Monday, June 25, 2012

District-level leadership that works...

I just started reading "District Leadership That Works: Striking the Right Balance" by Robert Marzano and Timothy Waters. I'm hoping that as I transition into a central office position this book will provide a better understanding of how they operate and ways they can operate more effectively. The book outlines five specific actions in which all district leadership should engage:

1 - Ensuring collaborative goal setting: Effective superintendents include all relevant stakeholders, including central office staff, building-level administrators, and board members, in establishing goals for their districts.

2 - Establishing non-negotiable goals for achievement and instruction: Effective superintendents ensure that the collaborative goal-setting process results in non-negotiable goals (goals that all staff members must act upon) in at least two areas: student achievement and classroom instruction. Effective superintendents set specific achievement targets for schools and students and then ensure the consistent use of research-based instructional strategies in all classrooms to reach those targets.

3 - Creating board alignment with and support of district goals: Districts with high levels of student achievement have a local board of education that is aligned with and supportive of the non-negotiable goals for achievement and instruction. They ensure these goals remain the primary focus of the district's efforts and that no other initiatives detract attention or resources from accomplishing these goals.

4 - Monitoring achievement and instruction: Effective superintendents continually monitor district progress toward achievement and instructional goals to ensure that these goals remain the driving force behind a district's actions.

5 - Allocating resources to support the goals for achievement and instruction: Effective superintendents ensure that the necessary resources including time, money, personnel, and materials, are allocated to accomplish the district's goals. This can mean cutting back on or dropping initiatives that are not aligned with district goals for achievement and instruction.

There are three major findings that are presented in this book:

Finding 1: District-level leadership absolutely matters

Finding 2: Effective superintendents focus their efforts on creating goal-oriented districts

Finding 3: Superintendent tenure is positively correlated with student achievement

**BONUS thought: Building-level administrators excel when working in an environment that supports autonomy. Administrators without autonomy are not as effective when compared to those who have autonomy to meet their building's needs. Marzano describes a concept called "defined autonomy," which is when the superintendent expects all other district administrators to lead within the boundaries defined by the district goals. In other words, building-level administrators have the autonomy of how to achieve the goals and mission outlined by the district and ultimately the superintendent. Thoughts...?

Great online resource and partial summary of the book: School District Leadership That Works

Whatever your current role in education is, what advice do you have for district-level administrators? In your experience, what makes an effective district-level administrator versus an ineffective district-level administrator? What is your definition of the ideal district-level administrator?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Autonomy & freedom vs. directives & mandates...

I was recently part of a discussion surrounding "professionalism" in a leadership capacity via Sam Fancera. In this particular situation, "professionalism" was defined as providing teachers with as much autonomy and freedom as possible while still following district policy, regulations and mandates. The question of professionalism came into play when Sam questioned if anyone had experience in a school where the staff yearned for a leader who is more directive and authoritative, rather than more hands off and supportive.

You might think who in the world would want to work in an environment where directives and mandates ruled the day, but these types of environments do exist. In my experience, I have seen three different scenarios when directives and mandates were favored over autonomy and freedom.

Scenario 1 - Staff members had experienced an environment where their opinions and feedback were not valued or appreciated, thus it was easier for them to simply say, "just tell me what to do and I will do the bare minimum to stay within compliance." In this scenario, ineffective leadership created an environment where autonomy and freedom were non-existent, thus directives and mandates became the norm.

Scenario 2 - Staff members were not interested in thinking for themselves or trying to solve their own problems. It was easier for them to simply ask for directives and mandates because it allowed them to exist while assuming no responsibility for their actions. This type of environment exists when staff members are penalized and reprimanded for taking risks and attempting to do anything more than the status quo. These staff members have been trained to fear autonomy, freedom and risk taking.

Scenario 3 - Staff members are not interested in freedom or autonomy and want directives and mandates for everything for no particular reason. They just want to be told what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. I have found this scenario to be the most uncommon scenario when dealing with educators.

In the first two scenarios I see an underlying cause that stems from ineffective leadership. When school and district leadership value the opinions and feedback of staff members while encouraging and rewarding those who take risks, you won't find many who are not in favor of more autonomy and freedom.

So, in response to Sam's question about "professionalism," I believe strong leadership is key in creating an environment where autonomy and freedom are not only the norm, but they are expected and demanded by all staff members. Just like we do with our students, we need to look for the underlying causes of why someone would act a certain way or think a certain way. As educators, we at least owe that to ourselves...

Friday, June 22, 2012

Great leaders build great teams...

As my career in education continues, I prepare to embark upon a new journey. Starting in a couple weeks I will assume the role of the Director of Curriculum and Support Services in a district of 3,000 in the suburbs of St. Louis, MO. While I absolutely loved my previous position as a building level administrator in Poplar Bluff, MO, I am excited for not only what I can contribute, but also for what I will learn in this new position.

In preparation for this new role, I have begun to speak with district level administrators, as well as building level administrators on the vision and focus of the district. The more and more I speak with others about the direction of the district, the more unique and varied backgrounds and experiences I am coming across. One might think it would be wise to have a centralized group of administrators all with similar backgrounds and experiences, but I would argue that varied backgrounds and experiences will ultimately add more value.

While speaking with one of my new Assistant Superintendents, she made it quite clear that each individual recently appointed in the district (3 new principals, 1 new assistant principal & myself), each of us is to fill a particular piece of the puzzle so to speak. This puzzle has several different departments that at times overlap, and at other times have seemingly nothing to do with each other. This puzzle combines us as a centralized administrative team that must be diverse, nimble, and responsive to the needs of the students in the district.

I am a strong supporter of the theory of "strengths based leadership," and I believe that is what we are trying to achieve. By assembling a team of administrators all with different strengths, experiences, and backgrounds, the district will be better positioned to respond to its needs, as well as be able to bring a richer learning environment to students. Additionally, the wide range of experiences brought to the table by each administrator provide a fantastic learning opportunity for other administrators to learn and grow from their experiences.

Great teams are few and far between, but I believe that's because the premise of building a great team might be flawed. It's so easy to build a team of educators who all think alike and have similar backgrounds and experiences. That is safe. That is comfortable. That is easy. That is too easy...

Great leaders assemble teams and tap into the strengths of the members of the team and openly seek out new members with vast and varied backgrounds. Great teams challenge and push each other while always questioning the status quo. Great leaders are able to build teams that believe and trust in one another, while also having high expectations for each and every member.

Building great teams is not easy, and that is exactly why it is so important...

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Technology is not the answer...

If you know me or follow me on Twitter, you know I am a big advocate of increasing technology in schools. I have said numerous times that we not only need more technology in schools, but also we need more training for educators on how to effectively and appropriately integrate technology into the learning environment. Here is something you probably have not heard me say, technology is not the answer and technology will not solve all of our problems in education...

In my opinion, there are plenty of bright spots in education all across the globe. Is our education system completely broken and in need of replacement, some would say so, but I say no, at least not yet. I think we have a solid foundation in education, albeit with several false premises, but a solid foundation nevertheless.

Think of a house... the foundation is the first part of the construction, and then everything else is put up around the house thus being supported and held together by the foundation. A weak and damaged foundation will spell certain doom for any structure that relies upon a strong and supporting foundation. In education we have a cracked foundation. We have a few leaks in our foundation, and we are noticing that our foundation is getting close to no longer being able to fully support the weight of the house...

As I previously mentioned, I believe we have a solid foundation in education. Will our education house crumble and completely collapse, absolutely not. I do however think the cracks and leaks we have in our education foundation will continue to grow, and in no certain time this damage will be irreversible. We will no longer be able to repair the damages, and when you are taking about a foundation that can't be repaired, you are left with only one option... tear it down and start over.

Though technology is amazing and can do wonders in the classroom (when used properly), we must first tend to our cracking and leaking foundation if we really want to see the added benefits. Throw every piece of technology in the world into every classroom in the world and you will still have an unbalanced and in need of repair foundation. It would make no sense to make lots of repairs to a house that is being supported by a cracked and leaking foundation without making plans to address the damaged foundation itself. Unfortunately, in education I think we are focusing on the house more than the foundation...

I love technology and I love how it can be used, but let's focus more on the instructional side of things. Let's focus more on the teaching side of things. Let's focus more on the student side of things. If we continue to use our cracked and leaking foundation to support new initiatives and approaches, we are going to be sorely disappointed. Let's get back to the basics and strengthen our core before adding more weight on our already damaged foundation...

Monday, June 18, 2012

My 5 superstars of summer...

Do you ever come across a person on Twitter or find a blog and you immediately begin to think, "how did I not know about this person or this blog?" This happens to me quite frequently. These "undiscovered gems" are not really undiscovered, but they are undiscovered and new to me. Consequently, I really do try my best to spread the word with my PLN about any great new finds, as I know and expect them to do the same.

Here are my 5 superstars of summer:

1 - The first is a blog by John Scammell (@thescamdog). John's blog is titled, "Zero-Knowledge Proofs," and I have found his voice to be both refreshing and relevant to many of the conversations I have been having lately. John has a background in math, and I have especially enjoyed his "School isn't like a job" and "Lazy and entitled kids" posts.

2 - Michael Soskil is the author of the blog, "A Teacher's Life for Me." You can follow Michael on Twitter at @msoskil. Michael's background is in elementary education, and I have thoroughly enjoyed many of his most recent blog posts. "Qualities of excellent principals" and "The irresponsibility of grading responsibility" are two of my favorites.

3 - In terms of leadership, I have very much enjoyed reading the blog of the "Hickey Leadership Group." The leadership group is actually led by Dan Hickey, and every Monday there is a new post on leadership in education. You can follow Dan on Twitter at @hickeygroup.

4 - Following the leadership trend, I am a huge fan of Jon Gordon and everything he does. Jon has an awesome blog which I highly recommend that you follow, and you can follow him on Twitter at @jongordon11. Jon has written several great books; "The Energy Bus" and "The Seed" are two I would recommend.

5 - Last but not least, I encourage you to check out Clouducation which is a blog led by Anthony VonBank. Anthony can be followed on Twitter at @clouducation_. I especially enjoyed Anthony's two blog posts titled, "10 things principals need to stop doing" and "10 things teachers need to stop doing."

I hope you take the time to check out these great minds and start following them on Twitter, as well as add them to your list of blogs that you follow. Enjoy, and be sure to spread the word when you find any "undiscovered gems!"

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Disruptive Innovation in Education...

For the last two days I had the opportunity to attend a Pearson's conference in Baltimore. Regardless of your opinion of Pearson and the role they play in education, they put on a pretty nice conference. Though I was not in the market to purchase any of their products, they did offer several sessions with great speakers and presentations. In particular, I had the opportunity to hear Lee Crockett's presentation on "Disruptive Innovation." This is the second time I have had the opportunity to hear Lee speak, and he most definitely did not disappoint. Lee also has a great blog you should follow called, "The Committed Sardine."

The following 10 images are of tweets I sent out during Lee's presentation. I am confident these tweets will surely get you and any educator thinking and reflecting... enjoy!

Thoughts... comments... concerns?

Monday, June 4, 2012

What makes a great principal?

A couple weeks ago, @stumpteacher wrote a great blog post titled, "Do we need principals?" This question obviously stirred up quite a conversation not only through twitter discussions, but also through comments on blogs. There were even blog posts written in response to Josh's question like this one by @jmarkeyAP who vehemently claims, YES, we do need principals.

For the 2012-2013 school year I will be assuming the role of principal at a junior high of almost 800 students, so I am very interested in this discussion. Though I think I understand Josh's angle in asking this question, I still would argue that we need building level administrators. I will also take it a step further and say we need building level administrators who have had a strong classroom teaching experience, as well as a strong desire to be a lifelong learner while modeling and demonstrating their learning for all to see.

Do we need principals? I say yes, but I think we need more; we don't just need principals, we need GREAT principals...

As I do with many questions I'm having, I tap into my PLN. So, last night I sent out a tweet:

Here is what I found about being a great principal:

- Great principals trust the people they hire. (@urbanlad)

- Great principals notice how each individual member contributes to the school. Great principals explain the WHY before the what. (@becky_Ellis_)

- Great principals call you by name and know your position. (@ecmmason)

- Great principals insulate teachers from arbitrary and political dictates from above. (@phillipcantor)

- Great principals empower staff members to take risks and try new things. They support staff when they make mistakes. (@hatcherelli)

- Great principals are there when you need them. They are the first to arrive, and the last to leave. Great principals know serving others is the most part of leadership. (@justintarte)

- Great principals focus on communication. All great schools are great because information flows both smoothly and easily throughout the building. (@techforschool)

- One of my favorites quotes by @toddwhitaker about principals is, "when the principal sneezes, the whole school catches a cold. This is neither good nor bad; it is just the truth."

What do you think makes a great principal? What would you add to this list?

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Everybody loves meetings!

As a teacher, I was not a big fan of meetings. It wasn't because the information was irrelevant and not applicable to me and my students, but rather the delivery was less than meaningful and efficient in my opinion.

As an administrator, I am still not a big fan of meetings, and mainly for the same reason. As educators, our time is extremely valuable, and at last check, the demands upon us are not decreasing while time remains the same. It's time we as educators regain control of our time and do a much better job of using it to our advantage.

I am not interested in eliminating all meetings, but I am however interested in improving them. I honestly believe there can be great value gained as a result of well run meetings. My goal is to enhance the effectiveness of meetings while increasing participant involvement which will hopefully lead to an increase in productivty.

PD blog: At PBJHS we have a professional development blog. The structure and purpose of this blog evolved midyear last year as the vision of how it should/could be used changed. Everything that is shared on the blog will be archived and will remain accessible for all PBJHS staff members indefinitely. As it stands now, I would like the blog to serve two purposes:

1. Share information that is pertinent to staff members (our PD blog is set up so that each staff member has subscribed to it via their email, and as such they receive an email anytime there is a new post or updated information). This will include basic housekeeping issues as well as anything that would typically be sent out in an email or memo. I also try and share something positive or awesome that is going on at PBJHS with each new post.

2. Share professional development resources and thoughtful questions/videos/tweets that will encourage reflection. I want PBJHS's PD blog to challenge each and every staff member at PBJHS while encouraging them to question the status quo.

Faculty meetings: In most schools, there is a faculty meeting once a month. In my experience, most of these meetings serve to simply disseminate information while staff members just sit and listen. One person talks, while everybody else listens. This doesn't work well in classrooms with students, so why should we expect this to work with adults...?

Next year at PBJHS I would like to try the flipped method with our faculty meetings. The plan would be to provide staff members with something to read, watch, or think about in preparation for our faculty meeting. We would then use our time to collaborate, discuss, and reflect. It's also my hope to model different types of group work and collaboration methods that would then work in our classrooms with our students.

Department head / PLC meetings: Just like faculty meetings, most schools have some sort of leadership team meeting each and every month. I also feel comfortable saying that a majority of the leadership meetings are planned and led by the building principal.

I feel these meetings should not necessarily be planned just by the principal nor led just by the principal. Next year I plan to set up a Google Doc that will be shared with each member of our leadership team (we have 14 total members ranging from department heads to PLC experts, and each content area and department are represented). My plan is to have the leadership team set the agenda for each of our meetings by adding discussion topics and concerns to the Google Doc. If you added the topic to our agenda, it would be your responsibility to lead the discussion on that topic.

**At the end of the 2011-2012 school year, our leadership team set meeting norms and we committed ourselves to meeting for no longer than 1 hour, and if our discussion on any particular topic keeps going around in circles, we will table that topic and move on to something else. We have also decided to arrange ourselves in a circle (King Arthur style) so there is no one person at the head of the table to be the official "leader" of the meeting.

Obviously, each building and staff is different, but I am confident that we can improve the current model being used by simply adjusting our focus and utilizing our time more efficiently.

BONUS: Check out @leadershipfreak's great blog post titled, "8 ways to create great meetings."

What advice or suggestions do you have on how to effectively run and lead meetings in an educational setting?

**I would like to thank @stumpteacher, @azjd & @mrwejr for getting this conversation started and keeping it alive.