Author: Evan Robb

Questioning the Status Quo

I’ve always questioned the status quo as far back as my first year of teaching. There was an abundance of negative talk about the administration, other teachers, and how students were unprepared for learning. Most of it occurred in the faculty lounge, and I soon abandoned that room because the negative atmosphere affected me and my attempts to maintain a positive outlook. 

 

As a new teacher, it’s tough to be surrounded by teachers who don’t want professional development or complain about new initiatives. For me, the greatest challenge was feeling like an outsider. Negative attitudes don’t build community and make it very challenging many teachers and for the principal to build collective efficacy among staff.

 

Negative attitudes and unproductive teaching practices can be powerful; they can take hold of a school’s culture, spread like a virus, and affect teaching and students’ learning.  Once I became a principal, I made a commitment to work diligently to stop practices that have continued so long.  Some teachers accept them as tradition or offer rationales such as: “We’ve always done it that way here.” or It’s worked for me, it should be good enough now.” The question that begs answering is, What are these practices and how can we can we stop them?  

 

No doubt, they need to go. To accomplish this means raising your awareness of practices that make no sense.  It won’t happen after one try. Entrenched ideas, like those listed below, require vigilance on your part. Don’t give up. When you address them, Always. Remain. Positive. To maintain a positive stance, I’ve included a section called “Changeover” which offers suggestions for transforming negative practices in your school to positives.

Resistance to Change: Resisting change runs a wide gamut. It can be refusing to adopt research-based best practices, being unwilling to try collaborative learning, refusing to integrate technology, attending professional learning in body but not in mind and spirit. Beliefs and statements among staff enable you to spot resistance. Listen for comments such as, “This, too, shall pass,” or “It was good enough for me, it should be good enough for these students.” Some staff have feelings of entitlement: “Families love me so I can do what I want.”

Changeover: Extend invitations to teachers to participate in learning that can bring meaningful changes to teaching practices. Accepting an invitation means a teacher has made a commitment. Have those involved in change bring artifacts and lesson results to team and department meetings and share. Enthusiasm and good news can spread; give yourself and your staff the gift of time.

Unconditional Defenders: Some staff members feel that the principal needs to defend them to a parent or central office administrator even if the teacher’s actions are indefensible. When a staff member makes an egregious error, you need to take positive action. This might make you unpopular, but as you work to support the person, you can transform this attitude.

Changeover: First, take the time to listen to the staff member and those affected by his or her actions. Help the staff person understand the mistake and discuss ways to avoid repeating it. Be part of the reflective process through meaningful conversations and show staff what kind of support helps them grow and improve.

The Count Down Mentality: In many schools, at the end of the first day, you can hear staff say, “Only 179 school days left.” Some teachers even keep a countdown calendar. This creates a mindset among staff that teaching is a job, not a calling.

Changeover: First, if you hear these comments, start a conversation immediately. Make it known that everyone is at your school to help and support children’s learning and emotional wellbeing. Revisit this mindset at team and department meetings. Invite teachers to share how they have helped move a child forward and continually point out how the teachers sharing illustrates why we come to work each day.

Too Much Tolerance: Beware of condoning unprofessional behaviors among staff and central office administrators in order to cultivate an alliance. If doing this is against your beliefs and values, then you will confuse staff because they won’t know what you truly stand for and value. Moreover, if your words and actions change with each situation, you give staff the license to do the same.

Changeover:  Take a deep look at yourself and have an in-the-head, reflective conversation. Make sure you understand what you believe and value as a principal and avoid compromising these beliefs. Always keep in mind why you are a principal—to advocate for and support children and their teachers.

Unprofessional Dress: If your school has a dress code for staff and students, then both groups need to follow it. A teacher not following the dress code will have difficulty discussing a breach of dress code with a student. Also, staff should care how they present themselves to students and colleagues.

Changeover:  Find out why a staff member continually ignores the school’s dress code. Set aside time to meet and have conversations about this.  Help the person see how his actions affect the morale of other staff members and students. Then, make it clear that part of the job is abiding by the dress code with a goal to look professionally appropriate for students and staff.

Excuses, Excuses: Some staff always have a reason for being late to bus or recess duty, or for not standing in the hall when classes change. This outlook can prevent staff from embracing a growth mindset as they rationalize their decisions, attitudes, and behaviors.

Changeover: Keep a list of excuses made and then discuss the list with the teacher. Help him or her understand how not appearing or being tardy for school duty, affects the entire school community. For change to occur, you will have to help a person understand the whys.

Closing Thoughts

The practices I’ve discussed need to stop because each one hurts students and your school community. My challenge to you is to be part of the solution by taking the time to have meaningful, honest, and supportive conversations with staff to help them understand why a practice, behavior, or words aren’t acceptable.  Your students, teachers, and school community deserve it.

Check out our podcast on things that need to go in education!

Check out my book, The Principal’s Leadership Sourcebook

Leading Social Media and Your School Brand

Social media can help your school communicate better.  In this post, I am sharing tips and suggestions to give you some answers on the what, how, and why of social media in your school or division. What follows is a path and plan to consider as you create new ways to communicate and tell your story.

Basic Guidelines for Social Media:

Limit who has log-in access to any social media account

  • I suggest limiting who has log-in access to any social media account. Two or three staff who have access to a school Twitter or Instagram account is my recommendation. If one is out, another can still send information out.
  • Don’t give more than one responsibility to the same person. Consider dividing up who manages each account.
  • Focus on one initiative at a time- I suggest starting with Twitter

 

Establish guidelines for posting frequency such as:

  • At least 3 tweets each day
  • At least 2 Facebook posts per day
  • At least 3 Instagram Images per day
  • At least 1 video per month

 

Establish an understanding of exactly what you promote and communicate on social media- Control your message.

  • Balance of activities- Academic, Extra-Curricular etc…
  • Make sure you promote all aspects of your school and division
  • Communicate support and pride for other schools within your division

 

“You tell our story or someone else will” Eric Sheninger

Great advice as the best people to tell the story are those creating and living the story!

 

Communicating your school and division brand:

  • Everything you send out through social media should communicate what your school and division value.  
  • Posts and images should convey excitement, energy, and enthusiasm about your school, staff, students, and division.
  • Communication should always generate exciting buzz about your school, staff, students, and division.
  • Staff can promote social media through email signature, hashtags, retweets, and likes.
  • Register hashtags for your school and division. These make it easier for the community to find and follow your content as well as providing topics.
  • Promote our Vision and mission of your school and Division

Twitter Tips:

  • A school Twitter account is different than a personal/professional Twitter account- its purpose is to push information out.
    • Every tweet in your feed (not just those you post) represents your school.
  • Limit who has access, the school principal should be the main person running Twitter.
  • Do not follow many people and only after tracking what they post for a stretch of time.
  • Re-tweet from other schools in your division.
  • Mention other schools in your Tweets from your division. This can be done when you post or if you re-tweet from another school or your division
  • Mention your superintendent if he or she is on Twitter to further promote and communicate exciting goings-on in your school.

 

Facebook Tips:

  • Designate a staff member to populate content.
  • Establish a staff member who monitors Facebook daily
  • Posts should have images and videos accompanying text whenever possible.
  • Facebook is an excellent platform to share images and video of all the exciting learning happening in your school.
  • A standard of at least two posts per day will assist in keeping parents and the community engaged.
  • Moderate comments made by others.

 

Instagram Tips:

  • Use hashtags and create your own hashtags to label images and help to help them show in searches.
  • Motivational quotes are great to post and a great way to introduce Instagram.
  • Pictures of events and learning activities from your school are also ideal for Instagram

 

Video Tips:

  • Wear clothing that makes you feel good about yourself
  • Watch your body language — everyone else will
  • Smile with your eyes
  • Use your hands
  • Use your natural voice
  • Pacing matters
  • Many students like being on video and my experience is parents like to hear from the principal through this medium too.  But, it takes some practice to create a good product.

 

I encourage you and your team to use social media to build your unique school brand and to better communicate with families and your community.  Take the time to integrate at least one new strategy that enhances your public relations by meeting your stakeholders where they are.  My suggestion is to start with Twitter and expand using my list. Social media is an additional way for you to create an appreciation for your school, students, and staff.  People all over the world enjoy and appreciate the power of story.  Social media is another way for you to tell your story. Never underestimate the power of your stories.

Connect with me on Twitter @ERobbPrincipal

The Principal’s Leadership Sourcebook By me! (Evan Robb)

The Principal: Improve Reading Scores

 

Looking for a silver bullet or magic? Stop reading right now, I cannot give you these. There are no silver bullets or magic ways to improve reading scores or any test scores for that matter.   School leaders, teachers, and communities often draw incorrect conclusions about the quality of a school, teachers, principals, all the way to a superintendent based on scores from one day of testing. So, let’s learn some ways to improve reading and also scores.

 

First, I ask you to embrace and accept a simple assumption: if you practice, most things you do will get better.  If you practice with purpose based on proven research strategies, improvement is even more likely to happen. For students to improve reading, they need to read and read with purpose.

 

Here are some tips and cautions to guide a program for reading success!

 

Rule #1: Read Aloud: Do this every day for five to ten minutes, depending on the length of reading classes. This is an opportunity to model reading, ask probing questions, and integrate strategies which have been taught.

 

Reminder:  Reading a favorite book for most or all of a class period no matter how animated the instructor is will not make students better readers.

 

Rule #2: Instructional Reading: This is purposeful reading instruction to increase the application of strategies and skills to a text needed to be a better reader.  State standards are often a good guide for specific strategies and skills along with an abundance of research on the skills needed to be better readers.  The key is students need to read with purpose at their instructional level. Assessing students to know their lexile levels and using this information to create genre focused instructional reading units that meet the needs of students is critical for students to become better readers.

 

Reminder: One book for all rarely works; all students do not read on the same level.   Instructional reading must be driven by the instructional needs of each student.  If a teacher reads to students during this part of the lesson, students will not become better readers. They are not reading.  Embarrassing games that have students read aloud like popcorn reading serve no purpose to improve reading for all. They are time fillers, nothing more!

 

Rule #3: Independent Reading:  Is your school making a concerted effort to promote independent reading?  This can range from allocating funds for books to school wide promotion and celebration of independent reading.  Create a culture where all the students in your school are always carrying an independent reading book!. By encouraging them to read accessible books on topics they love and want to know more about, you develop their motivation to read! Students should complete thirty minutes of independent reading a night, and that should be their main homework assignment. Try to set aside two days a week for students to complete independent reading at school. Reading in a classroom is valuable!

 

Reminder:  If staff get hung up on how to hold students accountable for reading or how to punish students who do not read, your efforts will fail.  Find different, creative, and motivating ways to increase reading. You can have students present a brief, monthly book talk and enter completed books on a reading log. Twice a semester, students can choose a book from their log and share it with their group.

 

I am asking for a commitment to reading.  Yes, actual reading VS reading programs where students read passages and answer questions or face texts far above their instructional reading levels. Commit to research based reading instruction and students will become better readers. If all students read at least three self-selected books a month in addition to instructional reading texts for the course of each year, test scores will improve.

 

As professionals I am calling us to take back what we know makes sense and what research has proven to work. In other words, bury worksheets and have students read the finest books. Reading teachers must become experts on reading instruction, assessment, strategies and the skills needed to teach students to become better readers. Let go of practices that do not work.  If not we will continue to be palsied by slick programs from companies who have very different bottom lines than educators have.

For great information on a favorite topic of ours, Read Talk Write by Laura!

Check out my book published by Scholastic! The Principal’s Leadership Sourcebook!

Leadership: Show Your Passion For Independent Reading

My personal and professional reading life have sustained my desire to continually learn and to read for pleasure. I value the fact that I can choose what to read, reread passages that speak to me, and talk about books and articles to friends and colleagues. One of my primary goals as a middle school principal is to support the culture of independent reading that is part of my school. This means helping teachers feel comfortable setting aside time for independent reading at school. It also means that I model how much I value reading by enlarging classroom libraries, and making our school library an inviting place with comfortable spaces for students to read. I encourage teachers to share books they’ve loved with students, and I share with teachers books I am presently enjoying. For independent reading to flourish in a school, the entire community needs to rally around it.

Research supports the benefit of Independent reading. The pleasure students experience is obvious when I visit a class and observe independent reading. However, I often wonder if schools are embracing independent reading and making it an integral part of their school’s culture. Through reading, students also enlarge background knowledge and vocabulary. But more important is that students derive pleasure from their reading–pleasure in entering and living life in different worlds and cultures as well as stepping into a character’s life and pretending to be that character.

I believe in research, but I also believe in good, old fashioned common sense. To develop skill and expertise at anything in life, you need to practice. Any sport from golf to basketball, requires purposeful practice, and purposeful practice improves performance. If students want to become better readers, it makes sense for purposeful practice to be part of the improvement equation. A combination of independent reading and well-planned, differentiated instructional reading can improve reading skill. Being an excellent reader and writer are necessary for college and career readiness. In addition, it’s also important to remember that students reading below grade level need to read more than their peers who are proficient and advanced readers.

When students self-select books for independent reading, they have opportunities to “practice” the strategies and skills they’ve rehearsed during instructional reading and apply them to materials on their own. Self-selecting books gives students control of what they read which in turn develops self-confidence, literary taste, and a desire to repeat the enjoyable experience.

I am a champion of independent reading. Are you? Readers of my posts know I believe the principal sets the tone through clearly communicated expectations and words of inspiration. I am sharing five ways a principal can encourage and promote independent reading for all, staff included!

If you are new to a school, do a spot check. Are all staff encouraging independent reading? Is it being communicated to students? Are students reading independently in school?

Communicate the value of reading independently. I have known staff who feel they might get in trouble with administration if students are reading independently.

Invest in classroom libraries and your school library. Where we put our money communicates what we value. If we value books and reading, money from the school budget needs to be spent on enlarging classroom libraries and adding books to schools’ central libraries.

Independent reading is practice and should be enjoyable! I have known staff new to my school who shy away from promoting independent reading because they don’t know how to “hold kids accountable.” In my years as a teacher and principal, I have never met anyone who wants to summarize what they read in a notebook or make a shoebox diorama after completing a book. If your staff are stuck in fixed mindsets of accountability for independent reading, work with them to find more positive solutions such vlogs, blogs, or book talks.

Model independent reading! Teachers who read in front of students send a powerful message to their students: as an adult I place such a high value on reading that I read aloud to you every day. Dennis Schug, Principal of Hampton Bays Middle School, notes at the bottom of his email signature what book he is reading. This sends a strong message about the joy reading brings and that’s it’s important to his life.

 

As a school leader, department chair, or classroom teacher, what you value, communicate, and prioritize is like a cold, catching. My challenge, and the challenge of every principal, is to make sure students experience independent reading of self-selected books at school and at home!

Laura and I can provide free P.D. for your school- learn more at Robb Communications

Check out more of my blogs! Scholastic