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

Three Stages of Planning: Dr. Tony Sinanis

Enjoy this guest blog by Tony Sinanis!  Tony shares some expert ideas on planning, unit planning, backward design and how in combination they can positively impact teaching and learning!

Over the last couple of days, I have read a bunch of wonderfully written #OneWord posts. I often found myself nodding my head in agreement, especially in the case of this powerful post about empathy by my friend Bill. Although I couldn’t necessarily pick just one word, recently I have been thinking a lot about planning and how that impacts teaching and learning in our school each day. Much of my thinking has been anchored in the monthly literacy check-in conversations we have had at Cantiague where we have been discussing the integration of the new TC Units of Study and how these resources are impacting planning for literacy instruction and actual implementation.

Planning: A Personal Journey

This notion of “planning” is one I have struggled with my entire career as an educator… I could never quite plan far enough ahead yet I always over planned to make sure every minute was accounted for in my classroom. I have run the spectrum of planning… planning week to week using a plan book; planning an entire unit of study in advance using a template, and planning day to day on sheets of loose-leaf paper based on what I actually got accomplished on any given day with my students. The following graphic accurately captures what the “planning” experience looked like for me as a classroom teacher and even sometimes as a principal (be honest – how many of you can relate??)…

Fortunately, with almost 20 years experience as an educator I can confidently say that although I may have yet to master the whole planning situation, I have come to understand how important it really is to plan for learning and teaching within our classrooms. Regardless of what style or approach or format an educator uses, the bottom line is that we must plan in advance to have some sort of trajectory for the learning we hope to see unfold in our classrooms. Some of the questions I am constantly reflecting on include… What do we want our learners to master during a course of inquiry? What are the essential questions for this unit? What are the skills and strategies we want to expose our learners to during this lesson or unit? How are we going to ensure that the learning is student centered and student driven? Having reflected on questions like these (and dozens more), I have come to some personal understandings about planning. The way I see it, there are three stages of planning we could be engaging in that could have a positive impact on our students.
Stage 1: Unit Design
The first stage of planning and the one that I think is most effective and beneficial to maximizing the learning and teaching experience is unit planning. What do I mean by unit planning? I don’t mean picking up the new TC Units of Study (reading or writing) and necessarily following them verbatim (although that may work for many educators). No, I mean thinking about a unit of study that would be most beneficial to students… YOUR students. Think about what you want your students to have accomplished at the end of the unit of study. What are the essential (big & overarching) questions they should be able to answer? What knowledge and skills should students have acquired at the end of a unit? Could the TC Units of Study be the resource an educator uses as the anchor for a unit? Yes! But, the end goals should be established for the current group of students… TC Units of Study are a resource – they are not the curriculum.
After identifying the essential questions and specific knowledge and skills, now take a few steps back and think about what evidence could be “collected” during a unit to show what children have learned. This is the time to think about how the learning during a unit of study will be assessed because starting with the assessment in mind and planning backward from that point only increases the chances of academic success for learners. The final step in unit planning is thinking about the day to day learning experiences and the instruction that need to take place in order for the children to be able to answer the essential questions at the end of the unit.
A resource that is often used to facilitate this type of unit planning is the Understanding By Design model. The graphic below provides a great visual for the thinking that goes into this type of planning. What we know about systems thinking is that we plan ahead for our end goal – basically planning for our ideal situation – and working back from there.

Stage 2: Logistics, Schedules & Priorities

The second stage of planning considers all the logistics… scheduling, units of study across the different content areas and possibilities for interdisciplinary learning experiences. This is where the week to week planning gets refined and executed. If a teacher knows four students will be out of the classroom at reading at 9:30 am twice during the week, they will plan around that to ensure that the children don’t miss any new content. The second stage of planning will also consider what was accomplished the week before and what the goal is for the following week. This stage of planning drills deeper than what might be considered when planning the entire unit of study. This is where an educator considers the daily learning experiences and how they might unfold in the classroom using mini-lessons, direct instruction, guided practice, small group work and independent practice.

Stage 3: Day To Day

The third stage of planning is based on the data we collect from our students on a daily basis and this impacts the day to day instruction that unfolds in our classrooms. Yes, we may have planned a six-week unit of study in writing workshop that focuses on poetry but if we notice that the majority of our students are struggling with a strategy or skill on any given day, then that should impact, and even dictate, the next day’s mini-lesson. It might throw the unit of study slightly off course but ultimately, we must use data to guide and plan our daily instruction so that we are meeting the needs of our students and helping them work towards mastery of specific skills. The learning and teaching that unfolds in a classroom each day should not be solely based on a unit that was planned weeks in advance – it needs to be shaped and impacted by our students and their needs.

You Decide

Although there is not one size fits all approach to planning, I do believe these three stages of planning will ultimately have the most positive impact on the teaching and learning that unfolds in our classrooms each day. I hope that the readers of this post will join me in reflecting on their individual planning styles and how we can collaborate, as a PLN, to enhance our skills in this area!

Dr. Tony Sinanis is Assistant Superintendent for Learning & Instruction at Plainedge School District, NY
Follow Tony on Twitter @TonySinanis

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

 

 

 

 

 

Teachers Coaching Students

 

Laura recently explained to me how we all are somewhat familiar with athletic coaches. Their job is to train athletes so they experience success in their sport. In the classroom, when teachers wear the mantle of coach, they are also involved in helping students experience success in an area of learning that students find challenging.  An important aim of teacher-coaches is to move students to self-directed learning. To accomplish this, the teacher taps into the concept of efficacy: the belief that all students can learn and be productive members of their education community.

 

Teacher As Coach

You can improve students’ performance, achievement, self-confidence, and self-efficacy when you start thinking like a coach. Through his research, John Hattie discovered that feedback on student work had the most effect on learning. Therefore, thinking like a coach means that you offer students feedback on written work, collaborative and individual projects, literary conversations, and teamwork. Here’s the rub! For feedback to be meaningful to students, coaching should occur soon after students’ work has been completed or in the midst of a long-term project. I prefer a tight timeframe—preferably within two days or the next time the class meets.

Seven Tips That Support Coaching Students

Mull over these seven tips that can enable you to successfully coach students in any discipline. It’s not about choosing two or three. All seven work in concert to develop your coaching strength. It won’t be perfect the first few times you don the mantle of coach. However, take the time to reflect, self-evaluate and learn from mistakes.

Toss red pens & listen. Let students do most of the talking. Sit on your hands if you’re tempted to mark up a student’s paper. Invite the student to jot feedback on a sticky note. You can do the writing for young children as long as they tell you what to write. The more responsibility students have, the more self-directed they become.

Sit side-by-side. This enables you to listen, to observe what students write on sticky notes, and it also advances the trusting relationship between teacher-coach and student.

Negotiate needs & priorities. Find out what the student thinks he or she needs. Then negotiate, share the process of focusing needs and prioritizing them so you both know what to discuss first.

Think aloud and model. Develop a student’s mental model of a task such as brainstorming or what strong verbs look like. Thinking aloud and modeling are two coaching tools you’ll repeatedly use.

Provide feedback. Always start with what’s working, what the student does well. Remember, learning foundations are built on positive feedback. Then ask a question—How does paragraphing help the reading of dialogue?– that gets the student thinking about a need.

Negotiate goals. First see if the student can set a reasonable, achievable goal. If the child seems reluctant, share a few possibilities and let the student choose. Make sure you ask the student to discuss and then jot what has to be done to reach the goal and how much time will be needed.

Gradually release responsibility. The goal of coaching is for the student to experience and understand the process so he or she can become self-directed learners in the area being coached.

Take the Plunge

Set a goal for the upcoming school year and try coaching students. You might have to adjust your thinking and stop seeing work in terms of a grade. Instead, view student’s work as an opportunity for you to offer feedback that can help each one move forward. Keep in mind that it’s the student’s learning and progress that trumps giving a grade!

I suggest Laura’s new book Read Talk Write