Leadership: Communication Reflection


The summer is an excellent time to reflect on how the prior year has gone and what new ideas can be implemented for the new school year.

In this blog, I am posing some questions for educators to reflect on.  How we communicate and how our communication is interpreted is important.  Certainly, we can all find inspiration from Eric Sheninger’s well-known quote, “ Either you tell your school story or someone else will.”

How you tell your story requires you to be intentional; communication will happen no matter what but without some thought and planning, it might not be the communication you want. So, how is your school telling its story?  What do the current communication methods say about your school?

Reflect on my top 7 questions and decide which you and your team do well and where you could improve.  Pick three new focus areas to be part of your communication plan for the new school year.

  1. When a person comes to the front door of your school does signage say visitors please report to the main office or does it say visitors must report to the main office?  This may seem small but words send messages.
  2. Does your front office staff give a great impression to all who enter the office?  Remember, how they communicate tells people a lot about the principal. Do office staff have training on customer service?
  3. Is there an updated calendar on your school website?  Who updates the calendar and how often?  
  4. If your school is using Google, are staff use Google Sites or Google Classroom?  If yes, have you communicated standards for updating and formatting?  Or, are some staff using this great way to communicate while others are not?  
  5. Does your school have a schedule for parent newsletters?  Do grade levels or teams send parent communications home on a set schedule? What message is sent when schedules are not followed or one group in a school communicates much more than another group?
  6. Consider a school-wide positive communication effort.  I have no doubt that all schools have some staff who make positive calls to parents but imagine the impact if all staff make a commitment to making at least one positive call during the year for each student they teach.
  7. Is your school using social media to effectively connect with families and tell the story of your school?  Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are all free and can communicate messages the school needs to send.  Do you have a plan for who manages social media in your school along with defined expectations including a minimum number of communications per day?  

I started my list with an easy change the others are more challenging.  Communication is like a garden it needs sunshine, water, and sometimes some weeding. I suggest choosing no more than three focus areas for the year ahead.  It can be tempting to choose more but too much with all a school needs to manage may not allow for successful change. I encourage a purposeful plan to communicate in a coordinated manner.  A well-coordinated plan will communicate your school’s story and also the important message, communication matters to us!


Check out my book The Principal’s Leadership Sourcebook

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Why Poetry? David L. Harrison



We posed a question to David Harrison, why poetry?

Ask a poet, “Why poetry?” the response may be a surprised look, the sort you’d expect if you’d asked, “Why do you breathe?” Perhaps it’s better to ask, “Why poets?” Who are these passionately dedicated people who throw themselves into the slow, tedious business of making poems? Good poetry is hard to write, selling poetry is next to impossible, and poets rarely make much money. So why poetry, why poets, and why should you care?
I can’t speak for other poets (although I bet they’d all answer in much the same way), but I love the challenge of beginning with an idea and facing all those decisions that must be made before I wind up with a finished poem. In music, the same notes in different combinations produce jazz, Dixieland, blues, marches, and symphonic works. In poetry, the same words in different combinations produce a marvelous variety of verse. Most days I work twelve hours, much of it writing poetry. I’m a freelance writer. No one is going to pay me if I don’t produce. Few would care or notice if I stopped. I work alone. If I spend hours trying to decide between one rhyme or another, struggling with a stubborn meter, seeking a stronger noun, searching desperately for just the right simile – who cares? Well, first of all, I care. No poet worth his salt is ever going to stop working on a poem until he reads it aloud one more time and loves what he hears.
Ask a teacher who has learned that poetry is one of the best tools in the toolbox for teaching fluency, comprehension, vocabulary, and love of language, “Why poetry?” You might hear, “Couldn’t do without it!” At least I hope that’s what you hear! Teachers who routinely use poetry in their classrooms know that the rhymes and cadences of structured language make it easier to remember than prose and more fun to read repeatedly. Teachers who invite their students to write poems of their own know that children’s poetry offers a wonderful opportunity to share the rich diversity of our people.
But someone else cares too. Ask a third grader who has had positive experiences with poetry at home and/or school, “Why poetry?” You might hear, “I like poems. Sometimes they’re funny and they make me laugh.” What that third grader or first grader or fifth grader doesn’t realize is that poetry’s nuances, metaphors, echoing sounds, song-like qualities, rhymes, and cadences are providing much more than entertainment. Young readers have no idea how hard the poet worked to make them laugh or think or see something in a new light or provide them with examples of language used beautifully. Why should they? It’s their right to read good poems.
Why poetry? Ask a poet or a teacher if you want to. I’m going with the third grader.

© David L. Harrison

David L. Harrison.com

David’s Blog

Assessing Independent Reading


A common question comes up when launching independent reading programs, how do we hold students accountable?  I asked Laura to share some thought about independent reading and how or if we should hold students accountable.  Her insights are excellent!

Studies have shown that students who receive rewards such as points and pizza parties in elementary and middle school, turn away from independent reading in high school when rewards stop. However, as much as possible, the reward for independent reading should not be extrinsic—it should be intrinsic—meaning the learning and enjoyment should be enough.  Teachers and parents can encourage independent reading by celebrating a book completed as well as asking the child to talk about the book and why it was a terrific read.

For independent reading to flourish in schools, administrators, teachers, and parents need to recognize its importance and understand that extrinsic rewards can ultimately result in negative returns.  However, there are authentic assessments teachers can use that advertise beloved books within and beyond the walls of a classroom.

Four Authentic Ways of Assessing Independent Reading

The suggestions that follow are top notch ways for your students to advertise books they enjoyed reading.  Always allow students to choose their independent reading materials.

Book Logs. Tape these in the back of readers’ notebooks. Keep the format simple and have students write the title, author, and the date completed or abandoned. Every six weeks or so, set aside twenty to thirty minutes and invite students to select a favorite book from their log to share with their group. Now, students have opportunities to talk about a book but also give group members ideas for books they want to read.

Book Talks. Reserve two consecutive days during the last week of a month for students to present a book talk. I recommend that the teacher selects the book for the first round of talks, then turn choice over to students. If you do a book talk a month for the ten months of school and you have twenty-five students in your class, students will hear about 250 books! And, it’s their peers who are doing the recommending!

Written Book Reviews. The book report is a school-invented assignment. Book reviews are authentic: The first paragraph is a short summary and the second paragraph is the reader’s opinion. Have students study sample book reviews as mentor texts—reviews from journals such as The Horn Book and School Library Journal. Post students’ reviews on a class and school website so others can learn about books they might enjoy reading.

Literary Conversations. Literature circles, book clubs, and partner discussions all encourage students to talk about books. You can organize these discussions by genre. It doesn’t matter that students have different books because their discussions can focus on genres structures, literary elements, and themes.

Lingering Thoughts

It’s impossible to assess every book a student reads. Nor should you consider this for even a fleeting moment. It’s a matter of trusting that students are reading. Moreover, continual assessment discourages students who read voraciously, for they have to do much more work than students who read less. Most important, let students choose books, share some with classmates, and eventually, they will develop literary tastes and build a personal reading life that lasts a lifetime!

For further understanding, I suggest Laura’s book Differentiated Instruction

Leadership: Summer Letter To Staff

In this post, I am sharing the letter I sent to staff last summer.  A summer communication to staff is a great way to recapture the year and set the stage for the year ahead.  My focus for the year ahead was greatness, team, and belief.  All are personal choices we make every day.  I share this letter in hopes that it can help you to frame this important communication for your staff whether new to the job or a veteran, communication will always be a critical component of leadership.


Dear Staff,

I  hope that each of you has had a restful and enjoyable summer break.  Summer is a great time to reflect and make adjustments for the year ahead. As I look back on the previous school year, I am proud of what our school accomplished, our professionalism as a staff, and most important, our collective commitment to doing our best for every student, every day. The staff of (School Name) has always been a great team!

The speed of change is fast and every year it gets faster. How we meet the challenges that inevitably come our way is our test of greatness personally, professionally, and collectively as a team.  We understand the need to be fast and progressive to meet the changes and challenges we and our students face.  Together our initiatives, commitment, and team focus have given us outstanding student achievement and a progressive and rewarding teaching environment.

For the past several years we focused on 21st century skills: creative thinking, creative problem solving, communication, collaboration, active engagement, higher level questioning, non-traditional class structures, and using unit-based planning to create lessons using backward design to create engaging units framed by pre-tests, formative assessments, and summatives to confirm what has been learned. The list may seem large, it is by no means exhaustive, nor is our work done. Initiatives we have worked on together and elements of great instruction are seen in our classrooms daily. In concert with great instruction, we see the enthusiasm students exhibit as we teach them for their future, not our past.  This year we will continue to find our instructional greatness; view challenges as opportunities, and understand that being great is a choice, not an inherent trait.

In addition, at the end of last year, we launched a large initiative, research-based grading practices.  Each department has established grading criteria based on best practice to create equity and to motivate students to succeed!   

The end goal in education is always present; it can be summed up with the word “all.” A simple three letter word that forces us to look at everything we do, evaluate, adjust, and re-focus to achieve a great education for everyone.  Being focused on greatness has never, nor should it ever be a faux definer of our school.  We have always found greatness when we focus and make adjustments to ensure success for all students and our school.

As you think about the new school year take the time to find the greatness that resides in you and use your personal greatness to create magic for our students. Please link the video below. After viewing, please return to the letter.

Nike: Find Your Greatness

As you near the end of summer I ask that you consider this:

People are inspired and drawn to you when they have a clear understanding of why you do what you do.  Your personal why is where you will find the greatness that is in you.

We have learned the value of surrounding ourselves with exceptional people who are 100% committed to doing their best for children: people who have a desire or even desperation to be great, people who believe in the magic that can occur in a classroom and school.

In the future, our students will serve as corporate leaders, lawyers, teachers, anchor the evening news, and maybe even serve as President of the United States.  Believe that in front of you every day are students who can achieve these goals or whatever goals they need to make them feel successful and find their personal greatness.

When we work together, there is no challenge that we cannot meet!  Our students deserve the absolute best and we have the team to make this happen!

Enjoy the last days of summer and begin gearing up for another outstanding school year.