The Barriers to Excellence

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In the past years I had many opportunities to listen, learn and develop through my interactions with other like minded educators.  These are educators who are humble as a leader as their focus is on those they serve but they are also hungry to grow with their skills as a leader and increase their level of influence.  This past year, we all embraced the necessity for even more sharing and support of leaders across our country as we all navigated through the pandemic.  As we now head into summer, I reflect upon the many educators I have had the pleasure to get to know through their stories, challenges and hurdles they have encountered along their leadership journey.  In any role, there are challenges but the higher you go in leadership the greater the obstacles to success.  I have learned that there are Barriers to Excellence or a lid to someone’s growth in any organization.  The key as a leader is do you recognize these barriers and find solutions or do you allow the situation to control you and your growth process to excellence. Below are the Barriers to Excellence that any leader will encounter at various points in their leadership journey and for each barrier we listed key strategies to use to counteract these potential impacts so leaders can be their personal best.

Barriers to Excellence

  • Lack of consistent and clear communication
  • Lack of Trust 
  • Inability to adapt 
  • Lack of Visibility
  • Lack of Action Orientation 
  • Isolation

Here are the same barriers with the strategies to use to overcome the challenge and strive for personal excellence.

  1. Lack of consistent and clear communication

Strategies to use to implement effective communication

Effective leaders articulate their vision with clarity and emotionally connect with their audience. When they communicate, they are concise, use simple language and get feedback from stakeholders to make informed decisions by listening to all perspectives. When planning to communicate a vision for their school or organization, to create effective communication a leader should ask themselves the following questions that can be embedded in their messaging: 

  • What do I want others to see in our organization (do I give them an example)?
  • What do I want others to know (do I communicate how everyone contributes to our progress)?
  • What do I want others to feel about our work (how can I empower them)?
  • What do I want them to do (do I provide action steps)?

This type of information shared with others allows the communication to feel more like a conversation rather than a directive and inspires others to see the leader’s purpose and vision for improvement.

  1. Lack of trust 

Strategies to use to develop Trust 

It is a challenge to develop trust as a leader as you are the one holding others accountable for levels of progress or performance. For schools, the leader is asking educators to make change or progress during the most challenging times. This is where trust is even more critical, as it allows everyone to believe in your purpose and guidance for the school community as they see you as a competent leader and an effective one. As John Maxwell points out, “Most important is that people don’t need a motto but rather a model to see.  The more credible you are the more confidence people have in you and then you have more influence.”  

Trust is a big concept with a variety of potential topics but when you break it down it comes back to the character of the leader. Do you lead with humility, vulnerability and genuine concern for others? Character is what distinguishes great leaders from others. Modeling the virtues and matching it to your words speaks volumes to people. Leaders can be demanding without being demeaning as you can model and lead with kindness, positivity and compassion while leading the way with high work standards. Trust endures in an organization if the leaders are consistent with their focus, reliable with their efforts and actions and expect the same from themselves as they do of others.

  1. Inability to adjust 

Strategies so you can adapt

We are in an ever changing world that is rapidly evolving due to the impact of technology, job demands, societal impacts, expectations of schools for students and the various mandates placed on schools from outside forces.  This requires that leaders not only understand all the impacts but most importantly can create their school or organization with the structures and systems that allow everyone to be nimble and adjust to growing changes while keeping the purpose or “North Star” at the center focus of the work. This can be done if leaders are sensitive to the needs of others and see current problems as opportunities.  When leaders involve others in the decision making process it allows new ideas to emerge, best practices shared and  challenges the status quo while keeping the mission/vision of the school community at the center of all decisions.  Leaders are measured by their capacity to stimulate change to meet the needs of others, shape the change and nurture the process 

  1. Lack of visibility 

Strategies for visibility

Even when the best leaders deliver a powerful message that connects to staff and the community, eventually everyone will be looking to the leader to see if they are also living that same expectation. In other words, do the actions of the leader match their words? While most leaders have every intention of being visible to help support the work, many get caught up in endless meetings that are inefficient or the leaders forget how to create change is not by setting another agenda but instead being in the trenches with the staff working with students. This allows the leader to see the barriers, remove those issues and help inspire the staff to bring their best every day. As Todd Whitaker would say, “leaders lead lead with feet, not from their seat.” It is important that a leader’s calendar has time set aside so they can be present with those that do the real work;  in schools that means getting into buildings and listening to staff and administrators and getting to know the students that we are all here to serve.  When someone is visible it also helps to get authentic examples of the work and get feedback upon the process you have put in place. Leaders must remember it’s not about being liked but rather it is important to be respected.  Leaders must ask for feedback so others are involved and feel like they are part of the work. When you are visible that respect will be formed as staff know you are placing an importance upon their work and they will see/feel your support.

  1. Lack of action orientation 

Strategies to create action

I have seen some outstanding stories and messages delivered by leaders. Everyone enjoyed their sharing.  But yet, over time, there were not actionable steps or progress made and everyone was content to continue doing what they had been doing previously.  Real leaders create positive change and that only happens if there is action. Yes, leaders should instill hope in others but they must also provide clarity and focus to the work so there are actionable steps for everyone to implement.  People will follow a leader first then the plan, so leaders must always focus on connecting with others and by showing your passion it creates an emotional connection. But leaders also use effective communication to show and lead the work.  Leaders inspire others to act by having a shared vision and intentionality to the work.  Great leaders understand that when to lead is as important as what to do and where to go – there is true importance of timing for when leaders must act.  Leaders accept responsibility for their decisions and celebrate small wins with others but own poor results. It is also important that leaders go first and model the desire to improve and it starts with their daily habits.  This demonstrates competence and instills ownership so accountability measures can be developed within their system so results can be reviewed, data analyzed and next steps determined.

  1. Isolation

Strategies to be connected

Sometimes despite great efforts to improve, leaders when isolated develop blindspots to their thinking and their progress. In fact, they may develop an ego that “I know best” when in reality, they haven’t applied their thinking to a real situation to determine if their ideas truly are successful.  We are “better together” is so true as it allows you to focus on others before self; this increases your influence as a leader when you support and develop others.  Recently, I read a post by author Danny Bauer that shared “in 2020 the Learning Policy Institute and NAESP survey 407 school principals and found that:

  • Only 23% of principals had access to a mentor or coach in the past 2 years.
  • Only 10% of principals who served in high poverty schools had access to a mentor or coach.

If so few leaders are connected where they learn and grow with others, that means most are isolated and over time will become stagnant, have a small frame of reference and will be limited in their growth. Quite frankly, our students and staff deserve the very best so organizations must find ways for leaders to be connected and not rely upon the individual person striving to find connections on their own time and money. There are many important reasons why having connections are important for growing leaders:

  • It allows you to see different perspectives and seek new solutions to your challenges.
  • It further develops your character as you get comfortable with being authentic, leading with vulnerability and admitting that you have still more to learn. It increases your capacity as a leader.
  • Staying connected also allows you to have accountability partners that will help hold you to a standard of excellence, that while done individually, can be done much more effectively together.
  • The regular interactions with others is where transformation and growth occurs as it increases your self awareness, self management, social awareness and ability to manage your relationships.
  • It instills the hunger to grow, passion for learning and recognition that our influence is most when we develop and help develop other leaders.

Educators must remember that creating positive change must be done with intentional efforts that focus on the culture within the organization.  This starts with a leader removing the barriers to excellence.  This learning can only happen if you intentionally remove the barriers to your growth as a leader which will provide greater focus to the work moving forward.  It is never too late to change or adapt to create something better. We owe that to our students and staff that we serve. I encourage you to reflect and better understand “Barriers to Excellence” as a leader. Comment below or reach out to me at leadlearnerperspectives@gmail.com

Learn

Engage

Adapt

Delegate

Empower

Reflect

Serve

Are you Ready to Throw in the Towel?

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The 2020-2021 school year is completed. The “unprecedented year like no other” is finally over. This school year and the workload has impacted all of us. The impact maybe in different ways, but probably includes impacts upon leaders such as:

A. Decision Fatigue – The constant changing health guidelines and mandates caused leaders to continually have to communicate to staff and families updates with changing plans on a weekly and possibly daily basis.

B. Emotional Exhaustion – Leaders had to deal with many more emotions this year including caring for staff/students due to COVID, hearing from upset students, staff and parents about decisions that were made and then the frustration when contract tracing was needed and having to send students home.  Factor in then the typical decisions of running  a school and striving to find new solutions to zoom attendance issues, how to help struggling learners, equity issues etc…All of these decisions were outside of our control but yet were made within our job responsibilities.  

C. Time spent on Management vs Leadership –  Leaders work in schools to help develop others, share a united vision and make changes that improve the organization. However, due to COVID and factors #1-2 listed above, a significant amount of a leader’s time this year was spent on management topics like schedules, instructional practices for virtual-distance learning-hybrid-in person and safety practices and the large amount of time with contract tracing. Management has always been a part of leadership, but when it is the majority of the role it can impact how a  leader functions and the movement that is made for school improvement.

D. Being on 24/7 – Many staff, students and families didn’t know who to reach out to for guidance or when they were frustrated, so they would reach out to school leaders at all times every day of the week. Due to the nature of COVID, the urgency of each situation was real and caused leaders to feel like they always “had to be on”and checking email, phone and messages and responding to those they serve on a timely basis.  The nature of the COVID mitigation measures did make many of these messages urgent as it impacted not just 1 individual but many so leaders would be working at a more frequent level on weekends/evenings than before.   In addition, the social and emotional impact upon students and staff also caused leaders to know that they had to do more now than ever to check on others who may be struggling with anxiety, depression and feeling overwhelmed. Leaders felt compelled to support others; they had to do more and at all times of the day, week and school year.

We all can understand why these items occurred with COVID, but the significance of the impact upon a leader and their role was significant. It impacted their leadership of others and in some cases may have impacted the trajectory of a leader’s role and those they serve within the school community.  Very few practicing school leaders have had the external support, resources, time, and feedback to focus on their own professional and personal growth. In fact,  research shows that  42 percent of principals surveyed indicated they were considering leaving their position (NASSP. EPI) due to these constraints. Among the most common reasons they cite are:

· Working Conditions

· Compensation and Financial Obligations

· High-Stakes Accountability Systems and Evaluation Practices

· Lack of Decision making Authority

· Inadequate Access to Professional Learning Opportunities (NASSP. EPI. 2021). 

With all of this impact, the question becomes “Are you ready to throw in the towel”? If 42 percent of leaders want to leave their positions, that turnover is not going to help the school systems develop a stronger focus on learning. Turnover is going to chip away at the very foundation of our schools and impact further leadership growth.

As I reflect upon my own school year, it was a hard year. In fact, it may have had moments where I did wonder what the end of the school year would look like and how could we support each other to get there?  In those moments, I often reflected back to my purpose of supporting others and asked myself “how can I help inspire others to grow and support each other” and “how can I help us focus on what we can control and not the external distractions”?  I reminded myself that being a leader is needed most during times of distress and this year was most definitely a time when leaders were needed. As I reflect, I hope no leaders throw in the towel on their leadership journey due to this year as it was so different and challenging. I hope leaders remember that we always can make an impact.  At the forefront of being a transformational leader is finding ways to be a positive change agent.  I reassured myself that anyone can be a transformational leader if they:

  • Learn and live good values
  • Value the people they work with and their strengths
  • Collaborate with others to create a strong collective team

In this blog post, I want to share critical aspects of transformational leadership that will allow anyone to support the growth of others and this starts with your own personal and professional growth.  I hope that this blog post helps to remind all of us that despite a very challenging year, we must continue to focus on moving forward and our efforts to positively impact others and not throw in the towel on the most rewarding profession. To maximize your influence and have significant impact for and with others, the following are components for transformational leadership and ones I encourage you to embed as part of your work:

  1. You must have urgency and patience in the work.
  • The urgency means you are committed to making the effort to help others.

Steve Jobs has shared that “people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are usually the ones who do.”  Anyone can dream but transformational leaders understand that you must put dreams into a reality and this starts with having the desire and urgency to act.

  • The patience means we must understand results take time, even more so during a pandemic.

 Leaders who are transformational leaders recognize the importance of action as we influence others the most when we lead by what we model. But we must also be patient as that patience allows great insight and the process of the work to take form. “You can go fast alone or you can go far together”; that phrase reminds me of the importance of patience. 

When we are patient, it allows the leader to:

  • Look back and be grateful
  • Look ahead and be hopeful
  • Look around and be helpful

All of this involves great introspection and reflection.  Patience is one of the hardest components for leaders as they see the importance of urgency but recognize the impact will only be significant and sustained if it involves others and a shared vision. This takes time.

  1. Own your failures to learn and inspire future change.
  • When you reflect and recognize your failures it allows you to gain more self awareness of your strengths and how your limits need to be addressed so the next opportunity has a different outcome.  Sharing your failures with others also demonstrates vulnerability and builds trust with others. During challenges is when leaders are needed most and their trust with others is most revealed.
  1. Empower others to join your efforts
  • You can make an impact by yourself but it will always be much greater if you work together with others and have a combined effort.  Empowering others to join your work not only increases their significance but allows you to grow as a level 5 leader by level of influence.  
  • To empower others, they must first see you as competent and with high character.  This is built and demonstrated with your daily habits. If you demonstrate through your work that you care about the “we” and not the “me” it will resonate with others.  When you lead with humility and make decisions that reflect great integrity and moral compass, it allows others to feel a sense of collective responsibility and greater ownership for them to join the cause.
  1. Start small, celebrate the wins and have the real conversations
  • Any change can happen but to sustain it over time it is very important leaders celebrate the wins along the way that reflect the purpose of the work. No win is too small as we must keep our focus on the right work and help others feel validated for their efforts to the collective vision.
  • Your efforts to make transformational change doesn’t have to be a grand opening ceremony or a massive roll out. In fact, it is most successful when it involves a few key people who embrace the same approach, have the same dedication and desire to make positive change. If each person strives to help others then the impact will be a ten fold approach and build over time.
  • There are times when others may not be on the same pages as you or your team for the shared vision. In those instances, it is important to have the necessary real and authentic conversations that revolve around:
    • Why do we exist in our school organization?
    • What is our shared purpose?
    • How have you worked towards that purpose?
    • Can you commit to our standards of excellence?
    • How can I help you get the support you need so you feel validated and maximized to support our efforts?

For every educator and leader, adversity is a constant reality. There is a lack of time, not enough resources, outdated facilities, resistant staff, and unforeseen obstacles. Leaders recognize that to start the shift towards transformational change, we cannot get caught up in what is wrong but focus our efforts and mindset on how we can transform those around us to inspire a collective change. The transformational shift is really transforming learning cultures by creating collaborative responsibility for taking action to reach collective goals. Transformational leaders focus on creating positive change and this occurs with intentional efforts that meet the needs of the people.   The leadership provides the groundwork for others to provide greater focus to their work moving forward and keeps everyone “rowing the boat in the same direction”. Leaders must continually identify how to see the current reality and prioritize how to be efficient and effective.  It is never too late to change or adapt to create something better. We owe that to our students and staff that we serve. I encourage you to reflect and better understand that you are not ready to throw in the towel but instead refocus your mindset and efforts by considering the 4 strategies mentioned above. Comment below or reach out to me at leadlearnerperspectives@gmail.com

Learn

Engage

Adapt

Delegate

Empower

Reflect

Serve

How do you learn from great leaders?

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During everyone’s journey in their professional career you will work with and come across many people.  Most are caring, supportive and truly good people. Some may even be lifelong learners.  A few are leaders that develop other people/organizations and strive for excellence.  Their greatest gift is that they focus on developing others. This year the COVID pandemic has revealed true leadership and who the transformational leaders are in schools.  If you are fortunate, you may have the chance to work with one of these leaders or have opportunities to connect with them through social media. If this occurs, learning from great leaders and their experiences is one of the greatest opportunities and gifts someone can be given.  In this blog we discuss “How Do You Learn From Great Leaders” so not only are you developing but learning from your mentor or leaders beyond just knowing them.

First it is important to know that everyone has opportunities to grow, learn and develop. It is a choice, a mindset and a passion to strive for excellence. This occurs daily and growth occurs more often from failures than successes. As a result of their reflection and passion to succeed, leaders themselves learn new skills and practices by:

  1. Resources  – This would include learning from books, social media like Twitter, FB and podcasts. Many leaders pursue these resources daily to stretch their thinking and strive to improve.
  2. Experiences  – The experiences that leaders go through provide learning opportunities and activities where they apply their thinking.  They also then reflect upon those experiences for greater motivation and learning opportunities.
  3. Learning from other people – Most leaders started like other typical professionals with a desire to do their best. While most people fall back to average over time, some are fortunate to have Mentors and as a result, they learn from other people. This is important as the mentors or leaders demonstrate the actions and behaviors of leadership. The individual also has the opportunity to not only observe what they model but ask the right questions to learn from their perspective.

We will focus on what types of things should you ask your mentor or leaders.  This allows the greatest gain and insight that leads to deeper conversations and growth in learning.  

Here are the Questions to ask a leader/mentor you work with:

  1. What are your passions that you spend your time on? 
  • This insight will allow you to see most leaders have passions that show a work/life balance and keep them grounded. 
  • You will notice that they have a focus and are intentional with their time.
  1. How has failure shaped you?  
  • This will allow you to remember that most often people fail, not succeed, but from these failures is the greatest opportunity for growth. Please recognize that “Failures do not define you, they refine you.” 
  • It is how the leaders respond from the failures that allows insight into their skill set and why they are successful. 
  • Hearing their experiences will show you how leaders are vulnerable and willing to admit failures but they view that as a learning opportunity.
  1. Who do you know as a leader that I should connect with to learn from as well?
  • This will show you why being connected is so vital as everyone learns from others. This may broaden your network as well.
  1. What experiences as a leader do you suggest that I also consider as a way to build leadership experience?  
  • In this question, it is important to not focus on the title/position but what the experience provided for the person.  In other words, specific jobs have different tasks but typically revolve around leadership traits like Leading people, making decisions, and communication.  
  • Focus on how those experiences developed the skills they learned and now demonstrate.  
  1. How did you develop others and express gratitude to others?  
  • Developing others is the backbone of leadership and learning how they developed their employees lends new ideas and different perspectives.
  • Learning how they appreciate their employees by adding value to their work provides insight into how they care about people.
  1. What are your core values that you have used to guide your professional work and how did you arrive at those?  
  • All leaders have core values that guide their work and is their compass they use to make the hard decisions.  Those conversations will help further lend you perspective and allow you to refine your core values that fit your style of leadership.

Learning from leaders is a great opportunity that no one should pass up without having a conversation with them to learn and develop oneself.  True leadership occurs by intentional efforts when you work extremely hard to improve your own learning and that leads to an improved school. In this instance, to improve yourself you must be intentional to admit you need support and ask a mentor if you can spend time learning from them. By reflecting upon “How do you learn from Great Leaders”, you can self-analyze if you are spending  efforts towards the important and right work. Leaders must continually identify how to see the current reality and prioritize how to be efficient but yet effective.  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 to make it through the busiest times

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Each school year inevitably gets very busy and this causes educators to lose track of their purpose and impacts their effectiveness. April and May might be the busiest months for school leaders.  This includes finishing standardized testing, teacher appraisals, budgeting, hiring staff and completing end of year events.  As you can see, there is much on a leader’s shoulders and time is in short supply.  The tasks listed above did not even include the typical but very important school day happenings such as building relationships and culture, supporting staff and encouraging students in their efforts as they develop into learners in a rapidly changing world. This is the real work and one that leaders cannot lose sight of.  With everything happening,  the question becomes “how do we make it through the busiest times” as both internal and external forces are putting too many demands upon an already busy schedule. This blog post focuses on how leaders can be both efficient with time and effective in leading their school leaders.

This starts with a“focus on the things that you can control”.  As a leader, we must prioritize our work and know what must be done now and what can wait (and what may not get done and that is ok).  This prioritization allows leaders to focus on things they can control and truly focus on things that can make a difference in school…..supporting its people.  

When we think of “focusing on things we can control” that specifically includes using the following strategies:

  1. Importance of your daily routine.

Leaders must take care of themselves in order that they are at their best for staff and students.  They must also be efficient with their time and effective in how they use their time. 

  • Leaders must first recognize the importance of self care and how that allows them to be their best to care for others.  How leaders start their mornings allows them to further learn through reading, listening to podcasts or exercising. This allows them to clear their mind and get ready for the day.  Each person is different but they must have a consistent way to clear their mind and stay sharp in their focus on their work prior to arriving at work each day.
  • How leaders organize their time is very important too.  What can be delegated to trusted staff, what timely tasks need to be tackled first and then prioritize what will give you the greatest return of your time are important strategies to consider.  The more leaders can find ways to  build up staff so they feel valued which in turn allows them to be their best for students is also most important. Leaders must recognize what work must happen when everyone is at school and what can be done after school.   Leaders must prioritize time by determining tasks into the following categories:
    • Important and Urgent
    • Important but not Urgent
    • Not Important but Urgent
    • Not Important and not Urgent 
  1. Lead with your feet by being visible.

 It is very easy to get caught up in your office by responding to phone calls and emails.  Some of this is needed, especially on matters that are time sensitive or need privacy to visit with someone. However, leaders can help by being proactive by being visible in the building as this allows conversations to happen with staff, eliminate potential problems and you can model the calm, positive mindset that staff and students need to see.  This is showing your school community that you put others first and your focus is on people – not email.

  • This is most effective when leaders are authentic and find ways to make the feedback to staff that is timely, specific, and public.  It is more important to “catch your staff” doing great things than it is to catch them making little mistakes on managerial tasks that don’t impact people or the structures that exist within the school.
  • The best way to connect with others is by listening.  In order to listen you must be present in the classrooms and hallways so the dialogue can happen.  You can connect with others by listening, asking questions and seeing what can be applied to your role to help lead your school.
  1. Keep a strong and healthy school culture.

       Leading a school is a great responsibility but also brings great joy. However, we must remember it is not our school – we are there to help empower others to help make it “our school.”  This can be achieved by:

  • Empower others to help make a difference and help develop solutions to problems.
  • Celebrate the successes of our work and embrace our failures.
  • Trust the people you work with – you hired them for a good reason and they are leaders too.
  • Share your appreciation for the efforts of your staff
    •  An authentic message, email or handwritten card mailed to a staff member can help lift their spirits. 
    • Work with your students to find ways to help thank your staff for their efforts.
    • Leaders set the tone of their building. When you lead with gratitude then others will follow.  A simple “thank you” goes a long way to helping others feel valued.
  1. Communication must be adapted to meet the needs of others.

  This means the info you share with students, staff and families can be adapted to each group to meet their needs. Everyone needs proactive communication but also clear and consistent messaging.  Leaders must be purposeful with their communication, and timely in their delivery. If people are busy but yet we want them to read our communication, then consider making your communication:

  • Concise 
  • Connect back to the work of the school 
  • Provide platforms for feedback 

Educators must remember that creating positive change must be intentional efforts incorporated in ways that meet the needs of the people at the specific points in the school year.  This is most essential when things are busy and that is when leadership is needed the most for students and staff.  The leadership provides the groundwork for others to provide greater focus to their work moving forward and keeps everyone “rowing the boat in the same direction”. Leaders must continually identify how to see the current reality and prioritize how to be efficient but yet effective.  It is never too late to change or adapt to create something better. We owe that to our students and staff that we serve. I encourage you to reflect and better understand “how to make it through the busiest of times” as a leader by considering the 4 strategies mentioned above. Comment below or reach out to me at leadlearnerperspectives@gmail.com

Learn

Engage

Adapt

Delegate

Empower

Reflect

Serve

Demanding Without Being Demeaning

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This school year has stretched educators in many ways. The result is educators are tired, worn out but they also have grown in many ways too. The challenge is this growth is not consistent across our country, yet alone in the same district and sometimes not even in the same school. Great schools exist because there is a shared understanding that all staff are committed to levels of excellence. This blog post looks at how all educators can help hold each other accountable so we are demanding without being demeaning.

Educational Leaders must identify within their districts and school the Levels of Excellence they desire to aspire to daily. These items should be focused on our purpose: importance of relationships, learning and collective efficacy. The exact words or phrases will vary by district/schools but most likely are linked to:

Effort – each person giving their personal best for every student, every day.

Attitude – each person leads with optimism and assumes positive intent by others.

Behaviors – each person understands the importance of modeling appropriate behaviors. 

It’s important we create an environment that supports helping each educator hold each other accountable.  This shared accountability helps others and allows students to experience growth and success.

How to hold each other accountable 

  • Modeling is a powerful example (We cannot take ourselves too seriously, but we can take our work seriously)
  • We can be demanding without being demeaning by:
    • We must be willing to lean into conversation and speak up 
    • Asking questions that cause the person to think about their actions
    • Sharing an example from your viewpoint that contradicts the other person’s viewpoint

During the moments or experiences when a staff member falls back into a comfortable, easy and ineffective routine and are not willing to give their best is when teacher leaders must be willing to have the hard conversations with the specific colleague. Yes, this should be done by administrators too, but often, administrators are not in every conversation to have that dialogue. It also empowers educators to help set the tone of their building when they take ownership and pride in their work. Hard conversations sound like it should be negative, but it doesn’t have to be. In many ways, these discussions can be approached by simply when a teacher leader asks a question or shares their personal experience. This allows the person to be reminded of the shared expectations for excellence for the school/district and redirects the colleague back to the targeted focus. Here are the types of questions or comments teachers’ leaders can use to help redirect colleagues:

Feedback for people who have failed: 

  • Let’s discuss the process, not the end result, so we can learn from what happened.
  • How did your choices (in your effort, attitude and behaviors) affect the outcome? What might you do differently next time?

Feedback for people who are struggling with something:

  • You’re not alone. I have struggled with this too, but I found success when I…..
  • You’re not feeling successful yet, but I do see how this is helping. Remember that it takes time to make progress.
  • How can I help you with this challenge?

Feedback for people who don’t try:

  • You haven’t gotten started yet – anything I can help with?

Feedback for people who succeed with standards of excellence:

  • You should be proud of the effort you’ve put into this. Remember where you

were when we started? 

  •  I appreciate your time, effort and enthusiasm on this.
  •  Let’s talk so I can learn from your work on this, which will help me with ….

This last year has been 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 growth and supporting others. One of these key principles is making sure we are developing teacher leaders who can help hold each other accountable to standards of excellence. The guidance mentioned above will help educators navigate through a busy spring and have a positive 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. 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. 

Learn 

  Engage 

    Adapt 

       Delegate 

         Empower 

           Reflect  

             Serve 

Finding your Marigolds

Spring is a time of renewal, refocus and energizes everyone after a long, cold winter. In schools, spring is also a tremendously busy time as leaders are working hard to finish strong in the current year but also must focus intentionally on topics for the next school year. This year, due to COVID-19, Spring brings even greater renewal and a sense of hope but also the mental and physical exhaustion of supporting staff and trying to move schools forward in a pandemic.

As a way to continually find balance in my life, I enjoy listening, reading and learning from others. One such person is Jennifer Gonzalez and her work with the online site Cult of Pedagogy. She has many wonderful resources and the article Find your Marigolds is one we have used with new teachers every year. We use this in August each year to help our new teachers understand the importance of Surrounding yourself with good people.  That concept, finding good people, resonates with me for leaders as well.  In a year that may be the most challenging, exhausting  and potentially innovative for school leaders, it is even more important to find your Marigolds. I also learned from John Maxwell  in his podcasts in reference to leadership that “you are the average of the 5 people you spend your time with”.  This blog post takes a look at educators who aspire to help grow and influence others how they must find and surround themselves with leaders so they can be their best version of themselves over time and strive for excellence.

When you think of leaders who serve as Marigolds, you may think of mentors or people who help coach others.  The Marigolds focus much of their time/efforts on helping others and recognize that their greatest impact is influencing and developing other leaders. They multiply their impact.  Here are characteristics of Marigolds and how having them in your life can impact your leadership journey.

Qualities of Marigolds

  • Have a Mindset of positivity, leading with vulnerability and continually seeking to improve.
  • Use Reflection as a mechanism to seek feedback from others and thoughtfully examine if their work is producing desired results.
  • Model passion for making a difference through helping others, lead by action more than words and “bring it” every day.
  • Connect with others as they know the only way to truly help someone grow is to build trust and develop strong relationships.
  • Share ideas and opportunities with others as they are not focused on building a resume but rather through their impact they leave a legacy.
  • Humble to recognize they don’t know it all so they remain Hungry to learn and grow.
  • Lead with Character as they listen to others, model integrity in decision making, maintain poise in turbulent times and are self-aware.

How do you find your Marigolds

  • As you learn as a leader (ex. listening to podcasts, on voxer groups, FB, Twitter), who are the other leaders that also have the same purpose?
  • Identify the people who are innovative, making positive change and being the ones to jump in the water first. These are risk takers and ones you can reach out to create a connection.
  • Ask yourself who are the people who are invested in their schools or invested in growing as a leader. These are people who are committed to growth and striving for excellence. They want to make a difference and are likely to help you.

What do you ask or share with a Marigold

  • Be willing to share your vulnerability by admitting areas where you are challenged or struggle and ask how failure has shaped them?
  • What did they do as a leader that helped propel their growth and influence that you should consider?
  • What is their passion or where they spent their time, effort learning?
  • Share your desire to grow and ask them who did they learn from or connect with that you may consider learning from?
  • How do they add value to others so you better understand how to support others?

Working with Marigolds will help you remember

  • You can lead but still ask for help.
  • You can be confident but still have doubt.
  • You can expect excellence but still be empathetic and supportive of others.
  • You can be direct to others but still kind.
  • You can be demanding without being demeaning.
  • You can work with urgency but still be patient.
  • You can be strong and still be vulnerable. 

Why having Marigolds transforms leadership

This will help you identify ways you can add value to others, develop skills and influence your journey by understanding:

  • What can you do for people to help them succeed?
  • What do people need from you  that they may not ask for?
  • What can you become better at that will help you serve others?
  • How will you know if you are helping others?
  • How can you serve others that will inspire them to help others?

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 growth and supporting others.  One of these key principles is connecting to mentors or Marigolds. The areas mentioned above will help leaders navigate through a busy spring and have a positive 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 who are your Marigolds and how can they learn from them to continue the pursuit of excellence.  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 

Emotion before Logic

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Despite the many differences within districts or regions, education leaders encounter many of the same challenges within their schools. These probably fall within a few areas and may include things like “raising student achievement, connecting with the school community, supporting staff in a pandemic, and increasing effectiveness of school systems”. In most cases, many of the challenges leaders face deal with motivating, empowering and getting the best from their staff.  A leader can lead with presenting data, strategic plans and logic but to really help staff feel connected behind a common vision we must first use emotion to connect to the staff. This blog post focuses on why leaders when working with staff need to focus on emotion before logic.

Why connecting with staff with emotion is most essential

  • People don’t follow data or a mission statement – they follow someone they believe in. Leaders must connect with their staff so staff have a sense of a broader purpose that is united by human connectedness. Staff will work hard for anyone as they are in it for kids, but for staff to give the “extra” that does truly make the difference they must believe in the people that lead them.
  • In order to focus on collective results and have a unified vision, this can only be achieved if there is trust among the staff. This is developed and achieved through a focus on the human characteristics – empathy, vulnerability and valuing the people within our walls. 
  • Who you are as a leader is who you will attract to your school. The data doesn’t tell the story of a school – people do. When leaders lead with humility, positivity and genuine care, then it places people at the heart of the work. School leaders with this mindset attract educators who are “in it for the kids” and are lifelong learners.
  • The values of an organization are an expression of the people within it. Leaders must continually build others up and focus on culture as this will allow them over time to focus on data informed decisions and strategic plans.  In order to get to the desired results, we must “go slow to go fast” – take time to connect with people and then the results will happen quicker down the road.

Strategies to connect with people with emotion

  • How we connect and develop people is most important but there isn’t just 1 way, there are numerous. How a leader connects with people through emotion may vary based on many factors but could include the following:  
    • Instilling confidence in people so they believe in themselves.
    • Give others hope for a brighter future and something to believe in by sharing stories/videos that reflect experiences within the school and impact the educators can have upon students.
    • Listen to people so they are understood, see different perspectives and a focus on “we”.
    • Be visible in the building and “walk with people” so you see their challenges and help find ways to remove the barriers so people can focus on their role and find success.
    • Celebrate small wins or show your staff your appreciation. There is a lot of power in a handwritten note or a 30 second genuine conversation.
    • Focus on the needs of others first, not your needs, so your focus aligns with your work. Leaders must be servant leaders who put others’ needs in front of their own.

By connecting with staff through emotion and experiences, leaders will help staff get to know who they are, how they want to develop others within their role and can motivate their staff. This will lead to a foundation of trust that can be expanded to a commitment to collective results with a unified vision.  A single person can make a significant difference.  True leadership occurs by intentional efforts when you work extremely hard to improve your own learning and that leads to growth. It is never too late to change or adapt to create something better. We owe that to our students and staff that we serve. I encourage you to reflect and better understand what is within your grasp as a leader so you can connect with staff with emotion before logic. Comment below or reach out to me at leadlearnerperspectives@gmail.com

Learn

Engage

Adapt

Delegate

Empower

Reflect

Serve

Seeing reality through others

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Every person goes into Education to make a difference.  For many, their early years had some growth through learning experiences – both positive and challenging ones too. For some educators, as they continue in their careers their passion and purpose seem to lessen and they lose their way as they become stagnant. For others, they continue to aspire excellence and they seek leadership positions to have greater impact. In both instances, if someone only sees their impact from their point of view then you truly never know how your actions, efforts and attitudes are impacting others. We must see our current reality through others.  This blog post takes a look at both WHY it is important to get feedback from others and HOW that has been done to give some possible ways you can incorporate this into your work.

Why important to see your impact from other points of view 

  • Our roles are not performed in isolation but rather as part of a collective whole.  If we want to see how our work helps others, then we must seek input from those we serve.
  • When we involve others in our reflection or review of our work, then it serves to provide greater purpose moving forward. We are better together.
  • How do you measure your impact if you don’t see how it impacts others?  We must look for trends in quantitative data, listen for qualitative viewpoints and determine if you are moving the needle in the right direction. If a leader’s job is truly serving others, then you must look at data from several points of view including whole school, specific levels and individual growth in others.  

How to get Feedback from others to see the current reality

In my role as a Principal, to help me see the current reality of my work then I must get feedback from everyone I serve. This includes the students in our school, the staff I work with to support and the parents/guardians I partner with to support their children.

  1. Feedback from students to see their reality – Within our daily bell schedule, prior to COVID, students had a class period daily that is like a homeroom time that serves different purposes.  I worked with our staff and asked if we could use that time, once a month, so myself and our admin team could meet with our students to listen and learn about their points of view.  Our staff was excited to provide this chance for myself to visit with our students.  We aimed to have around 20 students each month (per grade level) where we could ask 3-4 specific questions to listen/learn about our school vision, academics, SEL and overall school culture.  These questions include those below:
  • What do you want learning to be like in school?
  • What have you enjoyed about this year?
  • If you could change 1 thing about this year, what would it be?
  • Do you have a trusted adult here at school?
  • At the end of the year, how will you know if you had a great year?
  • When do you feel the most successful?

This year with COVID we still aimed to get this feedback but had to do it more through Zoom sessions or google forms. We look forward to getting back to where we can have face to face conversations.

2. Feedback from staff to see their realityI try to do this in 1:1 sessions where I can listen to each staff member and truly listen to concerns or ideas. This also helps each person to feel valued and an important part of our team. If things are too busy, then google forms or small group sessions are used. Here are the types of questions I have asked staff previously:

  • What do you love about our school? 
  • How is this school year and your instruction different than last year? 
  • If you became principal today, what would be your 1st change and why? 
  • How can I support you so that you enjoy being at our school and feel fulfilled as an educator? 
  • In what ways can we utilize your strengths to help others?
  • Do I know and build upon the strengths of those I serve 
  • What is the “clear” vision for learning in our school?
  • What are the few purposeful areas that we are focused on?
  • How do we share openly and regularly to further our own learning and development?

3. Feedback from families to see their reality – This is harder due to everyone’s schedules, but we have offered Parent Sessions for this feedback but we also incorporate into Parent Teacher Conferences when parents come to the building. In addition, google forms are an efficient way to get feedback too. Here are some of the questions we have used:

  • Does your child enjoy coming to school and feel connected?
  • Does your child have a trusted adult?
  • How does the school provide consistent and clear communication?
  • What is our  school’s vision when it comes to student learning?
  • Do you feel like our school provides families opportunities to be involved and a part of the school community?
  • Is the administrative team open to hearing your concerns and working with you on behalf of your child?

Educators must remember that creating positive change must be intentional efforts incorporated in different ways but focuses on the culture within the organization.  This culture and learning about impact can only happen if you intentionally listen to those you serve. This provides the groundwork to either reset the work or provide greater focus to the work moving forward. Leaders must continually identify how to see the current reality from those they serve.  It is never too late to change or adapt to create something better. We owe that to our students and staff that we serve. I encourage you to reflect and better understand “seeing reality through others” as a leader. Comment below or reach out to me at leadlearnerperspectives@gmail.com

Learn

Engage

Adapt

Delegate

Empower

Reflect

Serve

Creating ripples in the water

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We are currently in the middle of the school year so it is natural for educators to find time to reflect upon their efforts. This reflection can be done to determine progress related to goals or just how someone is progressing within their role. In any instance, the reflection helps to identify what adjustments are needed to strive for excellence. In any year, this progress is challenging and in this year making positive change is even more difficult.  Despite best attempts, failures to make a significant difference over time is due to the following for leaders:

  • Too many demands upon their plate
  • Isolation within their position
  • Limited Resources or training for the position 
  • People within their organization resist change 

In this blog post we focus on How to Create Positive Change in an organization which is similar to creating ripples in the water. In the water, if you create a ripple it will continue its progress as it moves outward from the source. Similar to school change, once momentum has started then the positive change started within a group can much easier continue its impact and will grow over time as it impacts others. This positive change can be achieved by focusing on the critical aspect of Culture within the organization. How can we create ripples in the water so that culture within the organization is positive, brings significance to others, adds value to their impact and empowers others to be their best.

Culture within the organization is where you must start and always focus on as a leader to create a ripple of change. This work should include activities with students, staff and parents/guardians. Here are ways leaders can focus to build culture and examples we have used within our school community.

  1. Staff PD – How a leader builds and carries out Professional Development can either add excitement to a staff or it can diminish their passion.  A focused vision that builds excitement around the idea of “growth as educators” can be achieved by ensuring teachers help develop PD and also lead the work. Leaders must work with the teachers to ensure the PD is systematic and builds upon the school goals so there is consistency and it adds values to the teacher’s daily roles.  Some examples of PD that we have used that incorporated staff voice and brought out their excitement to learn and grow includes:
  • Genius Hour sessions incorporated over the course of the year where staff choose topics to learn about and incorporate into their role/work with kids. This included PBL, Blended Learning, how to create Podcasts, Differentiated Pathways etc…
  • Staff Ed Camp sessions where they choose topics to discuss and share ideas.  This had no pre planned ideas but rather focused on staff sharing insights and listening to others.
  • Staff Leading assemblies and work with families that highlighted student work but provided staff opportunities to be part of the endeavors.  This allowed our staff to use some PD as ways to brainstorm how we can create experiences for kids that they have never had and that included leading our assemblies or work with our families.

Every staff member is a leader and if you know their strengths and provide opportunities for each staff member to lead, then it adds value to their work and develops collective efficacy.  Leaders must be intentional about understanding each person, their strengths and what motivates them, and then be creative on how we can have staff help find the passion and purpose with others within their work.

  1. Connecting with others – Leaders must find ways for their staff to spend time with each other to learn, connect and find deeper meaning as educators. We have incorporated the following activities with our staff that connected them together for a shared purpose:
  • Staff Gallery Walk of the building to determine the “hidden culture” that exists by our murals, paintings or slogans within our walls.  When we took time to really take a step back and see what we are about as a school it opened our eyes about what our students see within a day.  This gallery walk was also done as a team builder where groups then presented their findings to the whole staff, so we learned from each other. We also had each group share out what their next step would be to improve the culture of our building so they were part of the solution.
  • Staff Scavenger Hunt or team building activities that incorporate fun and teamwork.  What has helped the most during COVID times is remembering that people come first and if we take care of each other then we can overcome anything.
  • Social outings that provide time for staff to connect as people first, educators second.

It is important to remember that “A person who feels appreciated will always do more than what is expected”. When leaders spend time helping their staff to connect together then it will pay dividends as they will be more likely to support each other in their work with students when things are challenging.

  1. Staff Appreciation – Sometimes the most important things may be the smallest and easiest to do. These are things that brightens someone’s day or add value to their work and include:
  • Treat Trolley Cart or Food for staff. A few good snacks can brighten someone’s day and when leaders go around delivering it to staff, it reminds students that we are all in this together.
  • Notes of Gratitude to individual staff members where you celebrate their efforts.  It takes time to write notes but most often, a staff member may forget what you wrote over time but they will remember that you took time to thank them and help them feel valued.
  • Share videos with staff made by students or families as a way to help staff remember the impact. 
  • Visit with staff and listen to their Feedback that relates to your leadership and the work of the school.  
  1. Empower staff to be the change – When we involve others as part of the change efforts they will not only buy into the purpose but be an important reason why success occurs. Here are some ways we have involved our staff to help create positive change.
  • Staff Led Home Visits for incoming students
  • Staff Led Parent Ed Camps 
  • Parent Inclusivity Panels led by staff
  • Student Panels led by staff
  • Student Leadership work initiated by staff

There are many things that can help buildings find success for students in this most challenging year. We cannot forget about our staff too.  Educators must remember that creating positive change must be intentional efforts incorporated in different ways but focuses on the culture within the organization.  Leaders must continually identify how they can build culture that leads to collective efficacy with their staff, students and families.  As a leader, I focus on my students by focusing on the work and culture I provide for my staff. If I take care of our people then they can take care of our students. It is never too late to change or adapt to create something better. We owe that to our students and staff that we serve. I encourage you to reflect and better understand how you can create “ripples in the water” as a leader for strong culture. Comment below or reach out to me at leadlearnerperspectives@gmail.com

Learn

Engage

Adapt

Delegate

Empower

Reflect

Serve

What is within your grasp

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This past year has seen incredible changes in education and in our society. No one could have predicted what has occurred due to COVID-19 and how it is still impacting us. Educators have been challenged in so many ways, yet also have grown through these experiences. This past year has not been easy on educators but some have found a way to make the best of the situation to support students and each other. In many ways, education is being re-invented right in front of us and leadership is being re-defined. However, this is not true for all educators and leaders. Why do some people have failures but still push forward and find success while others cannot get out of their own way and stay stuck with the past?  I think many leaders ask themselves these same types of questions as they are driven by how they can provide support to others and they want to maximize their opportunities. From my perspective, the importance is knowing “what is within your grasp” for each challenge and then focusing your attention and being intentional with your efforts with those endeavors.

Leaders need to recognize that everything that happens is within 1 of 3 areas:

  1. What is within their control 
  2. What is out of their control 
  3. What is within their influence 

How leaders handle the challenges and experiences they face determines the effectiveness of their leadership. It is important they recognize which area each circumstance falls under.  This determines if they are able to be successful or if they struggle through the situation. Simply put, leaders must recognize “what is within their grasp” so they are not putting time/effort into areas that will not have any impact. For example:

  • If it is within their control – leaders must take responsibility for the action. This includes being honest, vulnerable and authentic with those they serve. Leaders must lead the way through tough situations with their character which is demonstrated by how they handle the situations, the effort they put into the work and how they model optimism. They must communicate clearly and effectively so all stakeholders are on the same page.
  • If it is out of their control – leaders must trust those they support within their system or organization. Trust is one of the most important traits leaders can demonstrate and sharing that they trust those that make decisions in these instances will help those people around them feel a sense of calm and stability so they can focus on their specific roles and the work within it. It may not always be the decision a leader wants, but when you trust those you work with you are demonstrating key character traits such as loyalty and commitment which is needed to be part of a successful team and organization.
  • If it is within their influence – Leaders must be thoughtful and wise to how they handle these situations. We must remember that our purpose is to positively influence and develop others. To do this, we must love those we serve, listen to their thoughts/concerns and then work with them to help find a better way. This includes validating their efforts and helping them feel valued as part of the team. The importance must be placed on collective efficacy or teamwork.

How leaders handle situations and “what is within their grasp”, allows a leader’s influence to grow as they appropriately focus on solving problems and serving others. It also allows a leader to connect with others by demonstrating “what can I give” to others and leading the way with authentic and transformational leadership. Each of the 3 mentioned areas above provides leaders with opportunities to demonstrate who they are as a person and leader, provide the vision for their school and take action through their efforts/actions to support others.

A single person can make a significant difference.  Leadership entails skills that can be developed over time. By understanding “what is within your grasp” as a leader you will be able to be proactive, demonstrate strength in challenging times and yet model the vulnerability that unites people behind a shared vision. True leadership occurs by intentional efforts when you work extremely hard to improve your own learning and that leads to growth. It is never too late to change or adapt to create something better. We owe that to our students and staff that we serve. I encourage you to reflect and better understand “what is within your grasp” as a leader. Comment below or reach out to me at leadlearnerperspectives@gmail.com

Learn

Engage

Adapt

Delegate

Empower

Reflect

Serve