Here is how one leader put test scores into perspective. How does your communication to students and parents tell them what you and your teachers value?
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“Listen to people and be receptive to constructive criticism, but do not be overly influenced by everyone, especially the naysayers. It’s easy to fall into the trap of being malleable to every single feedback thrown your way.”
– Aydin Acar, CEO and Co-Founder of Influenster
If you keep going to meetings that are full of ideas that never go anywhere, you have the power to make the meeting more productive, even when you aren’t leading the meeting. Simply ask a naive question or provide a polite relevancy challenge. “Help us understand how your comment connects to this topic.” If items continue to recur with no decisions, you might offer “What might be the best next step to make this happen?” You may want to suggest a “parking lot” to list off-topic ideas on a chart to hold the ideas for a more appropriate time.
Use your time together productively to encourage one topic at a time to produce results and make meetings more productive.
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According to Paul Bambrick-Santoya, author of Leverage Leadership, data analysis meetings between leaders and teachers are the highest-leverage time a leader can spend. During which time it is critical that teachers analyze their own assessment data. But even for school leaders who have learned to analyze data closely, supporting teachers to do the same can be challenging.
So, what needs to happen before a leader can ask the sort of targeted questions that lead to data-driven instructional decisions?
Know your teachers. The type of support and questions will depend on the self-reflection and analysis capacity of the teachers.
Analyze the teacher’s results before the meeting to ensure you have a good idea of the root cause and how teachers might address the problems.
If needed, get help with content expertise.
Informed by your own analysis of the student data, arrive to the meeting with a few specific strategies that will be effective. Keep those in your “back pocket” and lead by asking questions like…
- What did the students need to be able to do to get that question right? How was this more that what they are able to do with you in class?
- What’s so interesting is that they did really well on question number ____ but struggled with question number ___ on the same standard. Why do you think that is?
- Let’s look at question number ____. What do you think that the students are doing wrong here?
After analysis meetings like these, teachers have a more developed capacity to analyze their students’ output and a clearer understanding of what steps to take to improve student learning.
How do you BLOCK out your time so you can TACKLE what’s most important to ensure your teachers GO THE DISTANCE? Ah…sports analogies.
Locking in your weekly schedule will allow you to defend your time from distractions. Schedule time with teachers for weekly one-on-ones. This is protected time for face to face meetings that teachers will come to expect and they will begin to anticipate to receive feedback on their instruction. Pick a standing half-hour window when the teacher is available. Then, strategically block out time for your walkthroughs just before your weekly teacher meetings so that the observation is fresh in your mind and you’re delivering timely feedback.
Blocking and tackling are as fundamental to instructional leadership as they are too football. Employ these scheduling tactics to ensure you and your teachers reach your goals.
There are several approaches that leadership teams take to monitor instructional effectiveness and to ensure alignment of what is being taught in classrooms to the written and tested curriculum. Conducting focused classroom walkthroughs and analyzing interim assessment data are high-leverage activities, particularly when they include feedback and follow up. What about lesson planning? What information about the effectiveness the instruction or the progress of your students can be gleaned from checking teachers’ lesson plans?
Collecting and reviewing lesson plans has been a time-honored tradition among school administrators. But is it the best strategy for improving teaching and learning? And, for busy principals, is it the best use of your time?
Some may have strong rational for collecting lesson plans every week and a system for providing timely feedback. But to monitor critical areas that will provide you with the information needed to track alignment and effectiveness, consider sitting in on grade level or content team meetings or collecting PLC minutes. In doing so, leaders can monitor academic priorities and assess alignment of instruction and curriculum while promoting data analysis, lesson planning, and collaboration.
You are coming off a break where we hope you were able to unplug. As you get back into the “busy-ness” of work, plan some time in your day where you unplug from technology. Our brains have not evolved as quickly as our technology; constant external distractions cause smart people to underperform, become persistently rushed, and unable to problem-solve or stay with a task through completion. Every text, tweet, update, newsletter, email, and passing conversation is competing for attention. Want to be more productive, more creative, and have more energy for important thinking?
The best solution is to designate times for activities, even digital ones like email and social networking. So go ahead and spend 20 minutes on Facebook. Schedule it into your day but remember to schedule time to unplug. Take 30 minutes for a walk outside or to listen to music or cook. That time “unplugged” is when most of us are able to reflect and tackle the big issues of the day.
Knowing that we are competing for attention in your brain, we are making these texts shorter, more concise nuggets of goodness that help you be an amazing leader in 2017. Happy New Year.
“The way to develop the best that is in a person is by appreciation and encouragement.” Charles Schwab
This is a time of year when we give thanks for what we have. As school leaders, this is a good time to reflect on the success of our organization and express gratitude and appreciation for the staff whose efforts are making the impossible possible. But this Thanksgiving, think about what it would mean to your school community if you embraced the power of gratitude all year long.
Simple, heartfelt gestures, like a thank you note or a word of appreciation, go a long way to ensuring your teachers feel valued and appreciated. Over the Thanksgiving break, consider how you can better foster a culture of gratitude at your school and how your attitude of gratitude will support you in retaining your best staff.
We at Text for Leaders are thankful for you! We want to provide you with the most relevant and impactful content, so we’d like to hear from you. Please take a quick survey and let us know how we’re doing.
There is much to see and hear during every classroom visit. Having a narrow focus and purpose allows leaders to collect specific evidence to monitor progress on particular initiatives and strategies.
But to really hone in on the evidence of student learning, leaders must focus their attention on what students are doing in classrooms every day.
- What evidence might you collect if the focus is on student learning?
- How does shifting from what the teacher is doing to what the students are doing change how you view the effectiveness of a lesson?
- How can teachers share in the formation of your walkthrough “look fors”?
- What are the benefits of specific student learning “look fors” as it pertains to targeted and actionable feedback for teachers?
- How is the information that is collected used to inform the work of your leadership team, progress toward school goals, and how adjust support for teachers?
- Is your walkthrough team in agreement about how to collect and report “look fors” so that you can use it to discuss patterns?
Your Leadership Team is meeting regularly. Check. The agenda prioritizes support for your teachers’ instructional needs and the academic progress of your students. Check. Members share leadership responsibilities and take steps to advance the school’s mission. Check?
Harnessing the expertise of the Leadership Team participants is an opportunity to foster their leadership capacity. Maximize their impact by equipping members to engage in the important conversations inside and outside of the meeting that lead to improved practices. What steps can you take to ensure members can communicate and take action to move the work forward toward reaching school goals?
Encourage members to share in the meeting facilitation to encourage a sense of ownership and accountability.
Create a system by which the agenda is crafted collaboratively so that it isn’t “your” meeting but “our” meeting.
Elicit different perspectives regarding potential obstacles to encourage innovation and challenge the status quo.
Role play. How will members articulate a new strategy to teachers? How will they deliver specific and actionable feedback? What does it sound like to facilitate a difficult conversation?
Check for understanding with individual members to ensure the expectations for next steps are made clear (due date, manner of follow up, etc.) to avoid getting stuck.
What will your next steps be to further empower your team members and ensure you are getting the traction you need to advance the school’s mission, vision, and goals?
A research review titled, “A New Wave of Evidence: The Impact of School, Family and Community Connections on Student Achievement,” found that every family has the capacity to contribute to their child’s success, regardless of race, ethnicity, economic standing or the parents’ level of education. But how do we leverage this capacity and create genuine partnerships with parents? Reading Rockets emphasizes the importance of positive news as a great way to form the partnership. They write:
Parents are not accustomed to hearing unsolicited positive comments from teachers about their children, especially in a phone call from the school. Research shows that school-home communication is greatly increased through personalized positive telephone contact between teachers and parents. Remember, when a phone call from school conveys good news, the atmosphere between home and school improves. When you have good news to share, why wait? Make the call and start a positive relationship with a parent.
Later, if concerns arise, discuss as a team how to leverage the child’s strengths to support areas of growth. Ask parents if there are strategies that work at home or strategies that other teachers have found to be successful. Supporting the child together as partners is more likely to occur when parents know that you see have noticed the child’s strengths and will share positive news.
Your staff teaches and practices expectations, cultivates relationships, and positively narrates behaviors you want to see. However, when misbehavior occurs, how does your campus respond?
Look at your current data for students who are visiting the office. Are they visiting for the right reasons? Find root causes and the figure out your best next step to support students and teachers so we all can spend more time on instruction.
Are there patterns of times when more students are referred?
Are there differences in the number of students being sent or not sent from teachers or other staff members?
Do staff know strategies for intervening while minimizing disruptions?
Are there expectations of teachers that are “slipping” such as sending students without referrals, or teachers not being outside their doors during transitions, or sending more than one student to the bathroom at a time?
Consider what changes or supports would have the biggest impact on the number or severity of office referrals. Fine-tune your practices for maintaining a positive learning environment. How might staff connect with the data to determine next steps for fine-tuning? How might you support those who may need more strategies or tools? Ensuring that your staff can support students in maintaining a positive learning environment is one of the best ways to ensure you spend time supporting instruction.
You worked hard this summer to carefully fill your vacancies to ensure that every classroom has a qualified and prepared teacher at the helm. Now that you’ve found and hired these treasures, how you support them in their transition to your school’s culture and climate can have lasting consequences on their instructional effectiveness, student achievement, and overall sense of belonging. This can be a challenging and lonely time for a new teacher. Don’t leave these important first weeks up to chance.
To whom are your new hires turning?
Do they have a mentor that can provide both teaching and emotional support?
What will be your approach to assessing how they are navigating the learning curve?
Beginners in the Classroom: What the Changing Demographics of Teaching Mean for Schools, Students, and Society, a 2014 report from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, provides research on why teachers leave, some excellent insight into the needs of new teachers, and how to employ strategies to provide your new hires with concentrated and meaningful support.
What one goal (at work or in your personal life) would have the most positive impact on your life right now? What is going to be a game-changer for you?
1) Make a plan. Set a timer for 5 minutes. Write down 20 small steps you can do to get you closer to your goal. It’s the small-step planning that makes big goals doable.
If you struggle to get to 20 steps, consider whether your steps can be broken down. Make it difficult to not accomplish each step. For example, if you want to exercise three mornings a week, “Set the alarm 45 minutes earlier to get up and walk” leaves too much up in the air. You want no room for excuses. Break this step down:
Set an alarm for 9:30 PM to get ready for bed.
Put headphones/music, gum, and water by the door before going to bed.
Find 3 pairs of shorts and 3 shirts to wear during work-outs.
Go to bed in work-out clothes/Put workout clothes and shoes by the bed each night.
Set an alarm for 5:15 AM and get out the door.
2) Add specifics. Chunk your steps. How much time is needed to complete each step or chunk.
3) Create a timeline. Sequence your steps, adding a 1 to the step that must be completed first, and a 2 to the next, and so on until all tasks are numbered. Set some benchmarks. In 1 month, what will you have accomplished? In 3 months? In 6 months?
4) Start and repeat. The time you put into planning is wasted unless you start, stick with it, and start again if you hit a hurdle. What will help you stick to this? Why is it important to you? Do you need competition? Rewards? Public declaration that you are working toward this?
5) Find an accountability partner. Would accomplishing this goal positively impact others who might help you? Are others working on their own goals? Do you have a mentor? Find someone who will be a supportive follow-up buddy to check-in with you. Schedule these follow-ups weekly in the beginning and then for your benchmark dates.
Taking care of yourself will pay dividends to your students and teachers. Model that growth-mindset and challenge yourself to accomplish your own personal goal this year.
“15% of an organization’s collective time is spent in meetings and most are unproductive. Executives consider that more than 67% of meetings to be failures.” (Dockweiler, 2015)
Use the early meetings this year to establish how each of your teams will ensure meetings are productive and efficient.
Establish Norms and Working Agreements for each team.
Norms are skills and behaviors normally modelled by the group such as “presuming positive intentions” and “balancing advocacy and inquiry.” Working Agreements are collaboratively established practices to be more productive, such as “start and end on time” and “get the most done in the least amount of time to the greatest satisfaction.”
Determine how the group will hold each other to these norms and working agreements.
If someone breaks a norm or working agreement, may anyone in the group address it?
Establish a process for continued work to improve meetings and group processes.
How and how often are norms and working agreements addressed and revisited? How often do we get feedback? How often do we set a goal or intention to work on group processes? As Garmston and Wellman write, “Any group that is too busy to reflect on process it too busy to improve.”
For more information on Norms and Working Agreements, see Garmston and Wellman’s The Adaptive School: A Sourcebook for Developing Collaborative Groups.
In Trust Matters Megan Tschannen-Moran writes that trust is the “lubricant” that makes school improvements go smoothly and quickly. If teachers lack trust in their leaders, they spend energy trying to protect themselves before spending time improving their teaching or school.
In studying trustworthy people, she and her colleagues identified five facets of trust. We trust when we believe a person is benevolent, honest, open, reliable, and competent.
The table provides the definitions and some specific actions associated with each facet of trust. Think about how your actions build trust with your staff and students.
Which facet would you like to improve? What are a few specific actions that you can take this week?
Use this tip to take control of your data in planning for next year.
Now is the perfect time to make sure the data you have helps determine root causes that are keeping you from your ultimate goal. In your upcoming leadership team meetings, ask your team some key questions so you use data efficiently.
What is our ultimate goal next year?
How does our current state differ from our ultimate goal?
What does our existing data tell us? What existing reports answer our questions?
What does the existing data not tell us? What questions do we still have?
What data do we still need to collect to answer our questions?
Focus on data that answers your questions. You may need to collect some additional data, possibly through walk-throughs, focus groups, surveys, or formative assessment and lesson plan analysis in order to show causes or relationships between current practices and outcomes.
Already have one foot planted in the next school year? Bring others along with this tip…
The National Center for Urban School Transformation finds that effective urban principals…
· Set expectations
· Identify and minimize barriers to meeting expectations
· Build the capacity of people to meet expectations
· Measure and monitor progress toward expectations
· Acknowledge and celebrate progress toward expectations
Teachers can’t help but thrive with a motivating, enthusiastic, positive school leader! How would your teachers describe you?
We know that teaching is hard and that great teachers have options. Many choose where to teach based on the leader. In her article, “What Makes a Great School Leader?” transformational leadership coach and author Elena Aguliar identifies three qualities that she feels are indicative of a great school leader:
· Visionary Leadership
· Community Building
· Emotional Intelligence