Thursday, December 29, 2011

My Take On Wrapping Up 2011 And Looking Ahead To 20112

Last year, I wrote a number of posts near the end of the year heralding the usual thoughts.  Those included some predicted ins and outs, my favorite posts from 2010, and a list of blogging and social networking goals for 2011.

As for those posts, some ins are more common, some of my favorite posts have been read by more people, and I simply destroyed my blogging and social networking goals.  That leads me to this year and how to wrap up a great 2011 while looking ahead to 2012.

I have decided to change my approach, somewhat, and pass on making any predictions.  Mostly because I have little control over their becoming true , but also because after doing so last year, I had little time or interest in tracking how well my predictions were going.  This year - no predictions.

Also, I am not going to set any blogging or social networking goals.  Last year, I was interested in increasing the numbers of posts and followers.  This year, those numbers are not as important to me as what I AM going to do.

I am making commitments.

Blogging Commitments:  I commit myself to sharing quality content with each post.  Realizing that content may be in the eye of the beholder, I am also committing to more active searches for guest contributors who can enhance the experience of the visitors to The Art of Education.

Social Network Commitments:  I am committed to sharing great content I find from the various feeds, tweets, and emails I receive.  In addition, I am committed to helping like minded educators make the professional connections they need in order to advance their professional learning networks.

I also have a few personal/professional ideas that I will explore in 2011.  Some of these ideas include:


Last, but not least, I ask you to consider joining me to help support a worthy cause - St. Jude's Research Hospital.  Between now and the end of January, 2012, I will donate $1 US for every copy of either of my two eBooks purchased.  You can find additional information about this offer by clicking here or you can simply click on either book cover above to purchase that title.

As of the writing of this post, 5 copies have been purchased.  My goal is 100, but we still have over a month to go.  PLEASE consider this cause and, if comfortable, send this request to your friends.

Thank you very much for a wonderful 2011.  

I hope to hear from you in 2012.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

User Friendly Educators

Image found at  
Last July, I published a post in which I defined the various components of what I called the "Open House Culture" in schools.  Since writing that post, the Open House Culture concept has become the subject of one of my eBook projects as well as an upcoming faculty presentation.  As such, I have been reflecting on the concept of an Open House Culture and refining/expanding some of my initial thoughts.
In that post, I suggested a brief definition for all five components.  One of those five is "Friendly," which was described as:
If you genuinely like being an educator, let everyone know from the first impression (if you do not, find another line of work).  Smile.  Produce more “happy endorphins.”  Dress professionally and/or appropriately.  Greet everyone with an implied invitation to engage rather than to “get this over with.”
While I am happy with my initial idea of Friendly, I want to expand the idea somewhat to include a different type of Friendly that educators should work towards - "user friendly."

Ease of use is such a powerful characteristic today that almost all of use make multiple decisions each day mainly based on how user friendly the choices are.  Sure, once in a while we choose a less friendly choice, but this usually only happens when we notice either an immediate or significant benefit to NOT choosing the user friendly option.

For example, you may choose to take a longer route to work (assuming you are not running late) because the view is outstanding and puts you in a much calmer state of mind than navigating the highway.

I often wonder if educators spend enough time examining their practices to determine if those practices are as user friendly as they should be.  In other words, are you inadvertently making the use of your class much harder than it needs to be and if so, is there a immediate and recognizable benefit to doing so?

I am NOT talking about lowering standards or making the course "easy."  I AM, however, talking about the interface, the instructions, the feedback loop, etc.

Have you examined these for ease of use?

  • How "hard" is it for a student to receive clarification on an assignment?
  • How available are you to help outside of class?
  • Do your instructions come in multiple forms and include visual prompts?
  • Do you use technology to aid in ease of use (post assignments online, accept papers electronically, maintain communication with parents and students about progress and grades, etc.)?

Here's the hard part.

What we often view as user friendly changes when something easier is introduced.  In other words, what was once "user friendly" may not be user friendly any more.

Using a copy machine was easier than printing multiple copies and collating myself.  Now the idea of user a copy machine for almost any function is one of the most unfriendly tasks I can think of in my school.


Because creating and sharing a Google Doc is easier (not to mention quicker, more accessible, and better with which to collaborate).

Being friendly is important for creating an Open House Culture, but do not forget to include user friendly into your thinking.

A Visionary Or A Mirage Spotter?

Pete Turner—The Image Bank/Getty Images 
A vision statement speaks to the preferred future.  If all things were operating at their highest level, the vision describes what is happening.

A mirage is a false vision.  It is the idea of something "good enough to help us survive."

Visions gain value through inspiration.

Mirages get more valuable through desperation.

Visionary leaders motivate others to contribute to and share in the dividends of the preferred future.

Mirage spotters motivate others to save themselves by working towards a false sense of achievement.

What type of educational leaders do you want to be?

What type of leader do you want your students to become?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Buy an eBook (or Two) and Help a Worthy Cause

Here is an offer I hope you will consider this holiday season.

One of the most rewarding experiences of my undergraduate time at Rhodes College was being involved in the philanthropic efforts to support St. Jude's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.

One of the most rewarding aspects of my professional life has been the publishing of my two eBooks, Paying Attention: Thoughts on Communication in Schools and Foundations: Examining Vision, Beliefs, Mission, and Philosophy for Kindle.

Therefore, I thought I would offer the following deal.

Between now and the end of January, for every copy of Paying Attention: Thoughts on Communication in Schools or Foundations: Examining Vision, Beliefs, Mission, and Philosophy bought, I will donate $1 US of my royalties (which are not much more than $1) to St. Jude's Research Hospital.

Paying Attention: Thoughts on Communication in Schools is priced at only $0.99 US and Foundations: Examining Vision, Beliefs, Mission, and Philosophy is only $2.99 US.

If you would like to read more about why donating to St. Jude's is a good idea, please click here.

Of course, the goal is to raise some money for a worthy cause.  If you want to skip the buying of the books and  donate directly to St. Jude's, please click here.

To start, I am including a screen shot of my sales report for the most current period.  At the end of January, I will take another screen shot and post that as well.  In addition, I will also include a picture of my receipt confirming my donation (just to make sure you all know I am not attempting to scam anyone).

Sales report 12/21/2011

Thank you for considering this worthy cause.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

You Have Permission

"Permission" by Hugh MacLeod found at Hugh MacLeod's gapingvoid
Have you ever wanted to shake things up in your classroom?  Try a new way to communicate with students?  Introduce or deliver a lesson?  Assess student learning and growth?

Have you tried any of those ideas?


Why not?  And don't say it is because you don't have permission, because you do.

Permission is granted by those who matter most - your students.

Yes, they want you to try new things.  They need you to show them that it is 'ok' to be creative, innovative, willing to risk failure for outcomes worth realizing, like changing the world.

Modelling fear is a sure way to graduate drones.  We have enough drones.  We need more leaders, thinkers, producers, and problem solvers.

Would you be more willing to take a chance if you had a safety net?  Guess what, there are no guarantees.  Your idea may flop.  You may need to try over and over again until you get it just right - then try something else.

On the other hand, you are not alone and being brave is often easier when you are in group.  You're in luck.  There are plenty of such groups.  Its members are every other educator who is also trying to change the world.  It's not hard to find them.  They hang out in Twitter chats, write blogs, attend and present at conferences, publish their own books, etc.

Members of this group are eager to meet others with whom to share their passions, ideas, fears, successes, and failures.  They need you to join them.  Not just to justify their own ideas, but to encourage you to continue to pursue yours.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Round Up the Usual Suspects

You can probably reflect on your career in education and list the administrators and leaders you felt were most effective and least effective.  While there are many reasons why, I suspect much of your opinion rests in how these leaders handled adversity and failure.

There are those that ignored it and moved on as if nothing happened.  Not effective, no learning, likely to repeat the same mistake again...and soon.

There are those that accepted what happened, but used it as a learning experience.  Likely effective because in their sincere quest to make improvements, they demonstrated a willingness to serve their mission and model collaboration and growth.

The third group is the one I worried most about.  These are the ones that claimed they wanted to know why things aren't working, but are not as interested in truly learning as much as trying to save their egos and positions.  As operations begin to take an undesirable turn, they quickly "round up the usual suspects" to deflect responsibility.

In Casablanca, rounding up the usual suspects may have led to the "beginning of a beautiful friendship."  When it comes to school leadership, it usually means someone may be more interested in preserving the status quo.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Being an Educator: "Like" It or "Love" It

When you "like" something, you typically enjoy it, but can take or or leave it.  When it is missing, the "liked" item is can often be easily replaced with a new "like."

Loving something is different.

Love is an investment.  You pay a price for it, but the benefits are worth the price - and then some.  We miss what we love.  They are not easily replaced.  When they are gone, there is a void.

I'm glad there is no "love" option on Facebook.  I "like" it just fine.

Now comes the holiday break for schools.  As with summer break, I hear many people express how much they can't wait for the break.  I hope it is because they need a much deserved re-charge, not because they want to get away from the work.

Maybe I am unusual in my thinking, but I love being in school.  Not the same way I love my family, but when I am out for an extended time, I feel it.  Sure, I like to get away and re-charge my batteries as much as the next person, but I never have the desire to express how eager I am for school to close.

I truly miss the opportunity to support the faculty, fellow administrators, students, and families.  I miss engaging with those who inspire, challenge, and stimulate my thinking.

I miss inspiring, challenging, and stimulating them as well.

Breaks are necessary.  They can be a great source of rejuvenation.

I "like" breaks.

I "love" being an educator.

Who Needs To Be Made Whole?

School leaders are often called upon to help mend and re-establish positive relationships.  These relationships can be student:student. student:teacher, teacher:teacher, teacher:parent, etc.

What is difficult is knowing exactly what needs to be done in order to set the relationship back on the right track.  More often than not, something happened to damage the relationship and someone needs to be "made whole again."

One key to successfully navigating these situations is to listen carefully at what each party is saying in order to determine exactly who needs to be made whole and how.

Here is an example:

  • A High School teacher suspects cheating on a test and follows the school procedure for looking into the matter (uses discretion with the student, contacts the Dean and Division Head, awaits the administrative decision before taking any further action).
  • The student is cleared of any wrong doing.
  • The teacher is informed of the decision and accepts it.
  • The Dean of Students is contacted by the student's parents.
  • The parents are upset that the teacher would suspect their child of cheating and demand an apology from the teacher to the student.
What can the teacher, who did nothing wrong, do?  Let's probe a little deeper to form a plan to satisfy all parties (including the teacher who shouldn't have to apologize for fulfilling her obligation to the mission of the school).  Here are a few questions to consider.
  • Why do the parents want an apology?
  • Has the student expressed hurt feelings?  Does the student feel he was wronged?
  • Do the parents perceive the situation as a judgment against them?  In other words, did suspecting their child of cheating hurt THEIR feelings and thus are looking for an apology for THEM?
  • Is the student embarrassed by the situation and feels unable to communicate directly to the teacher?
A reasonable plan for the teacher can address all of these items.  Here is a suggestion that can help everyone get "back to whole."

  • The teacher should call or, even better, meet with the parents to discuss the situation and to emphasize that the teacher still maintains a high opinion of the student.  The Dean of Students (and possibly the Division Head) should probably also be invited to sit in.  This is particularly important for the Dean because she was contacted by the parents to begin with.
  • The teacher should also meet with the student to review what happened and communicate that, as far as the teacher is concerned, the matter is over.  Asking the student how to repair the relationship is also important.  The student may not have an answer ready, so be prepared to offer more specific questions such as, "What can I do to demonstrate my confidence in you?" or "In what ways can I show you that I still have a high opinion of you in class?"
In almost any situation involving hurt feelings or a perception of negative judgement (nobody ever voices opposition to compliments), it is important to recognize the feelings and work towards an understanding and resolution that satisfies ALL parties.  Sometimes that resolution requires work to be done over time.  Others are more effective because they do not require a long term plan.

Either way, figuring our who exactly needs to be made whole and how to address the needs of each person involved is likely to produce a desirable outcome.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Is It Better To Stay Too Long Or Leave To Soon?

RenĂ© Magritte, Coming and Going by Duane Michals, 1965
Of course, most of us want to arrive at just the right time and leave at the most optimal moment.  Unfortunately, it is rare that such perfect timing occur.

School leaders face a similar issue.  Is it too late to initiate ideas others have been using?  How would it look to "arrive" at that particular educational "party" at this point?  Should you wait for the next "invitation?"

On the flip side, your school is already immersed in an initiative.  Are there signs that that "party" is slowing down?  Should you move on while things are still going fairly well or risk being the awkward "last person in the room?"

The party scenario highlights a real issue with many school leaders.  Mostly, it is about change.  When to talk about it, when to do it, is the timing right, did we make a mistake before, is this new idea the best one, ... the list goes on.

Here are a few suggestions:

Change for the sake of change is rarely a good idea.  There MUST be more substance to it or you will struggle to achieve buy-in.  This is the equivalent to making up some lame excuse to leave the party.  Nobody really believes you, but is polite enough to go along with it - up to a point.  Once you leave the room, the "party" continues as before.

Measure the need for change against the mission of your school and the expectations of those your school serves.  If you identify areas in which a change in approach would being about better service and more focused attention to mission, assume the change is going to happen and mobilize your team to begin that process.
If it is working for your school, keep doing it, but embrace those who are keeping an eye on future trends.  Sticking with what works is not the problem (see Is Your "Stuff" Broken).  The problem is ignoring or dismissing other potential enhancements because your operations appear to be working well.  Change may not be about an overhaul.  It may simply be finding ways to highlight the good work already being done.

Ultimately, these suggestions bring attention to the need for school leaders to have the authority and ability to make real decisions about the operation of the school.  In other words, if you go to a party as one person in a large group, you are less able to determine when you arrive and when you leave.  If it is just you (and your wife, date, friend, etc.), you have much more influence over those same decisions.

For my friends in public  (and in some cases parochial or other private school networks) school leadership, I often hear the frustration of having to "arrive and leave as a group" play out in various conversations.  Unable, in many ways, to make independent decisions based on the needs of their school, they are forced to "wait around the party" until the group decides it is time to go.

On the other hand, independent schools, that are mostly free to make such decisions, must weigh the potential impact on enrollment and retention against any significant operational change.  While anything may be possible, it certainly isn't always advisable.

Stay too long or leave too soon?

Neither choice may work in every situation.  When faced with such a decision, apply a mission guided and student achievement centered approach to your leadership.  That may be your best chance for a good outcome.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Saying, Doing, And What They Suggest

Image found at
If actions speak louder than words and we are judged more by what we do than what we say, then what does it mean when nothing gets done?  If there is no progress, movement, or any obvious attempt to do so, is there any leadership?

For example:

You are in a group of people who were invited to attend a party.  When you arrive, you and the others are shown into a large waiting room.  There are no instructions, but in the room are three doors.  Each door leads to another room (unknown to the group is that all three doors lead to the party).  You can hear the party going on, but are unsure which door leads to it.
What should you do?  Well, you have choices.
  1. Do nothing and wait for someone from the party to arrive and tell you what to do.
  2. Do nothing and wait for someone in the room with you to try the door(s).
  3. Discuss what to do with others in the room.
  4. Get up and open a door.

I think individual schools are often like the people waiting in the room.  They can hear great things going on around us.  They are aware of the potential impact that making the next step will have.  They know others are doing great things in the "next room."  Their challenge is deciding what to do.  

Some experts on decision making may suggest that because there are multiple options, schools have trouble deciding which one is best and fall back on the default choice - to continue to do what they are doing now (in the example above, that is choice 1).  This is similar to what Dan Ariely implies in Predictably Irrational; that because the decision is important we often cannot decide and therefore are subject to the decision someone else made for us (sit in the room).  This is the same mindset I wrote about in Why Some Resist Tech Integration in School.

At some point, someone needs to get up and try a door.  That person (or group of people) is the leader.  Not just because she took the initiative and risked failure; it is also because taking action caused others to move.  She opens the door, finds the party, and goes in.  Guess what happens?  Others get up and go in with her.

Saying suggests doing.  Once spoken, most people expect a follow up in the form of action.  The risk of saying is losing credibility, unless you actually follow through.

Doing suggests engagement, investment, and the acceptance of judgement that comes along with action.  The risk of doing is learning from the experience, even if the outcome is not exactly what you expected.

Try another door.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Reasons And Excuses: Answering "Why?"


The question is usually asked in relation to one of two contexts.

"Why did we succeed?" or "Why did we fail?"

Answers to both questions should include reasons.  Reasons provide information that can be used in the future to either succeed again or avoid failure.  Reasons are shared.  Reasons provide lessons.  Reasons make us better.

Only one of the two questions ever gets excuses - "Why did we fail?"

Excuses try to cover up reasons.  Excuses are selfish.  Excuses attempt to share (or deflect) blame.  The only thin learned form excuses is to avoid teaming up with the excuse maker.

Failure is not the enemy.  Allowing excuses to satisfy failure is.

Ask "Why?" five times.  Get five reasons.  Clarify your mission, define your core values, develop your mantra.

Ask "Why?" five times.  Get five excuses.  Update your resume.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Doing The Heavy Lifting

As a school leader, one of your roles (by the way, it is not specifically listed in your job description) is to be a scale.

Didn't you know that?

Well, it is true.  You are a scale.  You need to measure things.  Specifically, you need to weigh projects to determine how heavy they are.


Because you are also the person who is likely responsible for assigning those projects to someone (or some team) to deliver results.

Here's the challenge.  Is your "scale" calibrated?  How accurate is it?  A scale that doesn't measure accurately isn't very helpful.

Let us assume your scale is accurately measuring the weight of your school projects.  Now what?

"Light Lifting" 

"Light" projects are those that should not present a problem to just about anyone on your team.  Successful completion does not require any major use of energy or necessitate any specialized skill set.  For example, let's say you need someone to monitor a study hall.  Just about anyone can be present in a room and supervise students for a brief period.  That would be an example of "light lifting."  No particular level of "strength" needed to successfully complete that task.

I think it is important to point out that "lighter" projects may not be less important.  Using my example, if nobody supervised study hall there is potential for huge problems.  Just because the task is light, doesn't mean unimportant.

"Heavy Lifting"

 These tasks are more involved.  They require more insight, specialization, experience, etc. for successful completion.  The heavier the task, the stronger the "lifter" needs to be.  In other words, you should assign your stronger team members to the heavier projects.  Heavy projects also require more involvement.

Using the lifting metaphor, heavy projects should also have "spotters" set up to help.  One of those spotters should be YOU.  As the leader, you need to support those projects and have a stake in their success.

Do not turn away form the heavy lifting!  Be there to support the team's efforts.

How To "Get Stronger"

Now, a question you may have is, "If my stronger team members are the only ones doing 'heavy' work, how do the others get stronger?"

This question is a good one because, as with working out, the only way to get stronger is to gradually add more weight.

That is exactly the same approach in building your team members' strengths.

Look for ways to include your "weaker" members in heavy tasks by asking your "stronger" members to mentor, coach, and guide them with heavier work.

A note of caution:  Always be aware of signs of fatigue.  ALL team members will get tired.  Even your stronger individuals eventually wear down.  Be prepared to "stop the lifting" for a while to celebrate success and allow people to re-energize.

And of course, keep your back straight and lift with the legs!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

How Many Times...?

School leadership and administration implies an acceptance of responsibility.  Most, if not all, of you probably agree with that.  The challenge is normally not the responsibility, but the frustration that creeps in when you are disappointed over the lack of progress in addressing those responsibilities.  Making matters worse is that in many situations, your leadership/administrative responsibilities are very closely tied to the work of others.

How do you know if frustration is creeping in?  Simple test:  Do you find yourself saying or thinking questions that begin with:

"How many times do I (we) need to...?"

If you are thinking or saying questions like this, you are probably feeling the frustration, and your progress towards fulfilling your responsibilities is likely being delayed by someone else not having their part done on time or at an acceptable level.

This frustration is no secret.  As a matter of fact, it is a big reason why many educators stay away from formal leadership/administrative roles.

So, what is the answer?  How many times do you need to (fill in the blank)?

The answer is very important.  Accept i,t and you have a god chance of maintaining your sanity and  being an effective school leader for years to come.  Reject it, and I predict you will soon burn out and look to vacate your role.

The answer is...

If it truly matters, as many times as it takes.  If it doesn't matter, let it go.

If it matters, try this to ease your frustration.  Normally, any action is better than no action.  So you taking steps to help, may benefit you as much as the other person:
  • Ask the other person to explain their difficulty.
  • Is their part clear?
  • Is it a matter of lack of skill or refusal to do the work?
  • Does the person need training or coaching?
  • What are the roadblock and can you remove them so the work can get done?
  • Is this a temporary situation or is this an on-going problem?
  • Provide examples of others doing their part (a little peer pressure sometimes helps)
If the matter doesn't matter, review the process for addressing the larger responsibility.  You may find that the system for addressing the responsibility can be streamlined or adjusted to help you get it done, while releasing others the burden of an unnecessary task.

Ultimately, what matters is that the work that truly counts gets done well.  Often we get caught up in non-essential functions that take time and energy away from what really deserves our attention.

If you begin to feel the frustration, remember the answer and decide if the underlying issue truly matters.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

What It Feels Like To Be 20 Again

Today, I turn 40.

Despite some ego bruising for never making any "Top 40 Under 40" lists, I think I have navigated these past 40 years fairly well.  I think it is natural to look back and reflect on life when you come up on a cultural milestone like turning 40, but I would rather take this opportunity to express what I feel as I turn "20 again."

I feel...

  • fortunate to have been raised by loving parents and among wonderful siblings.
  • lucky that both of my parents are still around to talk to.
  • blessed to have a beautiful and supportive family of my own.
  • honored to have made so many good friends.
  • excited to enter this phase of life - both personally and professionally.
  • overwhelmed by the positive response to my writing and blogging.
  • energized by the prospect of developing my ideas and seeking opportunities to contribute to the professional learning of other educators.
  • tremendous satisfaction for the efforts of all the students I have taught over the years.
Thank you for your continued support of my work and this blog.  I hope to continue to provide relevant and quality content for years to come.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Are We In Control Of Our Own Decisions?

Earlier this year, I read Dan Ariely's Predictably Irrational.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend it to anyone looking for a good read about behavioral economics.

In preparing for a school presentation, I came across this video of Dan talking briefly about many of the topics in the book.


Monday, November 28, 2011

Professional Learning Opportunity: An Invitation To Explore Your Foundations

My experiences with professional learning opportunities have taught me a few things.
  1. The more personal the experience, the better.
  2. Recyclable experiences (those that can be used multiple times) present deeper opportunities.
  3. Expensive does NOT equal value.
  4. The easier it is to share the "lesson", the better chance of the experience being transformative.
This is why I have really come to appreciate reading short eBooks and reflecting on their content.  Generally, these eBooks can be read in one sitting, prompt you to reflect on the message, and make it simple to return to the source multiple times as needed.  Oh by the way, they are also inexpensive and easy to recommend and share.

As recently announced, my new eBook, Foundations: Examining Vision, Beliefs, Mission, and Philosophy, is now available for Kindle on

Every effective leader makes decisions and takes action based upon a set of foundations. In Foundations: Examining Vision, Beliefs, Mission, and Philosophy, I explore these foundations: vision, beliefs, mission, and philosophy.

Written for school leaders, but applicable to anyone in a leadership position, Foundations encourages readers to reflect on their own foundations and provides easy to follow prompts to help leaders refine and articulate their own set of foundations.

At only $2.99,  Foundations is worthy of consideration for any current or aspiring school leader.  The topics also make for potentially powerful conversations among your teachers.  In addition, with the release of Foundations, the price of my previous eBook, Paying Attention: Thoughts on Communication in Schools has been reduced to $0.99.

You have many choices in how to invest your time and resources for professional learning.  I would be honored to have you consider my eBooks as a part of your professional learning plan.

If you have any feedback on my eBooks or would like to simply discuss the topics covered in the eBooks or  this blog, please contact me at

Thank you for indulging me in some self-promotion.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Coming Soon! Foundations: Examining Vision, Beliefs, Mission, and Philosophy

In a recent post, School Leadership In Layers: From Buy In To Results,  I introduce vision, beliefs, mission, and philosophy as the four foundations upon which leadership is built.

These four foundations are the subject of my soon to be published ebook, Foundations: Examining Vision, Beliefs, Mission, and Philosophy.

Foundations is a short book (about 40 pages).  It is short for a few reasons.

First, the topics in Foundations can be quite personal and should develop accordingly.  I am not trying to give you answers, only prompt your thinking about your vision, beliefs, mission, and philosophy of education and leadership.  The brevity of the material presented is intended to provide you enough information to entice you to reflect on your own.

Second, I wanted to provide a resource that you can read in one setting and re-read as needed.

Third, feedback from my other writing has shown that many readers appreciate shorter pieces that are to the point and easy to comprehend.

Finally, my goal with Foundations was never to write my magnum opus.  Rather, I wanted to share my thoughts about developing and articulating your school leadership foundations in an easy to read format.

Like rich gourmet chocolate, I hope you find Foundations’ bite-sized portion of knowledge easy to digest and enticing enough for you to revisit often.

I anticipate having Foundations published and available for Kindle by Monday, November 28th.  Once it is available, I will make a formal announcement here.

In addition, to celebrate the publishing of Foundations, my first ebook, Paying Attention: Thoughts On Communication In Schools will go on sale for only .99!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Things School Administrators Should Say Daily (But Usually Don't)

School administrators say plenty (and hopefully DO plenty - see "walk the talk").  Some administrators like to talk because they seem to like to hear themselves - all the time.  Some, like me, enjoy talking as much as the next person, but tend to choose our words more carefully.  Thus, we may not speak as frequently, but are just as effective.

Either way, there are certain messages that should be communicated daily.

Whether you like to improvise or stick to the script, here are a few things that school administrators should say daily.

  • Good morning.
  • What are you learning (teaching) today?
  • How is your day (week, semester, year, etc.) going?
  • How can I help?
  • How is (insert project, plan, new initiative, etc.) working?
  • What do you want to do?
  • What does that look like at this school (share your vision)?
  • Is there a more effective and/or more efficient way to accomplish our mission?
  • What have you done today to be a better student (teacher, administrator, etc.)?
  • What have you done today to help someone else be a better student (teacher, administrator, etc.)?
  • Keep up the great work.
  • I appreciate all you do.
  • I'm sorry.
  • Thank you.
  • I'll see you tomorrow.
Note:  You will recognize that many of the items above are questions rather than statements.  That is a result of my belief in administrators asking many questions to engage in the life of the school, to demonstrate genuine interest in teaching and learning, and gather feedback on the school environment.

Also, if you notice that you are asking some of the questions to yourself, it is NOT a sign that you are going crazy.  Rather, you are simply reflecting on your own practice.

Feel free to add your own statements or questions by leaving a comment.

Monday, November 21, 2011

4 Tips (+1) For Writing Great Student Comments

For many teachers, writing student comments for report cards or mid-term reports can be one of the most time consuming and stressful parts of the evaluation process.

Here are a few tips that will help you write good useful comments.

  1. Use ACTIVE language.  For example: Avoid statements like, "Billy had been doing his work daily..." Instead, try "Billy did his homework daily..."
  2. Focus on GROWTH.  The grade is (or should be) obvious on the report.  Therefore, writing a comment that solely speaks of the grade is, in many cases, redundant.  Instead, focus on what the grade implies: effort and growth.
  3. If you need to deliver difficult news, try to lead the comment with something positive and end with my 4th tip.
  4. Include what YOU WILL DO to help the student over the course of the next school term.  Often comments focus on what the student must do, but do not tell how the teacher is going to support those efforts.
Bonus tip related to #3:

If you know a student has done particularly bad and the news is not good, reach out to the parent(s) ahead of the report and begin the discussion.  Also, inform your administrator about the news so she can prepare to support your efforts as well.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Essence of Education?

I am in the process of finishing my new ebook, Foundations, when I came across an old handout from graduate school which served as a guide for students to write a statement of educational philosophy.  One of the items asks students to decide what they believed the "essence of education" is.

The choices ranged from:

  • choice
  • knowledge
  • skills
  • growth
  • reason
  • intuition
It is unclear, but I believe the handout was taken from a piece written by Patricia Jerson (1972) titled "What Is Your EP: A Test Which Identifies Your Educational Philosophy"

Since 1972, the world has changed a little (insert chuckle here).  Therefore, I ask if there needs to be any additions to those choices above.  I'm not sure any of them need to be removed, but what could possibly need to be added into the mix?  Here are a few ideas.
  • creativity
  • collaboration
  • innovation
  • virtue
Now, let's ask the question (sorry for the pop quiz!):

What is the essence of education?  Choose all that apply. (Hint: There is no right or wrong answer)
  • Choice
  • Knowledge
  • Skills
  • Growth
  • Reason
  • Intuition
  • Creativity
  • Collaboration
  • Innovation
  • Virtue
  • All of the above
  • None of the above 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Good Scores in Call of Duty Do Not Make me a Navy SEAL

I spent yesterday at the VAIS (Virginia Association of Independent Schools) Annual Conference which kicked of the day with a keynote speech from Dr. Jane McGonigal, author of Reality Is Broken: How Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change The World.  Many of my friends and connections rave about Dr. McGonigal's work, so I went into the event wanting to hear something that challenged my thinking and inspired me to a new outlook for education.

Full disclosure: I haven't read her book and only know what I hear from friends and from the address yesterday.

In all honestly, I was not terribly moved by anything I heard.  It may not be fair, but from the start, I was less than enchanted with the presentation.  For starters, she wasn't even at the event!  Her address was Skyped in from California (I believe).  I don't have anything against video conferencing, but the experience did not have the best first impression.

Second, I kept wondering, "What significant role does she see gaming filling that is not being filled now?"  Is this purely an argument centered around attention spans and that kids generally like playing video games and not being in school?  No big surprises there.

Dr. McGonigal's book is a best seller (mine isn't), so I don't want to be too critical.  After all, I haven't read it, but based solely on what I heard yesterday, I am no more convinced that gaming will or should become a major aspect of education than I was when I entered the conference.

Related to these thoughts - I just finished reading a great short ebook by Chip and Dan Heath, The Myth of the Garage.  Chip and Dan are the authors of Made to Stick and Switch (both highly recommended).

 The Myth of the Garage is currently available FREE for Amazon Kindle.

One of the pieces in The Myth of the Garage is an article exploring why some technological innovations last and others don't.  The Heath brothers use, as examples, why Google and the iPod succeeded while Second Life and the Segway haven't even come close to making the impact they were being predicted to make.  The basic suggestion posed by the authors was, "What job are you looking to employ that item to fill?"  While it is impossible to predict the future with 100% accuracy, viewing ideas through this lens appears to have some merit.

Google is hired to provide free, fast, and mostly accurate internet searches (among other things).  The iPod is hired to provide easy, on  the go access to our music collections.

The Segway asks you to pay $5000 for as a "walk-accelerator" (though the authors do admit it has a nice part time job working with tourists).  Second Life has no real "labor skills" but does have a "fascinating resume."

Now, let's go back to the gaming issue presented passionately by Dr. McGonigal.

What "job" would gaming do in education?  For what position would we "hire" video games?

I am all for using various tools to inspire, motive, and build collaboration and creativity.  I agree that video games can help perform those functions.  I am, however, less willing at this time to claim that gaming will be the "game changer" in education that I heard it being predicted (or claimed) to be.  That is not to say that it may not be someday, I just don't see it now.

As with any idea with merit, such as using gaming in education, time and use will predict its impact.  The question posed above about hiring gaming, if nothing else, may help us avoid some over-optimism.  After all, aren't we also being told to limit screen time as a "research backed" recommendation by doctors?

I enjoy gaming as much as the next person.  As a matter of fact, I own 2 gaming systems (I also have 2 children - you figure it out).  I do agree that gaming can be used to engage students in a way no other method can.

I also believe that students understand that gaming is NOT reality.  School IS reality.  Test scores ARE reality.  Part of the lure of gaming is the immersion into a different world with different rules.  It is an escape from reality.  I don;t want students to "escape" the reality of education.

You may get good scores playing Call of Duty, but that doesn't make you a Navy SEAL.  

Friday, November 11, 2011

Line In The Sand or Concrete?

As a school leader, you will experience a situation in which someone refuses to buy in and contribute to a project.  This decision to "draw the line" may not matter and your project continues anyway.  On the other hand, the person refusing to move may actually halt progress.

In these situations, it is best to determine whether the line was "drawn in sand or concrete."

Lines in the sand are easily erased.  They can be covered up and usually disappear by morning.  People who draw the line in sand also tend to underestimate how far the "tide" of colleagues' opinions will reach.  Because of this, their line gets erased without their needing to be the one who did it.

Lines drawn in concrete are another matter.

If still "wet" the line can be removed or smoothed over, but not as easily as in sand.  Quick action is needed here because once the concrete dries, the line is staying.  There is only one way to remove a line that has set in concrete.  You need to break up it up and start over with new concrete.

Lines drawn in concrete cost more.

Effective leaders quickly determine in which substance lines are drawn and work to move (or remove) them as the case may be.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Looking For Followers? Start With One

Image found at
You have an idea for your school and you are trying to build a following for it.

Consider this approach.

Start with employing your idea to make a positive impact on one person.

Even if you believe your idea has potential to make significant changes on the school as a whole, starting with one person helps build momentum, encourages referrals, and gives you field support for your idea.

Similar to building your social network, if you begin with one person and deliver good content, ideas, or support, the followers will appear.

Great ideas that can potentially make large scale changes are sometimes find themselves in perpetual planning due to the overwhelming pressure to live up to its potential right away.  

One person with a great idea needs to organize others to share and support that idea in order to make large scale impacts, but one person with a great idea can make a positive impact on one other person.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

School Leadership In Layers: From Buy In to Results

All leaders, including educational leaders, work to get others to follow their lead.  They work to get others to buy in. After reading a post by Lisa Petrilli about getting others to follow your lead and participating in the Twitter  #leadershipchat concerning the same topic, I offer the following observations for educational leaders.

Foundations of Leadership
Any decision to take on a leadership role requires you to develop the foundations from which your leadership is built.  Solid foundations are more likely to support more followers.  Poor foundations may encourage your followers will leave before your "house" comes crashing down (or they get caught in the crash).  I suggest four equally important and interconnected foundations for effective leadership.  These are:
  1. Vision
  2. Beliefs
  3. Mission
  4. Philosophy
These foundations support your decisions and actions.  Your decisions and actions as a leader are the outward examples of your foundations.  The foundations are what we want people to buy into, but just having solid foundations isn't enough.  To nurture followers, your approach to interacting with potential followers is critical.  Well written statements and passionate presentations may get people's attention, but your approach to interacting with potential followers seizes upon that attention and inspires others to share in your foundations.  Your interactions with others will determine whether or not your foundations are worthy of followers.

Therefore, the next layer of work needed to gain followers and achieve buy in is actually a set of qualities that guide how you interact with others.  These qualities are the same ones I wrote about in describing an Open House Culture:
  • Friendly
  • Trustworthy and Reliable
  • Responsive
  • Interactive
Taking an approach that incorporates these qualities will create safe and welcoming conditions for followers to begin "buying in."  Even those who are somewhat skeptical may at least test the water because the relationship being developed is the focus - not necessarily the work to be done.

Finally, after having solid foundations and adopting an "Open House" approach to your interactions, you need to address the final piece.


Effective leaders, ultimately, get results.  They move the school forward.  They elevate the culture and expectations of the community.  They make a positive difference.  They define success in specific terms and are constantly looking out for evidence of that success.

Once found, leaders celebrate success, recognize the efforts of those involved, and reward the risk takers who made a difference.

Nurturing a culture of success (as opposed to a culture of disappointment) motivates followers to seek out their next challenge and apply the foundations they now share towards making a positive difference.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Who We Are and What We Do

Image found at:
We like to think that we define people by who they are, but we often define who they are by what they do. This is even more the case when the "doing" takes place in a public setting.

 If you look at a group of students in class, at assembly, or during lunch, what do you see?

She's a cheerleader.
He's a football player.
She's an actor.
He's a musician.

Unfortunately, some people have equally important qualities that  they work hard to keep private.

She also volunteers at the local food bank on weekends.
He tutors his neighbor's son in math.
She keeps up with her chores around the house.
He is also writing a book in his spare time.

As a school leader or administrator, how do you define your teachers?  What do you see?  Not just during your formal observations, but in all areas?

Are there any qualities that you know of that are less public and would benefit others if others were also aware of them?

Sometimes, your most important work as a school leader is to support teachers who are doing great things become more comfortable sharing those qualities in a more public forum.

As a school leader, that type of support may be the quality least known about you.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Vision Killers

I am close to the end of writing my next Kindle book.  The working title is, Foundations: Examining Vision, Beliefs, Mission, and Philosophy.  In it, I define a few "vision killers" that leaders need to look out for when developing their vision.

Here is an excerpt form the book in which I describe vision killers.  Be aware of them as you reflect on your own vision of schools.

Traditions that impede progress
Traditions are fertile ground to harness symbolic leadership, but can also act to slow progress.  When misinterpreted, traditions act as a convenient excuse to stop forward progress.  Be alert to when tradition is used to stop progress as opposed to celebrate success. 

Fear of scorn
Success breeds success, but it also brings out the worst in some people, especially those who are envious of your success.  It is unfortunate, but strong visions can illicit strong responses from those who feel threatened by your vision. 

If your vision is being challenged by assumptions and impressions that cannot be backed up by facts or firsthand observation, you may be working against stereotypes.  Work to disprove the stereotype by demonstrating where and how the stereotype is baseless.   Also, make up your own mind and satisfy any concerns you have by engaging with your audience to judge the validity of the claims. 

Limited thinking
Limited and short-term thinking can attack a vision, especially during difficult times and during conflict.  Your desire to ease the pain and get past the challenge of the day encourages you to possibly abandon the long-term vision of a preferred future and replace it with the comfort of short-term immediate gratification.  Be careful not to confuse addressing immediate issues with compromising a compelling vision for the future.
Once Foundations is published, I will make an announcement here.  As with my other book, Paying Attention, Foundations is an easy and quick to read guide written with three guiding principles: share some insights I have gathered, prompt the reader to reflect on her own practice, and provide ideas from which the reader may use to improve their practice.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Considering School Administration? Advice and Suggestions

If you are among the many educators considering a move into administration, here are a few things for you to consider.
  • The idea that you are still "one of the teachers" will change.  That's not to say you cannot maintain relationships, but eventually you will notice a change in how you are perceived.
  • You now have to make tough decisions, which can make you feel quite alone and anxious at times.  This happens to even the most collaborative and transparent leader.  You can delegate authority, but not responsibility.
  • You will never see it all.  The saying, "I've seen it all" will not apply.
  • Your personal metric for success may need to change.  As an administrator, you will be more removed from the classroom.  Measuring your success purely in terms of student success only speaks to part of your work.  Find the areas you have a direct line of impact and define your success there also.  What do you need to see from teachers that speaks to your leadership effectiveness?
  • I hope you like solving problems (and helping others solve problems) because much of your time is spent doing just that.  Not ever issue is a grave one, but if you are not actively looking for solutions, you are probably observing operations so you can anticipate future needs and getting out in front of those items.
One final note.  If you think you could be a good administrator, go talk to one you are comfortable with about their work.  The better school leaders are eager to help other educators become future school leaders.

If you are a new administrator, feel free to write a comment about things that you observe about your work that you were not expecting.

Of course, if you are considering administration or are a new administrator, feel free to contact me for any advice or to throw some ideas at someone who will listen.      

Monday, October 31, 2011

Independent Schools And Job Satisfaction: Reports Suggest Difference With Other Nonprofits

A recent article in The Chronicle of Philanthropy highlights the findings from two reports concerning a rise in job dissatisfaction among nonprofit employees.

Among the findings:
  • 70% of those surveyed said their work was either disappointing or somewhat fulfilling.
  • 25% said they were considering looking for a job outside of the nonprofit arena.
  • 40% said that the factors they ranked as most essential are not on display at their nonprofits:—“respect, trust, and support by management” as well as a sense that their organization has “a compelling mission.”
  • About 50% said they felt recognition and reward for their hard work and outstanding performance were essential.
  • 60% of workers in Washington and 65% in New York said hard work was not valued at their organization.
  • Pay cuts that many nonprofit workers have taken may be exacting a cost in employee satisfaction: About 50% of the workers in both surveys said a salary reduction would be a reason to leave and a more important motivation for departure than a change in work expectations or job description.
Compare this current (2011) report with another report on nonprofit employee satisfaction from 2002.  It was also featured in The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Among the findings in 2002:
  • 75% of respondents reported that they are at least "somewhat satisfied" with their salaries and 83% said the same about their benefits.
  • 73%  surveyed strongly or somewhat agreed with the statement that it is easy to burn out in their jobs, and the same percentage strongly or somewhat agreed that they always have too much work to do.
  • 44% of nonprofit workers said their organizations do not do a good job of disciplining poor performers, although this finding compared favorably with the 53% of for-profit workers and 67% of government workers who told researchers the same thing.
What can independent school leaders take away from these reports?  As nonprofit educational institutions, are there any lessons to be learned from these reports?

That answer may not be so clear.  

A report by the NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) originally published by NAIS President Pat Bassett on July 25, 2004, but updated on January 12, 2011, suggests a much different picture about job satisfaction among independent school teachers than the rest of the nonprofit world.  The NAIS report speaks of satisfaction:
Recent research on independent school teachers indicates that 84% were very satisfied with their teaching jobs and 90% planned to continue teaching, a much higher satisfaction rate that in the general working population, and significantly higher than the satisfaction levels at other kinds of schools. On a scale of 1 to 5 (1 = not comfortable and 5 = very comfortable), independent school teachers in the study indicated extraordinarily high comfort levels with the subjects they teach (4.74) and the students they teach (4.73). They indicated equally high scores on various litmus-test satisfaction questions: looking forward to work each day (4.36); teaching career as having more advantages than disadvantages (4.49); becoming a teacher again if they had the chance to start all over (3.95); and having a high level of influence on designing curricula (89%).1 Whereas teacher attrition in other types of schools tends to be high, especially in the first three years, it is quite low in independent schools.
It would appear that, to paraphrase Tip O'Neill's take on politics, "all job satisfaction is local."  I also recognize that the three reports above were not using a consistent survey instrument and comparing results from such reports is not scientific.

On the other hand, if you take the reports at face value, independent school leaders create and preserve environments that respect the value of each employee, provide opportunities for teachers to carry out the mission of the school

  • Compelling missions are attractive to potential independent school teachers.  As a school leader, you  need to constantly work to help teachers take the mission from the frame on your wall and put it into action on a daily basis.
  • Teachers who are not demonstrating a commitment to your school's mission either need to be engaged and guided back to the mission or counseled off of your staff.
  • Revisiting teacher compensation needs to be a consistent part of your operations.  Examining the entire package (salary and benefits) for potential support is key.  In tough economic times, considering or reconsidering innovative means to compensate employees is important.
  • Always be looking for opportunities to recognize outstanding efforts by the faculty and staff.
  • Remember to view decisions through a symbolic frame.  Doing so adds value to generally ordinary events.  Establish, respect, and observe your school's traditions and ceremonies.
  • Work to identify your key/core operations, make sure those are properly staffed, and seek out additional support for initiatives that fall outside of those key areas.  This is a great place to nurture your volunteers to help avoid employee burnout.
  • Independent school employees, unlike some other nonprofits, work very close to their intended audience on a daily basis.  It is easier to find satisfaction with your work when you are engaging with your target audience personally.  Teachers work with students and parents every day.  An employee at a large global nonprofit may rarely (if ever) actually work with the audience the organization exists to serve.  When you see first hand how your efforts are making a difference, it is more likely to be satisfied with your work.
As with many reports, there are lessons independent schools can learn from nonacademic organizations.  There also appears to be much other nonprofits can learn from the leadership of independent schools.

  • Provide and support a compelling mission.  Engage your employees in work that matters.
  • Show and tell your employees how much you value their efforts.
  • Nurture a climate that rewards independence and innovation.
  • Work to make sure your employees have as much time working with your intended audience as possible.
  • Use tradition, ceremony, and celebrations to highlight your accomplishments and kick-off new initiatives.
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