Leadership: The Power of Positive


My second blog is on leadership and discusses a simple concept, one that will test you each day: The power of being a positive person–a positive force in your school. Administrators who daily utilize a positive approach can effect and even transform a school’s culture.

So, now for the look-in-the-mirror-moment. Ask yourself, Am I a positive person? Then, reflect on both statements: Positive people always attract positive people. People who are negative tend to attract negative people. Some people believe they are positive and feel perplexed when they attract negative people. But everyone has the power to change their outlook to positive as long as each person sees the need and has the will.

After many years in education, I can honestly say that I have known many negative people, including school and district leaders. However, I have also known leaders who continually maintain a positive outlook because they understand that being positive is a key ingredient for success. When school leaders combine positivity with a passion for their work, it’s possible for them to achieve greatness. Both positivity and negativity affect people’s interactions and their view of life and the world. Moreover, I have never known a negative leader who has achieved success over time, but I have observed positive leaders do this again and again.

My challenge to you is to be a positive force. By embracing a positive outlook, you will be a more effective leader and impact teachers, staff, students, and families. In addition, your leadership style holds the potential of creating an upbeat outlook among teachers who in turn develop a positive class environment for students. To support your efforts, I’ve identified four simple rules for you to consider:

  1. Make the choice to be a positive force.
  2. Be upbeat and optimistic and look for what works as well as focusing on what others do well.
  3. Bring a positive outlook to negative people by modeling the benefits.
  4. Practice being positive every day.

Embracing a positive leadership style may be the best advice I can give you because you will create meaningful change by building on what’s working. Remember the opening of Johnny Mercer’s popular song, “You’ve got to accentuate the positive. Eliminate the negative. Latch on to the affirmative. Don’t mess with Mister In-between.” This song has been recorded by artists such as Bing Crosby, Paul McCartney, Connie Francis, and Aretha Franklin for good reasons–it celebrates the power to affect positive change by having an upbeat outlook.

I believe that effective leaders are positive. If you inherit a negative school culture, being positive can raise feelings of loneliness. However, by recognizing the reasons for these feelings, you can make the choice to be positive during each day. To maintain a positive school culture, notice and give voice to the excellence you observe as you complete walkthroughs, spend time in the cafeteria and classes, walk your school’s halls, meet with staff and parents, attend school and district meetings, and watch sports and arts events. Keep in mind that change will come because like the common cold, being positive is catching!


My book The Principal’s Leadership Sourcebook is available on Amazon.


Tips for Conferring with Students

Writing workshop allows students to practice specific writing skills, to peer edit, and to have conferences with students.  I asked Laura to share some tips and on conferring with students and some common pitfalls. Here are ten great tips and a few pitfalls that came from our conversation:

Choose One Topic: Zoom in on one strategy such as inferring,finding themes, determining important details, or showing how text features connect to main ideas.

Prepare & Succeed: Reflect on what you plan to discuss and think of more than one possible scaffold to try. Having multiple scaffolds helps because if one doesn’t work, you have another at your fingertips.

Accentuate the Positive: Start by pointing out what the student has done well. It could be something you recently observed or the effort the student puts into analyzing texts.

Allow for Student Response Time: When you ask a question to start the conversation, give the student time to think. The tendency is for teachers to fill the silence with talk and solutions. This doesn’t support students. Though your wait time might feel like an eternity, it isn’t. Resist the urge to talk.

Listen: Avoid interrupting a student. Listen carefully and jot down questions you have; ask these once the student has finished. Throughout the conference, use your knowledge of this student to make comments and ask questions that boost the student’s confidence and encourage him to talk.

Pose Questions: Review a mini-lesson or a think-aloud that relates to the conference’s topic by asking questions that jogs their memory. When you point students to a specific lesson, you shift the focus away from their own thinking, you can free them up to find a solution from the recalled lesson.

Model: Sometimes you’ll need to think-aloud to show the student how you apply a strategy to reading. The brief model you provide can refresh the student’s memory and build the confidence that enables the student to try practicing in front of you.

Negotiate Goals: Start by recapping the conference and then invite the student to set a goal that he or she can achieve in one to two weeks. If the student struggles with this task, suggest two goals and ask the student to choose one. Choice is always empowering!

Help Students Achieve Goals: Having a goal is the first step, but reaching that goal requires a plan. Help the student figure out what he or she has to do to reach the goal and write the plan on the conference form. Give a copy of the plan to the student to tape into his or her reader’s notebook.

Close With Positive Comments: Say something positive to the student at the end of the conference so the student leaves feeling that he or she improved and deepened his understanding of the conference’s topic. Start comments with I noticed…or I like the way….

Avoid these pitfalls when you confer with students:

The teacher does most of the talking.

There are too many topics being covered; this can confuse students.

The conference takes more than five minutes.

The teacher makes the decisions and sets goals for the student.
Check out Laura Robb’s book, The Intervention ToolKit (Shell, 2016) for more on scaffolds, conferences, and interventions.


Leadership: Start a Movement

Principal positions are complex. The position of principal can test your faith in what you believe is right. Your beliefs, commitment to students and staff all reflect on you as a person and your leadership.  Through several blogs I am going to share my thoughts on leadership. Lessons learned and mistakes; I have made many.  

Relationships, commitment to group goals, communication, professional knowledge, innovation, expectations, trust, and putting students first are just part of the many factors needed to feel effective as a principal. As you think about your position or becoming an administrator, you must reflect and understand what you believe and how you lead.

I believe great leaders communicate a sense of purpose, an articulated and understood sense of why they do what they do. If students, staff, and a community are united around a strong sense of purpose, magic can happen.

Part of leadership can be the challenge of creating a sense of purpose by starting a movement.  Uniting students, staff, and a community behind a sense of purpose that generates passion and helps people find their personal greatness. Sometimes when we lead we start out alone with a a good or great idea that others are apprehensive about. Sometimes we need to take people to a place they have not thought of or may fear.

In this blog I am sharing a favorite video on creating a movement.  Notice how the short video initially shows a man going it alone, in the case of the video looking foolish.  But what happens when one follows and ultimately when many follow?

The position of principal can be lonely if you want to take staff to a place they might not be ready to embrace.  Staff must trust you. You can have great ideas but if trust is not a foundation nothing will work.  Pushing staff requires finesse and at times a desire to drive change if it is truly what is best for students.  I have never found it effective to push hard all the time nor have I found the opposite any good either.

Those who lead by never challenging the status quo will never find their personal greatness.   Sometimes it’s lonely at first, be true to your personal “why” and find your greatness!  

Start a movement.

Principals Leadership Sourcebook, By Evan Robb

Put Revising in Students’ Hands

We all know how easy it is to put off reading students’ writing. Marking up papers is a joyless experience.  What happens is that teachers spend long hours slogging through a stack of papers and students learn little because they aren’t doing the revising work. The changeover to students doing the revision is easy. Try these five techniques that put revision into your students’ hands and show them how to improve the content of their writing. There’s one caveat—students need writing time during school at least four 45-minute classes.

  1. Make sure expectations are clear before students plan and draft. Let students know the content standards whether it’s a paragraph, essay, or short narrative. For an informative paragraph content standards might include a title, topic sentence that grabs readers, three to four elaborated details, a conclusion that keeps readers thinking. Standards for a memoir might include a title, one significant memory, tell the story truthfully in first person, use dialogue, show, don’t tell.
  2. Send old habits on their way—support first drafts, don’t read and grade them. Have students plan and draft their writing in class. Circulate and listen, observe, answer questions, and offer help. Point out what’s working, pair-up students who can support each other. Don’t carry a pencil to make sure the students do the work. Why? When students solve writing problems, they grow as writers and move to independence with revision.
  3. Teach techniques that make revision easy. Ask students to self-evaluate their first drafts by using the content standards. Then assign writing partners so pairs can use the content standards to make revision suggestions. On a separate paper, the writer and then the peer evaluator check the content against the standards and turn each standard into questions such as: Was the title short and catchy? Did the topic sentence make me want to read on? Did the writer offer interesting information? What did the wrap-up include that made me want to continue thinking about the topic? Students write responses to these questions on separate paper. Now student writers have ideas from themselves and peers for revision!
  4. Invite students to join the revision bandwagon. It’s the students who roll up their sleeves, dig in, and revise parts they feel will improve the writing. Students rewrite sections in need of revision on separate paper, then create a second, much improved draft.
  5. Teachers read second drafts. One of the many benefits of students doing the revising and creating a second draft is that you read writing that’s improved. Professional writers know that first drafts never cut it—let’s do the same for students and make your reading and grading life easier! Use the same techniques for developing standards for editing writing conventions.

You might want to check out Robb’s book on writing: Teaching Middle School Writers, Heinemann, 2010.