Seeing reality through others

Photo by Max Fischer on Pexels.com

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

Photo by Felix Mittermeier on Pexels.com

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

Photo by luizclas on Pexels.com

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

Turning the page – how you reinvent yourself

Photo by Polina Kovaleva on Pexels.com

As we enter the new calendar year there will be many SM posts about “your 1 word”, Hopes for 2021 and much more. These all are valuable and can have impact as it provides Hope as it helps someone reflect, find gratitude and move forward.  As many of you recall from earlier posts, I do reflect often and value this important aspect of leadership. Recently, I was reflecting upon my journey and where I am currently at as a leader and how do I find new opportunities for growth.  I think many leaders ask themselves these same types of questions as many educators are driven by how they can provide support or help others and they want to maximize their opportunities. The challenge is knowing how to turn the page on your leadership journey and how do you reinvent yourself as a leader for continuous growth. I must remember that leadership is a privilege. When someone is in a leaders role, your influence may affect the trajectories of peoples entire future careers (and often their lives).  This blog post shares some insights I have about my own journey and helps me maximize the opportunities I have so I can be the best version of myself as a leader.

Leadership is the moments and experiences you provide for others – The people you serve may remember your PD and style of leadership. But they will remember more vividly all the little things you do for them. How you encourage others, support and inspire them. I must remember to find value in these opportunities that really make the monumental difference for others.  They happen every day and can happen every hour.  Taking the time to listen to someone’s concerns, share a note of praise and just be there for them may be some of the most significant things I can do this year moving forward with those I serve.

Keep the focus on people and family first – In my role there are constant demands to increase academic student performance, respond to emails, complete reports and justify our school goals. I get that these are important but I must remain focused on people first.  Great schools exist because of its people, not because of a singular program, technology or fancy building. I must continue to stay true to people and find ways to value them and what they bring to our school community.  One of the most important things to do is remind your staff that family comes first. I must remember to model this by not emailing staff on weekends (unless absolutely necessary) and giving staff grace when they need to leave a little early to get to their child’s b-ball game, medical appointment etc..

Recognize others and be happy for their accomplishments – I must admit, there are times when I too, do want and need to be validated for my efforts.  It is a basic human instinct.  But I must also remember that I must stay focused on helping others and if I do that then in turn, I will grow too.  I do hope my staff will remember how I encourage them, treat each person in our school like they are important and value their contributions.  It is important to celebrate their wins or areas of growth as that will stimulate further growth and it cements what our focus is on in our building – people and their growth.  As Simon Sinek shares, “Leadership is not about being in charge. It’s about taking care of those in your charge.”

Lead with optimism and fuel it with passion – Leading the work in schools is demanding and in many cases overwhelming with uncertainty, negativity and demands placed upon us.  I must find ways to lead with optimism and fuel that positivity with a desire to help others (which is my passion).  People can sense someone’s emotion and that can either ignite or distinguish their own efforts for growth. The more I can model for others how to lead with positivity and be focused on intentional efforts to grow, lead with vulnerability and lean into conversations then it can help them connect with me in an authentic way.  I must be humble in my confidence yet courageous in my character as I model vulnerability and share my mistakes. This creates a shared ownership or collective efficacy in our work that ultimately will lead to trust.

A single person can make a significant difference.  Everyone has the same opportunities in life. However, some people are content with the status quo, don’t take the time to reflect and are not willing to continually learn.  This blog post shares some of my reflections as I take the next steps in my leadership journey and how I can help others grow. As John Maxwell shares, “Leaders become great, not because of their power, but because of their ability to empower others.” It will also help me to remain humble and stay hungry for growth as a leader.  True leadership occurs by intentional efforts when you work extremely hard to improve your own learning and that leads to growth. I encourage all leaders to reflect upon your experiences to help define your next steps. 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 excellence. 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 Refine Us To Build Success

Photo by bruce mars on Pexels.com

When we think of the concept of a leader, we picture someone who has found success, things come easily for them and they are respected by everyone.  While some of this may be true, in reality many leaders would share with you their journey as a leader has been anything but smooth, has consisted of many challenges and long hours of work. Furthermore, many leaders would share with you they have had more failures than successes.  As we think about this further, why do some people stop growing when they have setbacks while others push forward and continue to strive for excellence.  How do failures refine leadership?  Here are some perspectives and what I have learned from my own failures. This awareness helped me to recognize that “Failure is not the opposite of success. It is part of success.”

  1. Importance of reflection – Trying new strategies is important for growth and most of these resulted in failed attempts.  This has caused frustration and setbacks but over time I have come to recognize that growth doesn’t happen just by trying a new approach but by the reflection of the experience. When we reflect it is natural to think of our setback but we must refocus our mindset on our efforts to improve by recognizing how to be more strategic, consistent in our work and intentional with our purpose.  In any moment, we have 2 options:  we can step forward into growth and lean into our experiences or step back to where we do what we have always done.  Fear is what holds most people back from trying something new. However, the amount of fear is the same in people who are reluctant to try something new and for those that take the steps of change. I encourage you to reflect upon your last opportunity where you tried something new and why it worked or why not and most importantly – what will you do differently next time?
  1. Be the Leader you would follow – Early in my leadership career I was mis-guided about what I thought a leader should be. This included how to behave with others, my approach to situations and my day to day focus. After honest conversations with the staff I served, which was not easy, I recognized I needed to focus on being ME. I strived to be the leader that I would follow if I was a classroom teacher. I focused on my character and how I treat others by being sincere, authentic, admitting my mistakes and leading with positivity. I should always help the other person feel as if they are the most important person in the schoolhouse. I now believe that Modeling is the tipping point and is supported by our listening and communication. Leaders know lots of information but who we are matters more.  How we treat others will be more impactful than any PD or well crafted email that we can send.
  1. Make it about others Having a title is irrelevant in today’s society as any person can be a leader.  Leadership is not about your title but how you empower others and influence their actions and behaviors that lead to growth.  This anonymous quote resonates with me:  “If serving others is below you, then leadership is beyond you”.  There are many long hours of a leader’s job involving deadlines, reports, hours of supervision and endless emails and phone calls. All of these are important parts of the job. But when we struggle to remember our purpose it may be helpful to remember this scenario:  during your first interview for a teaching position remember what you said you were going to do for students as you sat in the interview chair.  You can probably remember that emotion, nerves and excitement that focused on helping others. Those same emotions are what we need to remember about leading others – it comes back to the heart and focuses on others.  There is a quote that John Maxwell has shared many times that inspires me about my work with others: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself but rather it’s thinking of yourself less.  If we focus our attention, time and energy by pouring ourselves into others then our influence increases”.
  1. Mindset is most importantLeading others causes many hard conversations. At times, we can get sidetracked on procedures, policies and traditions – these are not bad things but they are not the most significant part of helping lead others. It is our mindset. There will be tough moments but I try to remind myself to never have a bad day but recognize the opportunities we each have in a day to make it special. This phrase by George Corous reminds me of the importance of being optimistic:“Being positive doesn’t mean ignoring the negative. Being positive means overcoming the negative”.  One way to be positive is to show gratitude towards others and build others up. This can be done by handwritten notes, sharing genuine praise and simply listening to someone when they need it.  There are many challenges and some will result in setbacks. This could be angry patrons, staff sharing negative vibes behind your back or others wanting “what we have always done”.  Leaders must remember, when you cannot control what is happening, we must challenge ourselves to control the way you respond to what is happening. This is where you will get your power and motivation from to press forward.
  1. Connect to other leaders – Leadership and Learning are indispensable to each other. Results happen over time, not overnight. You must work hard, stay consistent and be patient. Yes, you can do this alone by reading, podcasting and writing. However, you can go much further if you invest time to connect to other leaders through developing your PLN. Connecting with others allows you to grow in your vulnerability to share failures and experiences, listen to others as they share feedback and apply it to your setting. As leaders continue to grow, they will strive to reinvent themselves and find new ways to stretch their thinking. This results in innovative practices and growth and can be most effectively done by a connected network. This can also positively impact those you serve as when a leader takes risks, then teachers will be much more likely to take risks; resulting in students taking more academic risks too. 

  Everyone has the same opportunities in life. However, some people are content with the status quo, don’t take the time to reflect and are not willing to continually learn.  When you analyze your failures, it helps you to remember the things you have accomplished, your setbacks and what you need to do to continue to grow as a leader.   It helps to make you humble and stay hungry for growth.  True leadership occurs by intentional efforts when you work extremely hard to improve your own learning and that leads to growth. I encourage all leaders to reflect upon your failures as that is part of the growth process in leadership. 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 excellence. 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

Developing Leaders is like Mining for Gold

Photo by Pok Rie on Pexels.com

As I progress in my journey and role as an educator, things have become more clear.  This is even true during a pandemic and despite many new challenges this year, I have continued to evolve in my thinking around leadership. During my early morning workouts I listen to podcasts to help find time to intentionally learn around leadership topics.  One of the recent podcasts was describing finding leaders is similar to the analogy like mining for gold in our history of our country. This resonated with me and left me thinking about this at a deeper level. The speaker mentioned that when you mine for gold you must search long, uncover lots of dirt and typically there is no gold but rocks/dirt. But if you search hard enough, look in the right spots then you may be fortunate enough to find gold. This helped me to process where I am at in my journey as I want to stay humble and hungry as a leader. I recognize I have lots of faults, but still I want to learn and grow into a more impactful leader and help others by influencing their thinking, developing their skills and giving them confidence to help influence their growth as a leader. As I was thinking about leadership and my journey, I think this applies in the following ways about developing leadership:

Finding a Mentor 

I truly believe all educators go into their roles to be great and have a desire to help others. But along the way, life gets busy and in many cases, well intentioned educators become stagnant and stop growing. In large part, this is because they never found a Mentor. The Mentor is someone who can help coach, inspire, support and develop their skills.  I have to admit, I am not sure if I have ever had a true mentor or someone that was willing to invest small amounts of time in myself. Fortunately, I have found a strong PLN that has been transformational and pushes my thinking. If you do have a mentor, it is important that you:

  • Ask them for honest feedback
  • Watch how they model leadership
  • Reflect on How do they uplift and support others
  • What do they do to continue to grow
  • Ask what skills are your strengths and how can they be elevated
  • Work with them so you can take true leadership opportunities

Being a Mentor

If you are in education long enough you will have the chance to be a mentor to someone new or someone just beginning a new role. In these instances, we each have an opportunity to choose – be their mentor or simply support them as a colleague. While both are important, there is a distinct difference. When you have the opportunity to be the mentor that means you are committing to intentionally spending some time with the other person, leaning into their conversations to learn who they are, develop trust and share that you want to help them succeed. It also means you must have honest conversations about what they do well and areas they can improve. Obviously, the other person must be at the point in their career where they are ready to have a mentor (see below) or otherwise your efforts will be lost.

Finding People who want to be leaders

In my role as an administrator, my focus in recent years has been foremost on “finding potential leaders so I can help them develop their strengths and create sustainable change for our school community.” I have learned the importance of the value of a strong team and recognize that despite my best efforts, our school will be much more impactful for kids if we are a stronger team of many leaders compared just to myself leading. My goal has been on developing and influencing others. I have had the pleasure to work with many wonderful people who care about kids and work hard and do have a positive impact. But that doesn’t mean they all have the desire to be leaders.  So here are some things I look for in people that tell me if they have the innate abilities to develop as a leader. Very simply, I focus on Attitude not Aptitude but I ask myself are they:

  • Gifted – Does someone have the skillset within them that allows them to connect with others easily, see the big picture, communicate effectively and do they influence others.  If you want to know who your leaders are – when you have staff together and people can sit anywhere, ask yourself who do they sit by?  This doesn’t always mean that person is a positive leader but that person does have influence; and influence is a critical component to leadership.
  • Grounded – One of the most important traits of leadership that I see in many quality leaders is character.  Someone’s character is a defining point that allows sustained success. So in my role with developing others, I see if someone has true character. In other words, do they care more about themselves or do they care about others. For example, if you look at someone’s professional social media are they always in every picture or are the pictures focused on others? This is a tipping point to telling you are they “a giver to others or a taker”. 
  • Growing – Leadership is a process not an event. It takes time and requires that someone is willing to give a little more and work a little harder. Many educators do lead at times, but only a few aspire to become level 4 or 5 leaders where others follow them because they develop and influence others. In my work, I do believe all educators do lead and can become leaders. I strive to provide opportunities for anyone to grow as a leader and provide them feedback, listen to their needs and support their work. That is important and all of my staff deserve that.  However, I do focus much more of my energy and efforts on the top 20% as they are the ones who have committed to growing as a leader and this creates stronger teams with the concept of the multiplier effect. I intentionally sit down with these people and we discuss what they need to be challenged, empower them with opportunities to lead, discuss areas of growth and we do intentional reflection discussions. It is not perfect but we are spending intentional time on trying to help others grow into leaders.

Time is a limited resource and if you understand the importance of finding the right people it will help you over time in your work as a leader. Leadership is all about influence – nothing more and nothing less. I have reminded myself that I need to continue to look for my own mentor who can push me, serve a mentor to others and always be willing to help those that aspire to grow as leaders.  A single person can make a significant difference.  Everyone has similar opportunities in life. However, some people are content with the status quo and are not willing to continually learn to develop as a leader.   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. Comment below or reach out to me at leadlearnerperspectives@gmail.com

Learn

Engage

Adapt

Delegate

Empower

Reflect

Serve

Everyone has a story….and what you can learn from it

Photo by Simon Migaj on Pexels.com

If you have ever listened to a podcast involving educators they typically invite the guest to share at the beginning a little about themselves. In short, the guest tells their story or journey.  Recently, as I was listening to a podcast and heard the guest share their story that involved challenges and how they worked to get to their current status. This reminded me that everyone has a story. However, most of us have never either had the chance to share our story or even thought about what you would share if we were asked to share it with others.

There is great value when you stop, reflect upon your past and share the joys, challenges and learning experiences of your journey. It is your story. When you have the opportunity to do this you remember the precious moments that became memories and the people that you have had the chance to learn and work with.  Furthermore, it helps to keep you grounded, stay true to your core beliefs and focused on what matters most.  

When I stopped and thought about what is my story, the following were my takeaways that resonated with me that have impacted my life as an educator and my journey.

My Story and the learning experiences from it…….

  • Who I am as a person is more important than the title of my position.
  • How I treat others makes a more significant impact than any email I will send or PD that I can ever lead.
  • My greatest successes were the result of collaborative teamwork with others. It was through our collective hard work and desire that we achieved great success.
  • There have been many setbacks, but with each one I learned the value of staying true to my core beliefs.
  • Growth has occurred because my passion to strive for excellence overcame setbacks and I was willing to give a little more, work a little harder. Growth has had as much to do with my attitude than my aptitude.
  •  Despite the long work hours and overwhelming amount of tasks, it is fairly simple – it is all about supporting others and helping them find success.
  • We all make mistakes despite our best efforts. Don’t be hard on yourself but rather use each day as a reset and focus on being the best version of yourself.
  • If you want to grow as a leader, don’t wait for others to come to you. Instead, recognize you can add value to any setting and if you want to grow then focus on intentional tasks to get you there. Your growth is your responsibility.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others but rather focus on you and are growing in your current role. If you maximize your opportunities in your current role then others will notice you.
  • Reflecting upon your experience is the key to growth. This allows you to stretch yourself, formalize your thinking and allows you to be open to new ideas that stimulate further opportunities.
  • Your legacy is more important than your resume. In other words, how you help develop others is more important than the accomplishments you put on paper. It is about people – always.

A single person can make a significant difference.  Everyone has the same opportunities in life. However, some people are content with the status quo, don’t take the time to reflect and are not willing to continually learn.  When you analyze your story, it helps you to remember the things you have accomplished, your setbacks and what you need to do to continue to grow as a leader.   It helps to make you humble and stay hungry for growth.  True leadership occurs by intentional efforts when you work extremely hard to improve your own learning and that leads to growth. I encourage all leaders to reflect upon your story. 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 excellence. 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

Words to remember for Leaders

Photo by Yogendra Singh on Pexels.com

During complex times keeping things simple and focused on the right work is most important. This is easier said than done.  There is no easy way, no secret but simply a focus and intentional efforts to stay true to your core beliefs.  How this is achieved may vary from one leader to another, but I have found that keeping in mind simple but powerful statements, quotes  and ideas resonate with me.  I think it is because they stir up emotion. Emotion drives my passion and keeps me humble to recognize I can always get better and hungry to learn.  Here are my perspective on Words to remember for Leaders and the key areas of leadership they represent.

Culture

  • Be the thermostat not the thermometer
  • It’s people, not programs, that make school great
  • “Confidence” is the most powerful thing a principal can give a teacher and a teacher can give a student
  • Shout praise, whisper criticism

Working with others

  • Better to Under promise and then over deliver
  • Raise the praise – minimize the criticize
  • 1 person cannot make a team, but 1 person can break a team
  • The conversation is the relationship

Leadership Growth

  • Don’t focus on change as much as you focus on growth
  • Leadership isn’t about being in charge. Leadership is about taking care of those in your charge – Simon Sinek
  • Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts – Einstein
  • You don’t have to be great to serve others, but you do have to serve others to be great
  • We shouldn’t expect kids to learn the way we teach, we should strive to teach the way they learn – David Geurin
  • Go slow to go fast
  • The difference between today and tomorrow is us
  • Never lose sense of passion, purpose or pride
  • Leaders train people well enough so they can leave but leaders treat them well so they don’t want to – Richard Branson

Core Beliefs

  • Be firm with your principles but flexible with your practices – David Geurin
  • You can never go wrong by doing the right thing – Mark Twain 
  • Educators are not in it for the income, they are in it for the outcome 
  • Lead from your feet, not your seat

This year is unlike no other due to so many external factors and the constant unknowns. How leaders maximize positive momentum for their work and their teams is through consistency and a focus.  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. I am curious what statements or ideas resonate with you and help you to stay focused with intentional efforts.  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 

Creating a Culture of Collaborative Leadership

Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

Leading the work within a school is a significant opportunity and responsibility. It is a great opportunity as you can impact the lives of so many students and help set them up for success. Likewise, it is a big responsibility as you determine their current experience and impact potentially 3 generations including their parents, student themselves and potential children. The experience you provide for others as far as the skills, attitudes and beliefs and how that will lead them throughout life is the purpose of our work. When you reflect upon these words, it may seem daunting and overwhelming.  However, I believe this helps one to recognize the importance of Collaborative Leadership.  It is vital that leaders continually grow with their skill set, but to maximize their impact, leaders understand developing others through a culture of Collaborative Leadership has much greater return and stronger foundation over time.

Through my experiences of leading others and learning from other leaders, here are key components to creating a Culture of Collaborative Leadership and some practical examples of this in action in our school.

Create a culture of Trust to set the Vision

All work starts with people and ends with people.  It really is that simple. But the work of schools is most complex as we strive to create a forward thinking vision of teaching and learning for the school. This is best accomplished when leaders create trusting relationships.  Leaders create trust over time through their Character  (how we interact with others) and through their Competence (how well we do our job). Specifically, we must find ways to have consistent 1:1 interactions with our school community. I recognize the more opportunities I can interact with students, staff and families in small settings then I have a greater chance to help them feel cared for and valued.  Currently, our admin team creates “Motivational Monday videos” which are 1-2 minute video reflections that we share weekly with our students and families. We reflect upon our lives and share reflections that revolve around character but demonstrate vulnerability and authenticity. We developed this idea from the work of @Joe_Sanfelippo and his “1 minute walk to work”. We have found that our videos create regular opportunities for human interaction and help build relationships. Ultimately, we strive to create the conditions where people feel cared for, supported and nurtured. As the principal, I believe I can work on this daily and it starts by modeling the behaviors we want from others in my words, actions and attitudes. A Vision statement or mission statement truly are just words, but it is through how people interact with each other and treat each other that models the culture and vision of your school.

A focus on equity – how do you help ALL students, staff and families

Collaborative leadership at the heart means the “collective working together to get desired results”. For schools, the collective means ALL staff, ALL students and ALl families have opportunities to be heard, share ideas and be part of the work of the school community.  We have found the following ways most efficient and successful as a way to support this work:

  • Have feedback mechanisms in place on consistent basis

For our students, our admin team meets with students frequently through “feedback loops” where we have 3-4 questions and listen to our students. We then share the themes back with our staff to help plan our next steps of our school purpose.  For our staff, we strive to provide several points of feedback throughout the year either through 1:1 listening sessions, google forms or simply stopping by their rooms to chat.  Listening to those we serve is a priority for us.  For our parents/guardians, we use quarterly “Coffee with Principals” where anyone can come and share ideas, concerns and be part of our work.  Currently, we are getting ready to launch with our families a Book Study where staff and families will together read and discuss strategies and skills middle school students need to thrive.

  •  Set a vision for your school and reflect upon the work frequently

Our vision is focused on being student driven and centered on the needs of our learners.  Schools must constantly adapt to changing times and the COVID-19 Pandemic has resulted in even greater feedback from our school community to best meet their needs.

Build Capacity in Others to lead

As we lead the work of our school community, we have always focused on the importance of “growth”. In other words, as professionals we recognize that in order to strive for excellence we cannot focus on being perfect but rather being intentional with our efforts and try to get a little better each day.  Building the capacity of our people through a culture of collaboration and providing opportunities for them to be empowered is the most important work I can lead for our school.

For our teachers, we strive to have our Professional Learning teacher designed and teacher led as much as possible. We also incorporate a Genius Hour where they have choice upon their learning.  In recent years,we have shifted towards each staff member having a Personal Growth Plan which is simply where they describe the areas they want to grow in, the strategies they will work on and how that will impact our students and school goals.  This poster is displayed within their classrooms as we believe that being visible and intentional is a driving motivation for many.

We also recognized the importance of empowering our students so they develop as leaders and they can determine the type of school we have.  We do this through several student groups including  Eagle Ambassadors, Sources of Strength and Student Council. The work they lead includes running a Welcome 6th grade Eagle Camp, leading school tours, hosting parent events, working with elementary schools, leading SEL work with our students and providing input on administrative decisions.

As Principal, one of my core beliefs, is developing others and this also includes partnering with our parents.  We are so proud of the work our parents/guardians support our school with including our Parent Ed Camps that focus on SEL topics and mental health.  This allows our families to have a much greater understanding of how to support their child’s needs.  Each year we strive to meet the needs of our families at deeper levels, so this year we have created “Parent Liaison for new families” where our own parents work with new families to help them be connected and answer questions.

Evidence of impact

As we work with our school community, it is most essential to determine if our efforts are providing the growth towards the results we need.  We call this “evidence of impact”.  To determine if your strategies are working, you must use data and feedback from others and analyze this at regular intervals.  It is important  to use the right data. As Albert Einstein has said, “Not everything that can be counted counts, not everything that counts can be counted”.  We can collect lots of data but it is vital to analyze the quantitative and qualitative data to determine if the school is making progress. We do this through analyzing the academic skills of our students, how connected we are as a school community and listening to the needs of all stakeholders so we can pivot, adjust and be flexible with our practices. In our current pandemic with COVID, our work with our staff in the academic area has solely focused on enhancing our feedback to our students. We believe that feedback is the key to deeper learning and we measure this by how well our students demonstrate, create, and articulate the processes and skills of their classes.

A single person can make a significant difference.  But one person doesn’t make a team but one person can break a team.  Leaders must create the conditions of their school where collaborative leadership is the central point that all work revolves around.  The focus and work of the leaders do make a difference as they set the tone and influence 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 how you build Collaborative Leadership within your 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 building excellence. 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

Re-Imagining Leadership

Photo by Alexas Fotos on Pexels.com

Each school year inevitably gets very busy in the fall as academics are in full swing, professional learning is occurring and there is an insurmountable amount of logistics to take care of.  Most important is building culture within the school environment and engaging families.  This year, despite my best efforts to stay positive and organized, it has seemed like the workload has increased to a level that I can no longer keep up with.  In fact, the stress of the job has had a significant impact upon my work life balance.  

As I strived to get back to a better version of myself, I recognized how I was leading had changed. Change in the sense of what my focus had been had shifted and this had allowed me to find time for professional growth, personal well being  and positional growth.  Here is how I re-imagined leadership:

  1. Focus on the things that I 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 allowed me to focus on things  I can control and those that truly  make a difference …..supporting its people. In other words, I blocked out the negative posts and naysayers who constantly found what was wrong instead of trying to help find solutions.  Furthermore, when we think of “focusing on things we can control” that specifically includes the following:

  • Put others first and focus on the best in people
  • Empower others to help make a difference
  • Celebrate the successes of our work and embrace our failures
  • Make decisions on what is best for kids
  1. Communication must be adapted to meet the needs of all stakeholders.  This means the information I  share with students, staff and families must  be adapted to each group. For example, for our staff I have strived to build in many positive feedback methods or ways to help them feel valued. Specifically, I have tried to find more time for 1:1 conversation, written notes and ways to build them up. They need it and deserve it.  For Families, it includes providing listening sessions to hear their struggles and suggestions on how we can improve. For our students, the communication included making video clips to connect with our students while they were distance learning. Overall the adapted communication should be:
  • Concise 
  • Consistent and authentic
  • Connect back to the work of the school 
  • Provide platforms for feedback 
  1. School Community Engagement 

As leaders innovate ways to move schools forward, sometimes we forget one of the most essential ways is to involve the people outside of the building. In other words, it is important to build partnerships with the parents/school community and strive to make meaningful, trusting connections with the parents that you can partner with on behalf of the students.  To create this climate, leaders must provide the platform for parents and reasons for them to work/learn with you.  This rapport is developed one conversation at a time when you get the chance to listen to the parent and share your beliefs on how you want to help support their child.  Does this take time – most definitely; but creating trusting relationships with the parents is one of the most important things leaders can do.  This year I have incorporated many daily 1:1 Zoom calls with a parent and their child in an effort to help a struggling student.  It also has included Zoom sessions with all parents as a way to be transparent about our work. I have reminded myself the best way to develop parent engagement is by listening and then supporting them to help be part of the solution.

  1. Create Trust with those you serve 

Trust is developed by small interactions….relationships are built 1:1. The more opportunities I can interact with students, staff and families in small settings then I have a greater chance to help them feel valued. I have strived to create regular opportunities for human interaction that builds relationships by being more visible in classrooms, in car line and at student events.  I have also strived to 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 

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 tried to adapt and understand what I must do differently to be the most effective leader for our school community during this pandemic.  This year is one where my leadership approach has had a”pivot”. I hope this adaptation will allow not only stronger leadership for those I serve but also for me to find a better work life balance and put people at the center of my decisions and time. 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 and recognize how you have adapted your work. 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