emotions and challenges that we will need to navigate through to find success.  This blog post highlights how leadership responds to challenges and allows schools to navigate through the storm to find success for students, staff and families.  Here are some areas leaders can use to “Navigate through the storm.”

Remember your “WHY”

I have learned not to get caught up in the never ending workload, stress, external demands upon our time and frustrations that dominate our thoughts. Yes, hard work is needed and there are times I get frustrated. However, I strive to focus on the right work which is helping others feel valued and supporting their work.   It’s important to continue to make positive connections, challenge the status quo and communicate effectively to all stakeholders.  If you make decisions from your “why” and use your core principles to guide your behaviors, then you will be supporting efforts to help others which is our purpose.

Firm with your Principles, Flexible with your Practices

For educators this year is constant change. We are not used to that but due to ever changing health guidance, COVID cases changing and supporting teachers for various types of learning formats, many of our “normal” methods may not serve our staff and students the best.  Leaders must know what their principles are and what they stand for. We must also be willing to adjust how those principles are carried out to best serve the school community. My principles for our school community are relationships and communication. Both of these principles are still a focus this year. However, I must be willing to innovate ways to make connections with students/staff and effectively communicate to staff and parents that is clear, consistent and use multimodal formats. The phrase “Be Firm with your Principles, but Flexible with your Practices” is from education leader @DavidGeurin and it helps me to remember our purpose can remain the same but can be carried out differently for a situation. 

Mindset 

As a leader, you must be comfortable with criticism that others will launch at you.  The key is to focus on your “mindset” and continue to be positive and build  your school’s culture. During turbulent times, people will look to their leaders for guidance, how to respond and reassurance that everything will be okay. Leaders recognize the importance of being authentic with staff and students but also being the calm, steady leader at the helm of the school ship.

Reflection 

When you are in tough moments not all plans will work. Some plans will need to be adjusted and others will fail. What won’t fail are people. Leaders must remember the value of working with their stakeholders to help make decisions and when things are most challenging, seek feedback and reflect upon the work so necessary adjustments can happen if needed.  When you reflect with others, it allows you to see your blindspots and potential areas that may mis-guide the important work of your school.

Serve – Lead – Inspire

As a leader, we must transfer our passion, optimism and beliefs to those we work with.  It is so important to show your team how much you care, even more so during challenging times. Smile – have fun- show kindness and positivity you want in your school.  View challenges that do arise as opportunities to grow and make a positive impact in that situation.  As educators, we went into teaching and working with kids to make a difference.  The true difference is not made when things are easy but rather when there is a difficult situation. A person’s enthusiasm attracts more leaders and energizes them to perform their best for students.  

This year is unlike no other due to so many external factors and the constant unknowns. However, like any year I will make mistakes. You cannot lead without making mistakes.  The importance is not that you make mistakes but what you learn from your mistakes. The areas mentioned above will help leaders navigate through the storm of COVID-19 impact to help their school have a great year.  True leadership occurs by intentional efforts when you work extremely hard to improve your own leadership.  I encourage all leaders to reflect upon your past experiences or failures as you strive for greater growth. This will allow you to focus on spending the right efforts towards the important work of leading others. It is never too late to change or adapt to create something better. We owe that to our students and staff that we serve. Comment below or reach out to me at leadlearnerperspectives@gmail.com

Learn 

  Engage 

    Adapt 

       Delegate 

         Empower 

           Reflect  

             Serve 

The Power of Momentum

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The initial focus for school leaders and educators this year is on “starting the first 4 weeks successfully”. This could be in Remote learning, Hybrid or In person as educators deal with technology platforms, safety measures and much more.  But as schools move past the initial start of the year, the question becomes how do schools build on initial success and pave the way for a successful school year.  This blog post focuses on how educators and leaders must understand the importance of momentum and how that form of energy and emotion can not only sustain a school community but propel it forward for an outstanding school year.

Momentum is a complex process. Here are some conceptual ideas that provide a deeper understanding of what educators can do so their leadership maximizes momentum within their work.

  • Leaders build momentum because they have a clear focus. This focus allows the many decisions leaders must make to align with their core values and principles.  When we get busy or stressed is when this focus is most important. Without a clear picture of your purpose and focus , your actions may not align with the right work.  Keep in mind that  “We don’t get tired because of our work – we get burned out because we forget why we do it”
  • When you focus on the past, it breaks momentum; when you focus on your future it builds momentum. All schools will have setbacks but they will also have many more successes.  Leaders must help their staff, who in turn will help students, to keep the  work moving forward on “how can we work together” and “collectively what can be accomplished”.  If you think about a sports analogy, people who lose yearn for the past get stuck there. However, people who improve are those who learn from the past and let go of it so they can focus on what they can become.
  • You build momentum by getting people to work together. Educators go into this field of work for human interaction and the opportunities to help others. Leaders must capitalize upon this by finding ways to connect with each staff member and unite that mindset to accomplish common tasks.  When people work together, they can accomplish anything and overcome any obstacle.  Keep in mind that Momentum is broken when people work separately in isolation.  Collective efficacy is when educators are at their best.
  • During a change process, a leader’s effort and attitudes by how they model their work is the tipping point.  Leading schools is complex work and stressful work.  This puts any individual in situations where complex decisions must be made.   If the leader is critical of others they break momentum. But if the leader is authentic, shares vulnerability then it connects with others and unites the team.  Leaders can be positive and caring while still being respected. Leaders can also be demanding without demeaning others, lead with optimism and inspire others by connecting to the “why”for people through stories and experiences 

This year is unlike no other due to so many external factors and the constant unknowns. However, like any year I will make mistakes. You cannot lead without making mistakes.  The importance is not that you make mistakes but what you learn from your mistakes in the form of growth experiences.  How leaders maximize positive momentum for their work and teams then it puts their schools in a position of success.  True leadership occurs by intentional efforts when you work extremely hard to improve your own leadership.  I encourage all leaders to reflect upon your past experiences or failures as you strive for greater growth. This will allow you to focus on spending the right efforts towards the important work of leading others. It is never too late to change or adapt to create something better. We owe that to our students and staff that we serve. Comment below or reach out to me at leadlearnerperspectives@gmail.com

Learn 

  Engage 

    Adapt 

       Delegate 

         Empower 

           Reflect  

             Serve 

How do you create trust in uncertain times

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Has there ever been a more challenging time in schools?  Or even our country?  As I thought about those questions I recognize that not only are educators unsure about the upcoming year, so are the students and families we serve. So how do leaders put plans in place that allow educators to feel supported and safe, families to feel comforted and students a sense of normalcy. I believe it is the trust that leaders must have within their school community. 

Trust is an interesting concept. It is hard to develop trust from others as it takes time and involves many components. However,  you can quickly lose trust from others by poor decisions or practices that don’t put priorities at the center point.  As I reflected upon how can I continue to build trust in the staff I serve, the parents I partner with and the students I strive to empower – the following actionable steps came to mind:

  • Trust is developed by small interactions….relationships are built 1:1. The more opportunities I can develop to interact with students, staff and families in small settings then I have a greater chance to help them feel genuine and valued.
  • Create regular opportunities for human interaction that builds relationships. During this COVID-19 challenge, those interactions may be through virtual means like Zoom, Flipgrid but also by phone calls.  The chance to dialogue and help people feel listened to is a priority.
  • Create the conditions or environment where people feel cared for, supported and nurtured. This simply means to put people first – always.
  • Modeling the behaviors we want from others is the best way to set the tone in a school environment. How I respond with words, actions and my attitudes will reflect the mindset we set in our building.This will influence others in their actions and their actions will become habits over time.  Habits will become the culture of a building and this is how you build trust 
  • Develop a common vision and purpose with your school community.  This allows everyone to focus on the same work, support each other in their efforts and focus more as a team compared to a collection of individuals.
  • Be Vulnerable and Authentic with staff and families.  There are times that our school community forgets that leaders are people too. We have our own personal families, we need feedback, we strive for improvement yet desire validation too.  When we admit mistakes to others but confirm our purpose is to help their kids; staff and families will understand and give us grace.  Leaders recognize that our mistakes don’t define us but rather refine us.

Leaders remove barriers and find ways to turn problems into opportunities. They set the tone and have the single greatest influence upon a school’s culture.  As a leader I must adapt and understand what I must do differently to be the most effective leader for our school community.  True leadership occurs by intentional efforts when you work extremely hard to improve your own learning and that leads to an improved school. I encourage all leaders to reflect upon your prior experiences as you planned for the coming school year. When you can self-analyze your past and what you learned from those experiences, it allows you to focus on spending the right efforts towards building trust. It is never too late to change or adapt to create something better. We owe that to our students and staff that we serve. Comment below or reach out to me at leadlearnerperspectives@gmail.com

Learn

Engage

Adapt

Delegate

Empower

Reflect

Serve

The Variable that separates Good vs. Great schools

The 2020-21 school year has started for some educators and will start soon for others. Make no doubt about it, the 20-21 school year is one that we will all remember. But HOW we remember it and for what reasons may be much different based upon every educator and the school community they work with.  From my perspective, the variable that is different in any school and the one that will determine how schools navigate through this year are the PEOPLE.  

The foundation of a great school are the people;  the key is how do leaders galvanize staff to come together to create amazing experiences during this school year. Together educators can accomplish anything. While there may be things we cannot predict that will happen this year, we do know that our collective resolve, resilience and focus on supporting each other is what matters most. It will be important to focus on what we can control which is our mindset, attitudes, actions and behaviors.

How can leaders create these conditions? From my perspective there are 3 areas to focus on for the right work which will lead to a high quality culture that can overcome any obstacle to provide great experiences for kids.  These are

  1. Safety and well being
  2. Share vulnerability 
  3. Purpose 

Safety and well being

There are many individuals who have concerns or anxiety about their work in the upcoming school year. This does not have to do with their passion for helping kids but rather getting to the point where they feel like their health is the top priority of school leaders and they are cared for.  Until that happens, unfortunately very few people could perform at a high level where they could solely focus on supporting others. Leaders must place safety and well being for staff and students at the top of priority list every year.  If staff feel like they are cared for then they will be valued and have a sense of belonging. This year that means leaders being transparent with staff about what decisions ultimately need to be made, giving staff a voice and feedback in the reopening plans and then listening to them along the way so adjustments can be implemented as needed. It is probably true that some of the plans for any school will fail or have to be adjusted. What won’t fail are people who share a common vested interest.

Share Vulnerability

Leaders can connect with their staff by being honest, authentic and displaying vulnerability. “It is okay not to be okay”.  That phrase is one that symbolizes how I feel but I recognize that our district has its people at the top of its needs so I recognize that I must focus on ensuring I know what I and everyone must do to be safe by our district standards.  Sharing with staff that I will need them to help me and likewise, that I need to be there to help them, places a high value on collective efficacy. Leaders must admit that they don’t have all the answers, but “the smartest person in the room is the room”. In other words, leaders that involve others in their decision making process empowers everyone to be rowing the boat in the same direction. When leaders share this type of message with staff, it helps everyone to know that we will not only get through this but actually develop a stronger sense of culture as a result.

Purpose 

The first 4-6 weeks of this year should solely focus on safe return to school for staff/students and connecting with each other to create strong relationships.  This will lay the foundation for the rest of the year.  Leaders may want to remind staff of the school goals at different points in the year and the work that revolves around it, but if people don’t feel connected and safe the amount of growth will be limited.  Leaders must place a consistent and high value on helping others feel supported, cared for and value their contributions to their school. This involves feedback mechanisms and strategies to support individual needs.  If this is achieved by leaders then any school goal can be met as staff and students feel connected and a shared purpose.

The  best way to improve a school is to improve its people. Typically I would say this is done by quality PD, empowering staff and hiring the best people who enhance your culture when there is an opening. This is still true. However, for this year leaders must focus first on safety and well being, be vulnerable as a leader and help everyone find their purpose as an individual and as a school community.  True leadership occurs by intentional efforts when you work extremely hard to improve your own learning and that leads to an improved school. When you can self-analyze your past and what you learned from those experiences, it allows you to focus on spending the right efforts towards the important work of leading others. It is never too late to change or adapt to create something better. We owe that to our students and staff that we serve. Comment below or reach out to me at leadlearnerperspectives@gmail.com

Learn 

  Engage 

    Adapt 

       Delegate 

         Empower 

           Reflect  

             Serve 

How failures help build success

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Several years ago when I first started listening to education podcasts, I remember George Couros sharing the importance of learning from our mistakes.  That message resonated with me and drove my thinking to a different level. At that time, I had been a teacher leader and just finished several years as an assistant principal. In fact, I was about to begin  as a principal of a building that needed an infusion of culture, a realigned focus on relationships and a deeper meaning of teaching/learning.  I used that podcast to help me think of my failures as an educator.  First I must share that when I think of the word “failures” I think of experiences that provided an opportunity for growth that at the time was not met with full success but later provided a reflection opportunity. I also decided it wasn’t enough just to reflect upon “failures'” but to also write them down on paper. But why would I record the mistakes or failures?  First note that an individual can only recognize one’s actions as mistakes or failures if they are doing deep reflection. As a result, I wanted this reflection to be more impactful so I recorded a learning lesson from each failure so that experience would help refine my leadership skills and journey over time. I came to recognize that my failures “didn’t define me but would refine me.” I hope that over my 14 years now as an administrator that I am a better leader, more well rounded person and operate from a core set of beliefs. In the end, I believe this allows me to better serve the students and staff that I work with.

Below a few examples of “my failures” and the lessons that I learned from those experiences.

  1. Failure – Early in my administrative career I thought I had to act and behave a certain way as an administrator.  At times, I tried to be someone that I was not. As a result, the deep connections and relationships were limited as I was not my true self.

Lesson Learned – Be you and your authentic self and just focus each day on being your best version of yourself.  Believe in yourself and the attributes that you have to make a difference.

  1. Failure – As an administrator in my first job I strived to help the teachers and staff that I served. This included notes of praise, professional development, feedback and overall support. As a result, I thought I would receive similar PD  for me as a building administrator. I learned over time that despite the best efforts of others, the quality and quantity of PD, feedback and professional drive that I was seeking was different than I expected. 

Lesson Learned – If you want to grow as a leader, don’t wait for others to help you.  Your growth is your responsibility.  This helped me to form my PLN and eventually led to my SM use and blogging as a way to connect with other educators.

  1. Failure – I am fortunate that I work in a wonderful district with good people who focus on the right things.  There are many talented leaders and educators. There have been times when other administrators or leaders have received recognition and praise for the same work that I have done. I would not be honest if I didn’t share that I felt a sense of disappointment and frustration as I too wanted to be valued for my contributions. I thought I had worked hard too and so I also had hoped for a sense of accomplishment or validation.

Lesson Learned – I recognized that I cannot compare myself to others as I am not aware of all the factors in their journey. I should be happy for them and their accomplishments and at the same time, stay focused on doing the right work and that will lead to the real award – influencing and developing others as leaders. Over time I have learned that the most impactful and level 5 leaders are the quiet ones. They don’t seek applause or recognition as their focus is on helping others to grow and develop as leaders.  They focus on their legacy not building their resume.

  1. Failure –  During my years as a teacher leader I was excited about what administrative areas I would have if I had the chance to be an administrator. Early in my administrative journey one of the areas I was in charge of was Maintenance. When I was told Maintenance was one of my key areas, I was disappointed beyond words. Looking back, I missed the mark as every part of the school is important and plays a role upon teaching and learning. I was just never told the “why” it was so important so I did not see the value in it.

Lesson Learned – I recognized there is value in every opportunity for growth and impact.  When you work with people, take advantage of each experience to treat them with respect, value their efforts and do the best you can with what you have.  Everything plays a role within a school that can lead to an improved culture and the importance is how can you innovate or find ways to make it better.

  1. Failure – As an administrator I have had multiple opportunities to interact with families and parents regarding their children. Some of these conversations have been tense and tough conversations. At first I tried to find ways to lessen this interaction as I would send an email rather than make a phone call or invite them in for a conversation.  While the end result was achieved, I now recognized I missed some chances to make a deeper impact.

Lesson Learned – I now recognize the families and parents/guardians I serve as a leader are a true partner in our school experience. I should try to work with them, not against them, when it comes to tough conversations.  It is never easy to tell a parent their child is in trouble or made mistakes. However, when you take the time to share the purpose, listen, validate their feelings and share how I care for their child to develop as a leader with strong character then greater trust can be developed.  I now recognize these tough conversations are the relationships that truly make schools great.

The journal of my failures and learned leadership lessons has taught me great lessons on how to be an effective leader.  It comes by taking time to reflect and think at deep levels using your core beliefs to help guide your growth.  I now recognize these themes from my failures help build success by the following:

  • I can be a leader and still ask for help
  • I can be confident and still have doubt
  • I can expect excellence and still be empathetic
  • I can be direct and still be kind
  • I can work with urgency and still be patient
  • I can be strong and still be vulnerable
  • I can lead but let other take the ownership of the work 
  • I can make a greater impact by working together and going slow instead of working alone and going fase.

This year is unlike no other due to so many external factors and the constant unknowns. However, like any year I will make mistakes. You cannot lead without making mistakes.  The importance is not that you make mistakes but what you learn from your mistakes in the form of growth experiences.  The journal that I keep on my failures has been pivotal upon my growth as it allows me to sharpen my skills and focus as a leader. True leadership occurs by intentional efforts when you work extremely hard to improve your own leadership.  I encourage all leaders to reflect upon your past experiences or failures as you strive for greater growth. This will allow you to focus on spending the right efforts towards the important work of leading others. It is never too late to change or adapt to create something better. We owe that to our students and staff that we serve. Comment below or reach out to me at leadlearnerperspectives@gmail.com

Learn 

  Engage 

    Adapt 

       Delegate 

         Empower 

           Reflect  

             Serve 

The EXTRA to go from an Ordinary to Extraordinary year

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Like many educators I have been working very long days in summer as we work on our school reopening plans.  Most times of the year, the work would be less and we would be able to predict the normal workload.  As I was driving home recently after a typical 12 hours at the office I thought how this year is anything but normal.  In fact, it will be much different with absolutely most of it unpredictable.  I keep reminding myself to “focus on only the things that I can control.”  I thought to myself what must I do to make this a great year for our kids and staff. As I reflected, I recognize that I must first find ways to help me grow as a leader and by doing that I can further help others improve and together we can find success in no matter what type of learning format or challenges we will face. So what are these EXTRA things I can do to go from making this an Ordinary to Extraordinary year.  Here are the things that resonate with me:

  1. Extra Effort

I believe all educators work hard, care and do their best. Over time  I have learned the extra effort must be spent in the right way. It should reflect that “doing my best is more important than being the best.”  Too often I let SM posts or other avenues influence my thinking and I get caught up, like probably many others, about seeking the recognition that comes with hard work. I keep reminding myself, the effort is useless unless it’s focused on doing my best for the right purpose. I must have a daily goal of “not focusing so much on doing things right as much as focusing on doing the right things.”

  1. Extra Time

When I think of the great leaders and educators I know, I have come to recognize that they have spent much time working, thinking and supporting others.  Their strength did not come from simple tasks but rather taking the extra time by being persistent, demonstrating perseverance and being relentless in the pursuit of excellence. Most of their growth happened without others seeing them persevere through challenges or the efforts they took to learn and support others.  I remind myself of the saying “Rome wasn’t built in a day” – great leadership is developed over time as you take risks, reflect and learn along the way.  This year will stretch me but if I persevere, take the extra attempts to help others and “fill their buckets” then they in turn will help others too.

  1. Extra Help

No one has all the answers to COVID-19 and how to reopen schools, yet alone how to function over the course of the year in a school during a Pandemic. I have always relied on others and tried to empower them. I recognize that for our school to be safe where everyone can focus on learning, then “it will take a village”.  I must ask others for help and seek their guidance as often as needed. That is hard for me, it’s hard for most leaders.  I remind myself that asking for help is actually a sign of strength, not weakness, as it models the importance of collective efficacy.  I must be ok with being vulnerable and admitting at times that I need support, help or just plain encouragement too.

  1. Extra Care

People are nervous, concerned and apprehensive. I understand their concerns and to help everyone be their best….I must provide the care and empathy that our teachers and students need. This is foremost as our staff and students return. The focus should be on safety but also attending to people’s needs and ensuring that they feel valued will help us move the needle in the right direction this year.

  1. Extra Attitude

A positive mindset is always important. I remind myself of that every day as I drive to and from work as I recognize that what I do, how I act and how  I say my words do influence others.  The culture of a building is a reflection of its leaders – simple as that. I recognize that if I remain positive, supportive and empathetic then our school community will follow suit.  I must “be the thermostat, not the thermometer.”  We are embarking not just 9 weeks of COVID-19 but the entire school year.  A positive attitude can sustain a school community as “we are in a marathon, not a sprint.”

This year is unlike no other due to so many external factors and the constant unknowns. As a result,  as a leader I must adapt and understand what I must do differently to be the most effective leader for our school community. As I reflected upon what I must do EXTRA it helps me to recognize this is all within my own control. True leadership occurs by intentional efforts when you work extremely hard to improve your own leadership.  I encourage all leaders to reflect upon your experiences as you plan for the coming school year. This will allow you to focus on spending the right efforts towards the important work of leading others. It is never too late to change or adapt to create something better. We owe that to our students and staff that we serve. Comment below or reach out to me at leadlearnerperspectives@gmail.com

Learn 

  Engage 

    Adapt 

       Delegate 

         Empower 

           Reflect  

             Serve 

What remains the same for schools in unpredictable times

To say that we are in unpredictable times is an understatement. Things change frequently for schools and for society. This revolves around the safety related to COVID and then school leaders must also consider many other typical  impacts (ex. budget, staffing etc..) upon the schools. This also includes the ongoing needed conversation about equity and implicit bias in our school systems, how to support students and staff through the trauma of COVID and the teaching and learning that must take place for the entire year (remote or face to face). To make things more challenging, each family has their own personal viewpoint on how things in schools should be handled. Each family’s perspective is their perspective – it’s not wrong – but leaders must understand that for everything they share there will be pushback. We must get comfortable with dissent but stay focused on what matters most. This leads us to the topic of this blog – “what does remain the same for schools in unpredictable times”. 

When I reflect upon these areas that will remain essential for schools, this simply means areas that I see that will remain essential if school is in remote learning, a hybrid model or face to face teaching and learning within the school. This perspective comes  from reflecting about what has remained the foundation for school leaders as they navigate the many obstacles from previous years and what is needed moving forward in our unpredictable future.  For me, understanding what will remain the same helps to provide a focus on the core beliefs and values that we will operate from as we adjust to things that are outside of our control.  The items that do remain the same include:

  1. Schools are a primary source of supporting children. This includes in:
  • Providing the basic needs for kids including food, clothes and other necessities needed for survival.
  • Providing the SEL support to work through the trauma of COVID
  • Providing the academic support to personalize the academic instruction each child needs.
  • Providing the equity so each learner has the opportunity to maximize their school experience.

School leaders must recognize how they support “Maslow’s needs  before Blooms” may be different from school to school or within the year, but it must be the central focus of the work of schools and its leaders.

  1. Support staff so they can focus on supporting students. This support for staff must include:
  • Leaders ensure that staff feel safe with COVID implications and work to support the many individual needs of staff.
  • Communication that is consistent, predictable for staff and clear to the purpose (more on communication later).
  • Help develop staff as leaders by empowering them to lead and guide the work.
  • Help staff feel valued and build them up for their ongoing efforts.  This is most effective when leaders are authentic and find ways to make the feedback specific, public and many times most effective through stories or reaching their emotions.
  1. Connect with families. Working with families is always important but now it is even more critical during challenging times.  This can be done through:
  • Timely Communication
  • Provide methods for two way communication where there is dialogue and foundation for questions and answers. Leaders must be open to feedback and be prepared to act upon it when they ask for it.
  • Keep focus of safety at the forefront of our work and yet keep moving forward with the purpose of your schools’ work.
  1. Communication must be adapted to meet the needs of all stakeholders.  This means the info you share with students, staff and families. It can be adapted to each group, but overall it should be:
  • Concise 
  • Consistent and authentic
  • Connect back to the work of the school 
  • Provide platforms for feedback 
  1. Learning is the purpose of the work.  Every year, schools have school plans or goals and this year that will be the case too. Schools must adapt these learning goals to meet the needs of the students. With our current societal impact, the learning for students should include:
  • Understanding of personal hygiene and safety protocols with COVID
  • Work on Equity and building inclusive school environments
  • Learning not grading should be the focus of the academic work. This simply means we must help teachers focus on feedback, not grades. Help teachers find ways to personalize learning for individuals that need support.  We must continue to provide voice and choice for students as a way to demonstrate learning. Finally, we must focus on the process not the outcome of learning.
  1. Student Leadership as a way to empower students.  As we think about creating positive change in schools, if we can find ways to engage students, know their passions and then empower them to help lead the work of the school, then we are basically cultivating and developing leaders. This is most significant and should be a focus for every school for every student. It will look different for each level and every school, but leaders can start the work by:
  • Finding ways to listen to students and get their feedback
  • Act upon their feedback
  • Help students to tell your school’s story by taking leadership roles

This year is unlike no other due to so many external factors and the constant unknowns. As a result,  as a leader I must adapt and understand what I must do differently to be the most effective leader for our school community. As I reflected upon what I must do differently, I also recognized that there are things that will remain the same from previous years. True leadership occurs by intentional efforts when you work extremely hard to improve your own learning and that leads to an improved school. I encourage all leaders to reflect upon your prior experiences as you planned for the coming school year. When you can self-analyze your past and what you learned from those experiences, it allows you to focus on spending the right efforts towards the important work of leading others. It is never too late to change or adapt to create something better. We owe that to our students and staff that we serve. Comment below or reach out to me at leadlearnerperspectives@gmail.com

Learn 

  Engage 

    Adapt 

       Delegate 

         Empower 

           Reflect  

             Serve 

What is the focus of 2020-21

The conclusion of this past school year due to COVID-19 virus and now the uncertainty for the 2020-21 school year is unlike anything educators have seen before. Things change daily, maybe even hourly, so planning is challenging to say the least. The impact this has upon educators is significant as they recognize the trust that society puts upon schools.  Educators not only care for children but help them learn skills and life lessons to prepare for their future. As this summer has started and progressed,  I did the only thing I knew how to do – learn, listen and get ready to apply concepts to the school community that I serve. My key learnings came from various books, blogs, podcasts and twitter chats. Each has shared different perspectives. While all are valuable , there are differences but they also come back to a common theme – the CULTURE of the organization is the most important thing.  As a result, here is my perspective on what to focus on for 2020-21. Specifically,  I share how  a leader can develop culture within their school community to set the foundation for a successful year.  

It is all about people 

I believe schools can do amazing things this year despite not having enough resources, being asked to change on a moment’s notice and dealing with many society impacts. It is important for leaders to remember that growing as a school community is not about “changing someone” but focusing on the “growth” of the staff member. This simply means that instead of focusing on what someone “cannot do or what they lack”,  I strive to  focus on “what skills they do have” and help them to excel in those areas. This puts a focus on finding value in each staff member and then empowering them in ways they can contribute to the school community.  When staff feel valued, they will be their best version of themself that can positively impact students and our families. I believe the single greatest indicator about the health of a school is the quality of the relationships of the people within it.  If the students, staff and parents feel an investment or purpose for the school, then they are willing to overcome any obstacle and stay together. It is even more important this year to still focus on how can we move forward as a school and that includes all stakeholders.

Create and sustain strong relationships

It is a true challenge to find the time to get around to every staff member and create strong  relationships at the beginning of a year.  It is important but challenging due to so many time constraints. The same can be said of the importance of connecting with students and families. This is always important but even more important since everyone has been away since March. This seems insurmountable when I think about the number of people I should strive to connect with. But I have learned that it is not the quantity of interactions that create the relationship, but rather the quality of those interactions and how authentic or real I am in the conversation.  As Susan Scott wrote in her book “Fierce Conversations”, “The conversation is the relationship”. I admit when I first read that idea I was unsure of how relatable that would be to leading a school. However, there are many topics that we will be visiting with staff, students and families about this year that will provide opportunities to reconnect and sustain the relationships. This includes the continuing impact of COVID, how our school continues to work on equity and creating an inclusive culture and then supporting teaching/learning during COVID.  This will not be easy conversations but important ones. To help ensure that I am listening and developing the relationship through the conversations, I will strive to:

  • Be present in the conversation (ex. do not look at the clock) and keep my eye and attention on that person and topic.
  • See the topic from their perspective and check for understanding.
  • Provide praise (if appropriate) to the person in an authentic way with specific examples.
  • Seek ideas on how they can help our school community and their level of investment moving forward.

These conversations cannot happen all the first week back, but it will start there.  They will continue throughout the year. I have reminded myself that when we are talking about building relationships, “It is better to go slow and build relationships built on trust.” This helps a leader during the critical conversations or ones that may be uneasy.  If everyone knows that all involved have the same common purpose, then we can work through the challenges together. It takes time to get to know people, but we must “know people to grow people” as it relates to our culture. 

Leaders set the tone 

I do believe that leaders include everyone within an organization, not just the administrators or teachers, but students and families too. However, it is also true that it’s human nature for people to notice what the “leaders” are doing and typically people will turn to the administrators first.  As a result, I remind myself I need to:

  • Model the behaviors that we want from everyone.
  • Show that it is okay to make mistakes and admit when I am wrong.
  • “Be the thermostat not the thermometer” – in other words it is important to be consistent, calm and purposeful with our work.
  • Empower others to lead and give them chances to grow within our culture.
  • Take care of the staff and show how much I appreciate their efforts. As Simon Sinek points out that “Yes, we want to develop leaders and from that we know that someday they may leave for greater leadership opportunities but it is also true that you should treat them so well that they do not want to leave”. Very well said!

Create learner centered learning environments

To help create our schools that are future focused and developing students with skills so they can be successful in any career, then as leaders we must Develop capacity within others to lead our schools (shared leadership). Our schools will be their best when all stakeholders take pride in creating inclusive learning environments and have opportunities to share, lead and create change. We use the approach of “fail forward” and give teachers permission to try new strategies or lessons that create higher engagement and skill development. During COVID, no matter the format of our school, we must give our teachers support for thinking outside the box and try new ways to connect with students to personalize learning. It is also important to get parents involved in our work so they have a better understanding of our purpose. Most importantly, leaders must “be a merchant of hope” for students, staff and families. To me, this simply means  to create meaningful ways for staff to remember the “why” they went into teaching and how they do influence kids on a daily basis. This will be needed to help our staff overcome the obstacles and challenges that will occur during this unprecedented time.

Communication is the key

This may be the most important part of uniting the school community during the upcoming year.   As I have learned from mistakes in previous years, every action I take (ex. every interaction, every decision and every expression on my face, tone in my voice and body language) conveys my thoughts/emotions to a person.  I will strive to be a good listener and set the tone with positivity. Furthermore,  these interactions either earn trust or erodes trust and it is up to me to communicate effectively.  For the challenge for the upcoming year, the communication must be:

  • Concise 
  • Real and authentic
  • Connect to the people
  • Relate back to our school’s purpose
  • Build culture 

In summary,  each summer I strive to think about how to best move our school forward for the upcoming year. This year is true like other years.  However, this year is unlike no other due to so many external factors and the constant unknowns. As a result,  as a leader I must adapt and understand what I must do differently to be the most effective leader for our school community. True leadership occurs by intentional efforts when you work extremely hard to improve your own learning and that leads to an improved school. I encourage all leaders to reflect upon your prior experiences as you planned for the coming school year. When you can self-analyze your past and what you learned from those experiences, it allows you to focus on spending the right efforts towards the important work of leading others. It is never too late to change or adapt to create something better. We owe that to our students and staff that we serve. Comment below or reach out to me at leadlearnerperspectives@gmail.com

Learn 

  Engage 

    Adapt 

       Delegate 

         Empower 

           Reflect  

             Serve 

What Leadership Lessons Being a Father Has Taught Me

 

man carrying her daughter smiling
Photo by Josh Willink on Pexels.com

 

As schools are on summer break or begin shortly, leaders now face the reality of next year and the COVID impact, racial tension and other challenges as well.  As I reflect on how I have led and will need to lead in the future to best support our school, I recognized many of the attributes I need to use I learned from prior experiences before becoming an administrator. With the upcoming Father’s Day approaching, I wanted to share how as a parent, and my perspective is that of a Father, has helped me become a better leader.  These experiences are not unique to me as other people may have similar viewpoints or even more to add to the conversation. 

When I graduated from college and began my teaching career I thought I understood what being an effective educator meant. Wow, was I wrong as I learned so much from the beginning years of my teaching experience. I remind myself of the quote “What we know now doesn’t make yesterday wrong, it makes tomorrow better”. I kept that phrase in mind when I began administration as I thought the experiences as a teacher leader would prepare me well for a leadership position. To some extent it did, but so much of leadership is character, attitude and how we connect with others.  These experiences I developed and enhanced to a greater extent when I became a parent. Specifically, being a Father helped me grow as a leader the following ways:

  1. Leadership begins with TrustAs a young parent I learned quickly how my children trusted me. They trusted me to guide them, care for them and be there for support.  How I did this was through sincere care (character) and consistency (competence). These same traits helped me to better serve our staff which in turn can care for our students. Our school communities turn to school leaders for guidance and they trust us to provide the direction their children need.
  2. Leaders set the ToneThere were many moments (and there still are) when as a dad I get tired and quite frankly, frustrated, with my children’s decisions. But I remind myself that they are finding their way, learning and experiencing things for the first time. My role as a father is to help be positive, help them reflect/learn and grow from those experiences. As a leader, I use this same mindset as our staff must adjust to COVID or as we grow in student centered instruction or blended learning. Change is constant; it’s how we grow through the experiences that count.
  3. Don’t be afraid to failAs a young parent I made many mistakes that now I can laugh at. From changing diapers, cooking more, playing house….endless memories. But each adventure I became better at simply because I was willing to try and found a better way. The same can be said for leaders….if we are willing to take risks and learn from those experiences then staff see that and are more likely to also take risks as the conditions for positive change are in place and are the norm.
  4. Adjust your leadership style if neededSome may argue being a parent is easier when the children are young. Others would say as they grow and become more independent a parent’s role is easier. I am not sure which is more accurate. But I do recognize that I had to adjust to my kids and what they needed as they grew in various stages of life. This is much like leadership…we must adjust to the needs of the school and those we serve. Each year has different challenges so the important thing is not just adjusting but as David Geurin shares, “Be Firm with your principles and flexible with your practices.” 
  5. Start by being a good follower and teammateI am fortunate as a father that I have a loving and supportive wife. She has provided the foundation for our family and supports me even when I make mistakes.  As a father, to help develop our family unit I recognized if I was supportive of my wife and was similar in how we expected things of our children then we could be better raising our children together.  As a leader, I remind myself often that “It’s not about being the best on the team, but the best for the team.”  We must support our district, other schools and district leaders so that our school works well within the school system as we connect and provide a quality K-12 school experience. 
  6. Develop other leadersA parent’s primary role is developing your children so they can lead productive, healthy, happy lives while developing independence.  As a school leader, I now recognize how important it is to develop other leaders as leadership is about influence and impact upon others. I now focus on intentional ways to inspire others, give them confidence to lead, and influence their thinking and behaviors that will lead to further positive changes for their growth and the school.  We are better together when everyone grows as learners. 

 

True leadership occurs by intentional efforts when you work extremely hard to improve your own learning and that leads to an improved school. I encourage all leaders to reflect upon your prior experiences as a parent or growing up and how those experiences have shaped you as a leader. When you can self-analyze your past and what you learned from those experiences, it allows you to focus on spending the right efforts towards the important work of leading others. It is never too late to change or adapt to create something better. We owe that to our students and staff that we serve. Comment below or reach out to me at leadlearnerperspectives@gmail.com

 

Learn 

  Engage 

    Adapt 

       Delegate 

         Empower 

           Reflect  

             Serve