Leadership Lessons… Ten Important Points

As 2011 draws to a close, I wanted to take a minute to reflect on what I have learned about leadership and being a Principal.  There were many things learned, however, there are key things learned that I want to remember and apply to 2012.  Not in any particular order, here is my top list of being a great leader and great Principal.

1.  Communication is King, Communication is Key

Communication

Image by P Shanks via Flickr

I can’t say it enough, in enough different ways; that is my motto.  If there is something I really really want people to know, I need to say it often, in many different ways and in many different formats.  Same goes for me, if there is something you really really want me to know, tell me often, tell me in person, and by email.  There are non-effective forms of communication in schools with the top 2 being Over the PA System, and At An Assembly.  I find if you make announcements or give important messages in these 2 ways, perhaps 10% of the people will actually hear and understand.  Then there is the long range of ways of communicating until you get to the most effective; being one on one or with a small group of people face to face, with them taking notes.  If they don’t take notes, a follow-up email is necessary.  I also think it is important to remember, just because I said it, doesn’t mean they learned it (or even heard it for that matter!).

2.  Just Because I Said it, Doesn’t Mean They Learned It

I find that I often tell people “how” to do things… how to write report card comments, how to conduct parent meetings, how to work with a student, how to organize a classroom…. and the list goes on.  However, just because I said it, doesn’t mean they learned it.  In fact, doesn’t mean they learned it, heard it, get it, understand it, believe it!  I find if I want people to learn something new, I have to teach it!  (wow, amazing concept for an educator). Tried and true teaching strategies work for adults too.  Don’t just tell an adult how to ride a bike, teach them.  Show them, help them, support them, let them try it, encourage them, listen to them, answer questions, applaud, cheer and celebrate!

3.  Back it Up

Not your hard drive, your words!  I find that backing up my ideas, thoughts, and initiatives with current, quality research found in reputable literature is the way to go.  I am fond of saying “This isn’t Lori’s thing, or Lori’s way,” this is because we know this is best practice and it is proven good and right for students.  This is based on research and backed by data, the way we do it in our school is specific to our content, but what we do is tried and true.

4.  Let Others Do

I often have teachers and staff approach me and say “Can I do this?”  If the “this” is in any way reasonable and safe it’s always worth a try.  Remember riding the bike?  How will they learn if they don’t try?  My job in this is to talk it through; make sure it is the best try (don’t hop on a bike that is too big or too small or has a bent rim and wonder what you did wrong) and then support the outcome, whatever it may be.  A word to the cautious: “Can I do this,” is quite different from “Can WE do this.”  See #1 – communication.  Then sort out the WE.

5.  Listen

There are people in my school who are experts at what they do.  The book-keeper, administrative secretary, custodian, tech specialist, all know things that I do not know.  Appreciate them. Appreciate their knowledge and expertise.  Let them help!

6.  Be Aware

Be aware, be where the people are.  I find that many things in a day can pass me by if I don’t leave the office.  Just walking around the school, walking outside of the school, walking into classrooms brings an awareness of the goings on, the successes, and the challenges.  How can I improve on things if I don’t know what needs improving on?  Having people tell me is one thing, seeing things for myself is a whole new “Ooooohhhhhh.”

7.  Follow Up

Following up on things I say or things I ask is a necessary way to add meaning to what I do.  For example, if I ask teachers to read a chapter in a book or watch a webinar and I never go back to it, ask about it, talk about it, then really it wasn’t that important in the first place.  I find that what you focus on shows people what is important, and what is important is what improves.  Unless I follow-up, really I am just making weak suggestions.

8.  Change Your Mind

It is an exhilarating feeling to know you can change your mind at any moment.  Usually not on a whim, but when you learn or realize something new that would be more productive or effective.  You know the old saying, “Doing something over and over the same way and expecting different results is ….(you fill in the blank).”  Don’t do things over and over the same way unless you can’t think of a different way, or its working exceptionally well.  Over the years, with all the mind changes, we have developed into a team that is flexible, progressive and growing.  Trying things in a different way on a different day is the example of growing and changing.

9.  Be Gracious, Be Kind

There is no reason I can think of to be anything other than gracious and kind with all of the different people you meet and work with.  People like to be thanked, people like to be treated in kind, courteous ways.  People who are treated this way are productive, happy people.  And, the word gets out…. before you know it people will WANT to come and work with you!

My moms class picture. Martintown Public School circa 1950. My mom is middle row far left.

10.  Have a Sense of Humor

Life is stressful, work is stressful but it is true that everything goes a lot easier when you can laugh at yourself and laugh about things.  From a person that has the ability to let people get under her skin, not owning, not exasperating, lightening up helps get a person through any day.  Luckily I work in a school and I am blessed to be able to talk to, enjoy, laugh with all of the little people who come through the door of the school everyday.  In the end, they don’t really care about the budget, or the regulations, they just live in the moment.

A Final Note: Live in the moment, enjoy the children, if you don’t like the choices you made today, you are in luck!  You can wake up tomorrow and make different ones!  What choices will you make today?

Leadership Lessons… Ten Ideas to Take From 2011 into 2012

As 2011 draws to a close, I wanted to take a minute to reflect on what I have learned about leadership and being a Principal.  There were many things learned, however, there are key things learned that I want to remember and apply to 2012.  Not in any particular order, here is my top list of being a great leader and great Principal.

1.  Communication is King, Communication is Key

Communication

Image by P Shanks via Flickr

I can’t say it enough, in enough different ways; that is my motto.  If there is something I really really want people to know, I need to say it often, in many different ways and in many different formats.  Same goes for me, if there is something you really really want me to know, tell me often, tell me in person, and by email.  There are non-effective forms of communication in schools with the top 2 being Over the PA System, and At An Assembly.  I find if you make announcements or give important messages in these 2 ways, perhaps 10% of the people will actually hear and understand.  Then there is the long range of ways of communicating until you get to the most effective; being one on one or with a small group of people face to face, with them taking notes.  If they don’t take notes, a follow-up email is necessary.  I also think it is important to remember, just because I said it, doesn’t mean they learned it (or even heard it for that matter!).

2.  Just Because I Said it, Doesn’t Mean They Learned It

I find that I often tell people “how” to do things… how to write report card comments, how to conduct parent meetings, how to work with a student, how to organize a classroom…. and the list goes on.  However, just because I said it, doesn’t mean they learned it.  In fact, doesn’t mean they learned it, heard it, get it, understand it, believe it!  I find if I want people to learn something new, I have to teach it!  (wow, amazing concept for an educator). Tried and true teaching strategies work for adults too.  Don’t just tell an adult how to ride a bike, teach them.  Show them, help them, support them, let them try it, encourage them, listen to them, answer questions, applaud, cheer and celebrate!

3.  Back it Up

Not your hard drive, your words!  I find that backing up my ideas, thoughts, and initiatives with current, quality research found in reputable literature is the way to go.  I am fond of saying “This isn’t Lori’s thing, or Lori’s way,” this is because we know this is best practice and it is proven good and right for students.  This is based on research and backed by data, the way we do it in our school is specific to our content, but what we do is tried and true.

4.  Let Others Do

I often have teachers and staff approach me and say “Can I do this?”  If the “this” is in any way reasonable and safe it’s always worth a try.  Remember riding the bike?  How will they learn if they don’t try?  My job in this is to talk it through; make sure it is the best try (don’t hop on a bike that is too big or too small or has a bent rim and wonder what you did wrong) and then support the outcome, whatever it may be.  A word to the cautious: “Can I do this,” is quite different from “Can WE do this.”  See #1 – communication.  Then sort out the WE.

5.  Listen

There are people in my school who are experts at what they do.  The book-keeper, administrative secretary, custodian, tech specialist, all know things that I do not know.  Appreciate them. Appreciate their knowledge and expertise.  Let them help!

6.  Be Aware

Be aware, be where the people are.  I find that many things in a day can pass me by if I don’t leave the office.  Just walking around the school, walking outside of the school, walking into classrooms brings an awareness of the goings on, the successes, and the challenges.  How can I improve on things if I don’t know what needs improving on?  Having people tell me is one thing, seeing things for myself is a whole new “Ooooohhhhhh.”

7.  Follow Up

Following up on things I say or things I ask is a necessary way to add meaning to what I do.  For example, if I ask teachers to read a chapter in a book or watch a webinar and I never go back to it, ask about it, talk about it, then really it wasn’t that important in the first place.  I find that what you focus on shows people what is important, and what is important is what improves.  Unless I follow-up, really I am just making weak suggestions.

8.  Change Your Mind

It is an exhilarating feeling to know you can change your mind at any moment.  Usually not on a whim, but when you learn or realize something new that would be more productive or effective.  You know the old saying, “Doing something over and over the same way and expecting different results is ….(you fill in the blank).”  Don’t do things over and over the same way unless you can’t think of a different way, or its working exceptionally well.  Over the years, with all the mind changes, we have developed into a team that is flexible, progressive and growing.  Trying things in a different way on a different day is the example of growing and changing.

9.  Be Gracious, Be Kind

There is no reason I can think of to be anything other than gracious and kind with all of the different people you meet and work with.  People like to be thanked, people like to be treated in kind, courteous ways.  People who are treated this way are productive, happy people.  And, the word gets out…. before you know it people will WANT to come and work with you!

My moms class picture. Martintown Public School circa 1950. My mom is middle row far left.

10.  Have a Sense of Humor

Life is stressful, work is stressful but it is true that everything goes a lot easier when you can laugh at yourself and laugh about things.  From a person that has the ability to let people get under her skin, not owning, not exasperating, lightening up helps get a person through any day.  Luckily I work in a school and I am blessed to be able to talk to, enjoy, laugh with all of the little people who come through the door of the school everyday.  In the end, they don’t really care about the budget, or the regulations, they just live in the moment.

A Final Note: Live in the moment, enjoy the children, if you don’t like the choices you made today, you are in luck!  You can wake up tomorrow and make different ones!  What choices will you make today?

Are You Maximizing Formative Assessment? Feedback or Feedforward

Teacher talking to student at LSI

Image via Wikipedia

Recently we have been focussing on the notion of feedback vs feedforward.

We started by taking a look at Dylan Wiliam’s Formative Assessment Key Strategies.  In a nutshell:

1.  Know your learner;

2.  Feedback designed to move the learner forward;

3.  Everyone knows the success criteria;

4.  Peers Supporting Peers;

5.  Agency, students owning their learning.

From these 5 strategies we decided to begin understanding and processing them one by one with “Feedback” being the first one we tackled.

Dylan Wiliam has some wonderful podcasts on his website.  The podcasts are him presenting information; I find it very valuable to hear him speak directly.  You can check it out at: http://www.dylanwiliam.net/ or if you just google Dylan Wiliam you will see links to podcasts and You-Tube.

Anyway, he identifies feedback in the following three ways:

1.  Data (which is not feedback, its just data).  This sounds like: “You got a “B” on your test.”  “I’m waiting for three more people to get their books out.”  It points out to the learner a specific piece of information.

2.  Thermometer (which is not feedback, its just a thermometer).  This sounds like: “Next time you will  get a “B” if you add more details.”  “You will be finished as soon as you get your title page done.”  It points out to the learner where they are now and where they need to be.

3.  Feedback System – which is FeedForward.  This includes what students need to do to improve and the VERY important HOW to go about it.  This FeedForward encourages the student and gives hope that they will do it and you will help.  This sounds like: “Now its time to do your title page; lets get the examples I showed earlier and decide which components you want to add to your title page.”  “I noticed on your planning sheet you listed many details about your main character; now we have to incorporate these details into your story. We will use your planning sheet to help us.”

All of this is based on the work of Dylan Wiliam.  Here is an other link that adds more information: http://www.journeytoexcellence.org.uk/videos/expertspeakers/feedbackonlearningdylanwiliamtrans.asp

Now, because I work with teachers and other staff, I have been trying to take this information and apply it in the context of teacher development.  Right now what I am noticing works well for me is to phrase my feedback in the form of a question:

“How would you take the information you just told me about what you observed and apply it in your own classroom?”

“When you were observing Mrs. XX you noticed that she provides extra support and instruction to a few children during silent reading, when are the times in your day where you would have time to provide extra supports to students?”

I find with adult learners, and probably with many children as well, in the context of asking them to change their practice or do something different, just telling is simply that, just telling.  “You should work with XXX while the others are silent reading,” just doesn’t come across the same way!

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Feedback or Feedforward

Teacher talking to student at LSI

Image via Wikipedia

Recently we have been focussing on the notion of feedback vs feedforward.

We started by taking a look at Dylan Wiliam’s Formative Assessment Key Strategies.  In a nutshell:

1.  Know your learner;

2.  Feedback designed to move the learner forward;

3.  Everyone knows the success criteria;

4.  Peers Supporting Peers;

5.  Agency, students owning their learning.

From these 5 strategies we decided to begin understanding and processing them one by one with “Feedback” being the first one we tackled.

Dylan Wiliam has some wonderful podcasts on his website.  The podcasts are him presenting information; I find it very valuable to hear him speak directly.  You can check it out at: http://www.dylanwiliam.net/ or if you just google Dylan Wiliam you will see links to podcasts and You-Tube.

Anyway, he identifies feedback in the following three ways:

1.  Data (which is not feedback, its just data).  This sounds like: “You got a “B” on your test.”  “I’m waiting for three more people to get their books out.”  It points out to the learner a specific piece of information.

2.  Thermometer (which is not feedback, its just a thermometer).  This sounds like: “Next time you will  get a “B” if you add more details.”  “You will be finished as soon as you get your title page done.”  It points out to the learner where they are now and where they need to be.

3.  Feedback System – which is FeedForward.  This includes what students need to do to improve and the VERY important HOW to go about it.  This FeedForward encourages the student and gives hope that they will do it and you will help.  This sounds like: “Now its time to do your title page; lets get the examples I showed earlier and decide which components you want to add to your title page.”  “I noticed on your planning sheet you listed many details about your main character; now we have to incorporate these details into your story. We will use your planning sheet to help us.”

All of this is based on the work of Dylan Wiliam.  Here is an other link that adds more information: http://www.journeytoexcellence.org.uk/videos/expertspeakers/feedbackonlearningdylanwiliamtrans.asp

Now, because I work with teachers and other staff, I have been trying to take this information and apply it in the context of teacher development.  Right now what I am noticing works well for me is to phrase my feedback in the form of a question:

“How would you take the information you just told me about what you observed and apply it in your own classroom?”

“When you were observing Mrs. XX you noticed that she provides extra support and instruction to a few children during silent reading, when are the times in your day where you would have time to provide extra supports to students?”

I find with adult learners, and probably with many children as well, in the context of asking them to change their practice or do something different, just telling is simply that, just telling.  “You should work with XXX while the others are silent reading,” just doesn’t come across the same way!

Professional Learning Communities…

A new Landaff teacher in the 1940s watches as ...

Image via Wikipedia

It is said by the Dufours  that successful PLC’s are the one, single most powerful force in creating school improvement and increasing student achievement.  This sounds simple, but…  Teachers and school staff cannot participate in and achieve high functioning PLC’s themselves, it is contingent upon me as Principal to provide teachers with the tools, skills and capacities to perform as high functioning PLC’s.  To this end, here is what I know, what I do and what I think….

Beginning

Our PLC’s began several years ago by grouping teachers together to meet once a week to talk about students…. simple as that.  Quickly I realized that to get to the guts and deep understandings about student learning, and to create engagement and participation by all teachers, we needed a protocol.  This led to the next two years of PLC meetings, with a protocol or meeting format, with requirements for engaging in discussions about student progress and by incorporating teaching and learning strategies to support students.  We were doing our meetings, as mandated, and we were learning together.

Next

It’s a dangerous thing to read books and articles because I quickly realize what I do not do and what I do not know.  This realization spurs me into immediate action to change and do differently.  Luckily, I have a staff who accepts that I constantly change my mind, change how I want things done, and constantly look for a better way.

This fall was no different.  Beginning this year our PLC’s had three teachers in them.  I chose three so each teacher would have a voice, have a chance to participate and have time to talk and listen.  More than three I feel is too many because inevitably someone will not have a chance to be heard.  I also choose to have multi-grade PLC’s.  This is for a variety of reasons.  Mainly so that the meetings do not turn into grade level meetings talking about planning and prepping.  However, we are finding many hidden gems and benefits of having multi-grade PLC’s.

The case for multi-grade PLC’s:  I like PLC’s with teachers from different grade levels.  I find that this grouping allows teachers to be exposed to curriculum and teaching styles and skills from different grades.  This assists teachers in incorporating strategies they many not otherwise.  For example: when a grade 3 teacher talks to a kindergarten teacher and realizes the strategies and resources a kindergarten teacher uses to support their learners, this often enables the grade 3 teacher to think about how to use these strategies in their own classrooms.  Multi-grade PLC’s results in the opportunities for teachers to share knowledge about students they have taught in past years.  This type of PLC also builds capacity in teachers.  When a grade 3 teacher looks at a writing sample from a grade 1 student or grade 5 student, they build their understandings of how students develop from year to year.

Bringing PLC’s to Life

A variety of twists and turns with budgeting and staffing led to the opportunity to have teachers supported with an additional staff member after the year had begun.  As I am steadfast about this PLC work and I know that what you give time and energy to is what improves, I devised an idea to bring PLC’s to life.  What I mean by this is that now teachers have a chance to observe their PLC teaching partners as they teach.  Once every six weeks, a teacher will be provided with the “additional teacher” so that they can leave their classrooms and observe their two other team members for half a day each.  To make this meaningful, we have worked together as a staff on many occasion to build our understandings of the purpose of PLC’s and also have formative assessment.  This led to a PLC Observation guide which supports teachers in “looking” for certain things while they observe.

PLC Observations   Click here to take a look at our PLC Observation Guide.

Following the week of PLC Observations, the team members meet together to debrief, explain their learnings, ask questions or “wonders” and set a teaching goal for themselves for the next six weeks.

Where We Are Today

Last week I had the opportunity to watch a webinar presented by Solution Tree featuring the DuFours and AllthingsPLC.com.  This opened and challenged my thinking about how we will move the PLC’s into more everyday ways of being and working.  I bought their book Learning by Doing and am just beginning to read and think more about how to continue to grow and develop into High Functioning PLC’s.  On my previous post The Walk-About I detailed one of our next steps we are adding to our processes. 

Where We Are Going

The path we are going down is the pathway to ensure that each student is appropriately programmed for each day.  We seek to understand our learners and their learning needs.  We strive for Personalized Learning that provides an appropriate, purposeful and engaging education for each child, each day.  Our work in PLC’s supports us in understanding what students need to learn, how we will know when each student has learned it, and how we will respond when a student experiences difficulty.

Great Principals See Teaching In Action, Do You?

Classroom with students and teachers - NARA - ...

Image via Wikipedia

A new idea I am batting about is what I call The Walk-About.  Many thanks to my trusted colleague Donna for listening to my crazy-ish idea this morning and helping me sort it out.  Well, its not sorted out yet, but we are getting there and we will give it a try.

Each day one of my teachers has a sub in order to release them from their classrooms to observe other teachers teaching.  They observe one class in the morning and one class in the afternoons.  We have created an observation guide to assist teachers in focussing on specific strategies and skills while observing.  In addition to the classroom observation, I would like to now add on The Walk-About.

We are thinking The Walk-About would focus initially on “Feedback” (Formative Assessment ).  The observer would spend one minute in each classroom in the school.  During that one minute, they would identify the type of feedback the teacher is using.  We figured out we need to create a 4-pt rubric of the differing levels and types of feedback.  We will do this together as a staff.

With the data, we hope to raise awareness and increase specific assessment designed to move the learner forward (Dylan Wiliam).  We would report back to teachers something like, “On todays walk-about XX% of teachers were observed using XXX feedback etc.”  We could also keep specific teacher data if we want to.

I believe that simply by creating the rubric, monitoring for success, reporting our successes we will increase our use of strong feedback designed to improve student learning.

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The Walk-About

Classroom with students and teachers - NARA - ...

Image via Wikipedia

A new idea I am batting about is what I call The Walk-About.  Many thanks to my trusted colleague Donna for listening to my crazy-ish idea this morning and helping me sort it out.  Well, its not sorted out yet, but we are getting there and we will give it a try.

Each day one of my teachers has a sub in order to release them from their classrooms to observe other teachers teaching.  They observe one class in the morning and one class in the afternoons.  We have created an observation guide to assist teachers in focussing on specific strategies and skills while observing.  In addition to the classroom observation, I would like to now add on The Walk-About.

We are thinking The Walk-About would focus initially on “Feedback” (Formative Assessment ).  The observer would spend one minute in each classroom in the school.  During that one minute, they would identify the type of feedback the teacher is using.  We figured out we need to create a 4-pt rubric of the differing levels and types of feedback.  We will do this together as a staff.

With the data, we hope to raise awareness and increase specific assessment designed to move the learner forward (Dylan Wiliam).  We would report back to teachers something like, “On todays walk-about XX% of teachers were observed using XXX feedback etc.”  We could also keep specific teacher data if we want to.

I beleive that simply by creating the rubric, monitoring for success, reporting our successes we will increase our use of strong feedback designed to improve student learning.

The World of Blog…

English: Head teacher and pupils outside Hebel...

Image via Wikipedia

Once upon a time I wanted to write a book about everything I think and everything I have learned about being a School Principal.  That job seemed just too big so instead I am going to venture into The World of Blog.  I have ideas for what I will include here… let’s hope I can get it moving and grow it into something fantastical.  Any ideas or feedback is always appreciated!

 

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