Author: Evan Robb

Leadership- Here’s a Secret

Okay, a catchy title! However, are there really any secrets to leadership and leading a school?  It is not an easy question to answer.  Is there one thing an educator can do to be more effective? Absolutely not. Is there one quality all effective leaders have? I think there is–belief in their ability to influence students’ achievement.

 

In education, the concept of belief is defined by a person’s sense of efficacy, a strong belief they can make a difference in the lives of students.  Ideally, an entire staff should have high personal efficacy. Why?  Because a collective belief in the abilities and possibilities existing for each student in their school can affect achievement, behavior, and students’ self-efficacy. Students learn better and achieve more when people believe in them. Unfortunately, the opposite is equally true.

 

Seven Ways to Increase Efficacy

Here are my top seven ways to increase your efficacy and to positively impact the efficacy of your staff:

Communicate:  A school leader cannot under communicate a positive belief in students or staff.  When you are around a staff member who is negative about students let them know in a professional way that it is not acceptable.  If you say nothing, you give the impression you agree. Invest time in communicating your beliefs and be visible.  Increased visibility can lead to improved relationships through active listening and communication.

Climate:  A supportive school climate sets the tone for people to be productive and positive about work.  Reflect on these questions:  How collaborative you are as a leader? How welcoming is your school to the public? Are you easy to reach as a principal? Or are there many layers a person needs to pass through to see you?  Climate, alone, does not make a school effective. However, there is no doubt that successful schools have a healthy, positive climate and culture.

Be Positive:  This is a choice that great leaders make.  In education, great leaders communicate a positive message about the capabilities of students and staff to reach their individual potential.

Safety:  Staff and students perform their best when they are not fearful of punishment or reprisal.  A trusting environment where staff and students feel safe is needed for innovation, creativity, and for people to do their best. A key aspect of efficacy is optimism, which translates into a school’s staff believing that they can positively impact students’ lives as well as their own and colleagues.

Hiring Staff:  Teachers need to know instructional strategies and content but learning will not happen if they do not believe in the ability of students or their ability to meet the challenges they will face. If you sense an applicant is not student-centered and does not believe that all students can learn and move forward, then don’t hire them.

Professional Development:  Excellent professional development gives teachers skills to be more effective.  Improve your school’s climate and build efficacy by involving staff in professional discussions of what kinds of staff development they need.  Staff appreciate being involved versus being told what to do. By doing this, you can avoid efficacy being challenged because a teacher does not have the best practice strategies needed to support students.

Create Goals:  Work with staff to create goals meaningful to them and based on data. Involving staff in goal creation is empowering and increases ownership of the goals. Resist the easy route of telling people what to do. Goals rarely work when they are delivered as marching orders.

 

If you have read my other blogs it is clear that I put a great deal on the shoulders of the school leader.  The principal sets the tone models the culture and communicates the story through his or her words.  You will never find an effective school led by a person who does not believe in students.  But, the leader alone will not make an effective school.  Effective school leaders also hire and retain staff who collectively believe they can make a difference in the learning and lives of students.

 

What the principal tolerates defines leadership.
The Principal’s Leadership Sourcebook

Leadership: Building a Positive School Community

Creating and maintaining a positive climate can be challenging.  A  positive school climate makes work more enjoyable for staff and can improve learning!  I have always felt I can sense School climate the moment I walk up to a door. Do signs say visitors must report to the main office or do they say please report to the main office?  How is a visitor treated by office staff when entering the main office?  Is student work posted for students, staff, and parents to see? These are just a few of many ways to gauge school climate.  I propose, if the climate and culture are good, much can be credited to the leadership and modeling of the school leaders,. If on the other hand, the climate is poor, this also can be a result of less than purposeful school leadership.

Remember, what you do communicates what you believe. Your actions can make a difference! So, how do you make an impact on the climate and culture of your school?  Here are my top five ways.

  1. Be visible:   It is easy to feel tied down to a computer.  Administrative jobs have a lot of paperwork to complete and reports to write.  My goal as I move towards the end of one school year and towards a new school year is to be even more visible.  Take time to greet students when they come to school in morning, visit classrooms, the cafeteria, bus duty, and school events.  Students, staff, and families want to meet the principal, but for this to happen, the principal needs to make it a priority.
  2. Take a lunch break: Have lunch with students because it’s a great way to get to know and connect with them.  In my school, we have special lunches at the start of the year for new students.  Students connect over a  meal and can meet teachers and me.  Kids across the world love lunch time.  Lunch is an opportunity to talk with friends and relax.  It is also a great time for the principal and staff to connect with students.
  3. Talk with Staff:  In a world where people can always be off to the next important issue, it is easy to forget the benefits of small chat.  As a school leader, you need to know your staff and students, conversation has always been a great way to achieve this goal.  Conversation allows you to communicate what you believe and build relationships with students, staff, and families.
  4. Tell your School’s Story: Eric Sheninger, in his excellent book, “BrandED” notes the principal needs be the storyteller and chief for their school.  Eric also reminds us that we need to tell our story or someone else will.  Using social media allows a school to communicate information quickly to students, parents, and your community.  Facebook, video, Twitter, and Instagram are free, allowing you and your staff to inform and celebrate all that occurs in your school.  Communicating and informing in a positive way impacts how people view your school, which impacts climate and culture!
  5. Model the Standard:  As the leader of the school your actions and words communicate what is acceptable.  If staff see you yelling at kids, you give them permission to do the same.  If you’re a sloppy dresser, you give permission. If you are anti-technology, you give permission.  If you have low expectations for students, you give permission. If you communicate a fixed mindset, you give permission.  Set the tone in your school! Your words and actions communicate your leadership and what you believe.  Strive for congruence between what you say and what you do! Be an advocate and champion for learning, growth, and excellence! Most importantly, model and communicate your high expectations relentlessly.

Great school environments were not created overnight and negative environments cannot be fixed immediately. Both types of cultures are perpetuated by the principal.  The principal has the ability to shift, shape, and create a positive school climate and culture.  Lead with purpose and passion and create a school culture great for students and staff.  As a principal, you will spend many hours in your school.Make it a goal to spend time all members of your school community and realize you have the ability to make the culture and climate better.
Check out my book The Principal’s Leadership Sourcebook

Leadership: Class Walkthroughs

Walkthroughs can be an effective way to observe instruction and to provide feedback to staff. In this blog, I will share some thoughts on what needs to be in place to launch an effective walk through program and seven mistakes to be aware of.

 

Relationships Matter

Walkthroughs work best when there is a good professional relationship between administrators and teachers. So, let’s assume that you have positive relationships with your teachers and other administrators.  What are some key elements that make for great walk through experiences for all staff?  

 

Collaborate With Staff

Administrators should work with staff to create key focus areas for walkthrough observations because focus areas bring clarity to walk through visits for administration and teachers. I am a proponent of establishing focus areas with faculty VS telling staff this is what we will do.  To start the process of creating focus areas staff can look at data from the previous year, read articles and books on best practice in education to find focus points for the year ahead.  The key is to not create too many; I suggest three to six focus points for the year.  These focus points will be the topics of meetings, book study, article study, peer discussion, and class walk through.

 

Some Focus Areas

  • As an example here are four focus areas my staff worked on:
  • Engagement vs Compliance
  • Learning Targets
  • Higher Level Oral Questioning
  • Effective Exit Passes

When I do walkthroughs staff know I will be focusing on the look for’s that we established as a learning community.  I no longer have a veil of mystery of why I am in a class or what I am looking for.  

 

Goals

My goal is to improve teaching and learning. Walkthroughs allow me to provide same day feedback to staff. This can be either a brief conversation or email to discuss what went well, what might be changed, who the lesson worked for, and who it did not.  

 

Positives & Pitfalls

Walk through observations done with clarity of purpose and all understanding why they are done have the potential to build trust and create opportunities for feedback, conversation, and growth.  They can improve teaching and learning.  But done wrong, walkthroughs can also hurt efforts to improve teaching and learning. What follows are seven ways to ruin your walkthroughs efforts.

 

Derailing Walkthroughs

  • Avoiding building trust between teachers and administrators; a guarantee that walkthroughs will not work.
  • Completing walkthroughs when staff has no clue why the administration is doing them results in developing a divisive, gotcha school culture.
  • Never letting staff know when walkthrough observations will occur.
  • Inviting others to do walkthroughs who no one on your staff knows.
  • Giving no feedback to teachers after completing walkthroughs.
  • Making a walkthrough visit evaluative.
  • Huddling in the corner with other administrators outside a class where you just did a walk through and looking very serious or angry.

 

Find Success

Good planning, communication, professionalism and a commitment to building trust while improving are critical to launching effective classroom walkthrough observations.  Invest time in doing them right and you have an additional strategy to improve instruction and learning. Do them wrong, and you will hurt your leadership and put a wedge between you and staff.

Make the right choice!

The Principal’s Leadership Sourcebook

Technology to Make a Difference

Enjoy this guest post by Patrick Hausammann, I.T.R.T. Follow Patrick @PHausTech

 

As an education professional and a technology integration specialist, there is often a myth or misconception that presents itself.  This myth is that a technology project is the same thing as technology integration.  Often a project will be worked into a lesson or unit because there is extra time left or lack of snow days has yielded more instructional days than planned on.

These projects can be fantastic uses of technology and allow the students to pursue avenues they haven’t before.  However, the students know when they do the project that it is a fleeting experience.  In many cases, when the project ends traditional teaching resumes without technology.  This is not to say that great teaching can’t occur without technology, however, the reach and innovative options for students research, audience, sharing/collaboration, and creativity are limited.  The graphic below denotes a possible definition of effective technology integration, note the differences…

Without technology freely available in the classroom, either through school provided devices or bring your own device programs, students do not have the ability to tap into the instant stream of worldwide information and experts the internet provides.  They also lack the avenues to pull the information together, collaborate with others outside of their classroom, and present the information in a visually stunning manner, such as with G Suite tools like Google Docs and Google Slides.  We must break away from teaching methods that use technology as a reward or a once-in-a-while event.

Another graphic further delineates the differences between technology use and technology integration from TeachThought.

So, please take some time to truly think about how technology is used in your classroom or by your teachers.  Is technology truly being used to make a difference?  Is it an integral part of the classroom such as paper and pencils?  Or is used when there is extra time left in class?  Is a calculator the only technology used in math class?  Is technology talked about as if it is on a pedestal or as if it is as prevalent as the air?

Never in any pursuit in education today, especially technology integration, should you feel this challenge is yours to take on by yourself.  If not supported through technology integration specialists in your building or your administration team, seek the world’s input and support via social media, blogs, websites, etc.  I stand willing to assist you among thousands (if not millions) of others; all you need to do is ask.  My website with all links (blog, social media, etc.) and conference presentations can be found at www.epedtech.com.  I truly believe that great pedagogy put together with innovative technology equals #EndlessPromise for our students.  Let’s use our growth mindsets to unleash the innovative creativity in all of our students!

 


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