Author: Evan Robb

Leadership: The Mirror

This is my second blog on summer reflection and your leadership.

Effective leaders look in the mirror and sometimes they do not like what they see. But great leaders can be honest with themselves and work to make a change.

How congruent are you with what you say and what you do?  In this blog, I will present several obstacles that have come my way over the years. I am sure these obstacles or similar version come to you, too.   

When you look in the mirror at night or in the morning you should feel good about the work you do and the decisions you make. Do you model what you speak about?  Or, is there a contradiction between what you say and your actions?  Do you put students first in all of your decisions? I can guarantee it is easier to look in the mirror when you do.

Here are five challenges that came my way during my career:

Retention:  There is no evidence in our field that retention works.  But often we encounter educated adults who cling to the one time they think it worked for a student.  Do you agree with them? Or do you tacitly agree by saying nothing when others speak about it? Have you challenged staff to find research to support retention?

Compromising: A general statement about what you are willing to agree to in order to not shake a relationship.  Relationships founded on falsehoods or compromises of what you believe are not true relationships.  Many times I have seen administrators try to build alliances by agreeing with others who were not in alignment with what they really believed. What changes might you make to not compromise your beliefs?

The Countdown:  Ah, the staff member who says on day one we have 179 days left. Do you agree or say nothing? What does your response say about you?  This has come my way many times over the years.  When it does I like to say, “ I don’t want to hear about the countdown, but I am interested in talking about how each day can be amazing for our students.”  This statement either helps a person change or it lets them know that you have no interest in hearing it.  Both can be positive.

The Bribe: I will stay in your school if you do this for me. This can range from a course assignment to certain pieces of technology.  How do you handle this?  My suggestion is to see this as an opportunity to have a discussion of your leadership with a staff member. Relationships need to be more than if you do this I still support you.  If they are not, you never had a strong relationship.

Ridiculous Assignments: What do you do when staff gives silly assignments such as writing sentences, word finds or crossword puzzles?  Do you tell them to stop? Do you agree with them? Or, say nothing.  As a leader, we need to advocate for students.  Some assignments that staff may cling too or we experienced are simply no good or harmful.  My challenge to you is not to beat yourself up for what was in the past but make a commitment to handling such situations differently. Tell staff to stop.  If they insist on continuing, I suggest that I’m willing to engage staff in a discussion if they can bring any research to the meeting that supports such practice. I have offered many invites over the years, never had a taker.

The summer is a great time to reflect on decisions you have made, how you have handled situations and the congruency of what you say and what you do.  Leadership is hard work.  Compromising is part of leadership but compromising what you believe ultimately undermines your leadership.  Take time this summer to reflect, refine what you believe and how you will develop alignment between your words and actions.

Check out my interview with Dr. Alise Cotez on her show Working on Purpose!  Evan Robb Interview

Also my book, The Principal’s Leadership Sourcebook

Leadership: Reflection

All over the country schools are wrapping up another year, it is summer time.  The pace of the final weeks of a school year can be intense. But when the school year ends we all have an opportunity to reflect and refocus for the year ahead.  

In this blog, I am sharing some thoughts and reflection questions now that one year is over and a new year awaits.

School Story: Eric Sheninger reminds us often that if we do not tell our story someone else will.  Did you and your staff have a successful year of communicating your story?  I encourage you to explore how you can use social media to communicate to students, staff, parents, and your community. Also, evaluate your current communication methods and consider if they are working or have they been kept only because they are what has been done.

Building Student Success: Students always perform best when we lift them up and motivate them to reach new levels.  How is your school promoting student success?  Do you have effective support systems in place to help students who struggle academically and emotionally?  Would students report to your school if they didn’t have to?

Providing Quality P.D. for Staff:  Professional development focused on the needs of staff can have a powerful impact on learning.  The opposite is also true.  Professional development should be focused on the needs of staff and on-going throughout the year.  Take time over the summer to reflect and speak with staff to find one or two professional development focuses for the year ahead.  I encourage a tight focus on professional development VS a common method of using lots of trainings with little follow-up.

Empowering Staff:  As readers know I believe in building commitment to goals instead of mandating commitment.  Staff will be more committed if they feel valued and are empowered to be part of the journey.  How are you empowering staff?  Can you be more inclusive?  Would people describe you as a person committed to building commitment or as a demander of compliance?

Preserving Hope:  This seems so simple but it can be very hard to do day in and out.  Students, staff, and communities always do best when there is hope.  In the school, is your leadership promoting hope? Hope should be part of teaching, learning, and grading.  For this summer I encourage you to think about grading in your school; are grading practices giving students hope or are they taking away hope.  Students give up, check out, and often drop out when they have no hope.  

As a school leader, you can be a force of change but it may also force some hard questions related to the practice of others and yourself.  Answer my questions honestly and do something amazing for students, staff, families, and yourself.

Check out my book, The Principal’s Leadership Sourcebook






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