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.      
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