Tag Archives: george couros

Change Agent vs. Change Advocate

Change Agent (1)

In 2013, I wrote an article about the “5 Characteristics of a Change Agent”, with the characteristics and descriptions below:

1.  Clear Vision – A “change agent” does not have to be the person in authority, but they do however have to have a clear vision and be able to communicate that clearly with others.  Where people can be frustrated is if they feel that someone is all over the place on what they see as important and tend to change their vision often.  This will scare away others as they are not sure when they are on a sinking ship and start to looking for ways out.  It is essential to note that a clear vision does not mean that there is one way to do things; in fact, it is essential to tap into the strengths of the people you work with and help them see that there are many ways to work toward a common purpose.

2. Patient yet persistent – Change does not happen overnight and most people know that.  To have sustainable change that is meaningful to people, it is something that they will have to embrace and see importance.  Most people need to experience something before they really understand that, and that is especially true in schools.  With that being said, many can get frustrated that change does not happen fast enough and they tend to push people further away from the vision, then closer.  The persistence comes in that you will take opportunities to help people get a step closer often when they are ready, not just giving up on them after the first try.  I have said continuously that schools have to move people from their point ‘A’ to their point ‘B’not have everyone move at the same pace. Every step forward is a step closer to a goal; change agents just help to make sure that people are moving ahead.

3. Asks tough questions – It would be easy for someone to come in and tell you how things should be, but again that is someone else’s solution.  When that solution is someone else’s, there is no accountability to see it through.  It is when people feel an emotional connection to something is when they will truly move ahead.  Asking questions focusing on, “What is best for kids?”, and helping people come to their own conclusions based on their experience is when you will see people have ownership in what they are doing.  Keep asking questions to help people think, don’t alleviate that by telling them what to do.

4.  Knowledgeable and leads by example – Stephen Covey talked about the notion that leaders have “character and credibility”; they are not just seen as good people but that they are also knowledgeable in what they are speaking about.  Too many times, educators feel like their administrators have “lost touch” with what is happening in the classroom, and many times they are right.  Someone who stays active in not necessarily teaching, but active in learning and working with learners and can show by example what learning can look like now will have much more credibility with others.  If you want to create “change”, you have to not only be able to articulate what that looks like, but show it to others. I have sat frustrated often listening to many talk about “how kids learn today” but upon closer look, the same speakers do not put themselves in the situation where they are actually immersing themselves in that type of learning.  How can you really know how “kids learn” or if something works if you have never experienced it?

5. Strong relationships built on trust – All of the above, means nothing if you do not have solid relationships with the people that you serve.  People will not want to grow if they do not trust the person that is pushing the change.  The change agents I have seen are extremely approachable and reliable.  You should never be afraid to approach that individual based on their “authority” and usually  they will go out of their way to connect with you.

What is most important about all of these characteristics, is the last point on relationships.  There is a difference between a “change agent” and a “change advocate”.  If you hold the first four qualities on this list only, you are someone advocating for change, but not necessarily making it happen.  All the vision and knowledge in the world means nothing if we are not able to connect with others; it is the equivalent of shouting into the wind.  Having the fifth quality focused on relationships, is what makes someone a “change agent”.  The only way to help people move forward is by building relationships and understanding where their journey begins, not focusing solely on where you want them to be.

Change is an opportunity to do something amazing.

I have had the privilege to speak in Indiana for their “Summer of eLearning” events over the past three years and I have been able to see snapshots of the state, that have given me some perspective.  The growth not only in the conversations, but the opportunities has been significant as a whole.  Years ago there were educators that were pushing the boundaries in the state, but there seem to be a lot more and I know that it is because of the persistence of many levels (top down and bottom up) that have made this possible.

What I have been thinking about how we have to realize that it is not only learning that is differentiated, but at the rate that we are accepting of change.  For some, change is happening too slow, but for others it is happening too fast.  It is the Goldilock’s conundrum that we are facing; how do we make it happen so the pace of change is just right?

Short answer? We can’t.

We have to realize that in educators are not simply educators. They are mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters.  There are so many other things that are happening around them that many of us can’t fathom.  I have good friends that are doing amazing things in spite of the things that they are dealing with at home.  In fact, sometimes they do these amazing things because it helps take away from some of those things they have to deal with.  I know that sometimes when I struggle personally, it is easy to bury my head and drive forward professionally. Sometimes when I struggle personally, professionally I also struggle.  It is dependent upon many factors.

This is a profession where humans are dealing with humans.  The amount of variables that we deal with daily are infinite as a profession.  

So do we give a pass to those that aren’t open to change? Not a chance.  Change will happen with or without people, but it is up to ourselves to evolve, adapt, and thrive.  What is important that we need to recognize when people are moving forward, not necessarily their endpoint.  One of the ideas that I have embraced in my role is that we help move people from their point ‘a’ to their point ‘b’. Movement forward is necessary.

Sometimes it is easy to think education has not changed in the past few years, but if we sat back and took snapshots, I know I have personally seen growth in the profession.  The conversations on assessment, learning-centred classrooms, innovation, and mindfulness are things that were not the norm when I started teaching.  This doesn’t mean that we can’t be frustrated with many of the barriers that are still in the way to help us move forward.  I encourage you to continuously challenge them.  What is important though is that we sometimes take a step back and appreciate some change that has happened.  I know personally that we move a lot further forward when we focus on strengths and show appreciation for one another, than we do when we criticize.

And just so you know, if education is truly learning focused, we will never get there (wherever “there” is).  Growth and change is part of the process of learning, and as organizations and individuals, we will need to embrace that.

Thinking of my dad on this Fathers’ Day, I looked at his actions, and the one thing he always reminded me of through his actions is that change is an opportunity to do something amazing. The more we embrace that notion, the better we will all be.

Change is an opportunity to do something

8 Things to Look for in Today’s Professional Learning (Part 2)

(This is the second of two parts on professional learning.  You can read the first part here.  It is based on the visual below that was created by Sylvia Duckworth and adapted from “8 Things to Look for in Today’s Classroom“.)

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 4.39.24 PM

Connected Learning

Rationale: The opportunities for learning in our world today are immense and we need to take advantage of the opportunities that are presented to us.  We not only have access to all of the information in our world today, but we have access to one another.  This has a major impact in our learning today. What I have started to notice is that you can see some major benefits of being connected in the classroom for the learning environment of our students. Access to one another can accelerate and amplify powerful learning opportunities.

Alec Couros, shared the following image on the idea of “The Networked Teacher”;

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 6.58.59 PM

Although the technologies in the visual can change and how we use them can always be altered, the most important part of this visual, in my opinion, are the arrows that go back and forth.  More and more, educators are becoming both consumers and creators of information, which is accelerating the opportunities for our students.

Idea: The idea for this is simple.  If we see connected learning as something that is having an impact on the learning of our students, we must embed time into our work day and professional learning opportunities to help educators develop professional learning networks (PLN’s) and leading them to resources such as the “Edublogs Teacher Challenges” might help them get started, but face-to-face support is also crucial.  To be honest, the technology to connect is simple once you get the hang of it, but it is developing the habits to think about connecting in the first place that truly make the difference.  Differing between the time when you “google” something versus asking the same question on Twitter can not only help you get better results, but in the long run, save time (which no one has enough of).  To be successful in helping people develop professional learning networks is to narrow the focus on the tools that are being shared with staff.  It is not to limit staff on what they can use, but spending professional learning go deep into the process.  We need to do less, better. Taking the time to connect can make a major difference in the learning of your staff, and ultimately, your students.

Other elements that could be incorporated: Reflection, Voice, Choice, Opportunities for Innovation

Opportunities for Innovation

Rationale: If we want innovative students, we need to focus on becoming innovative educators.  It is not that “innovation” is new in education, but the opportunities that exist in our world today make innovation more possible. To help develop the “innovator’s mindset”, schools and organizations have to embody certain characteristics that create an environment where innovation will flourish. Again, as in all elements shared for professional learning, it is essential that time is provided to help develop this mindset.

Innovator's Mindset

Idea: My good friend Jesse McLean has promoted the idea of “Innovation Week” for his students, but knew to really have this to be successful, educators would have to partake in this type of process. He developed the idea of “Educator Innovation Day”, to give educators the time to tinker and develop innovative ideas both inside and outside of education.  This goes to the idea of developing “intrapreneurs”, and as Jake Swearingen has stated, these intrapreneurs are essential to driving change within an organization.

Chris Wejr also shared his ideas on how to actually embed time through “Fed-Ex Prep” for teachers to encourage time is taken to create innovative ideas within education.  There is also the opportunity to adapt Google’s famous “20% Time” into learning at our schools, for both students and staff.  None of these ideas have to be taken “as is”, but can be adapted to tie into the communities we serve.  What is (again) essential to the success of developing educators as innovators is both the priority and time being put into the process.  In a world where developing innovators and entrepreneurs is essential to the forward movement of our schools, we need to create professional learning opportunities that see “innovation” as a necessity, not a luxury.

If something is missing, we need to create it. In this case, if there are no entrepreneurs, we need to make some. And to make some is to instill the entrepreneurship spirit into our children from the outside through education.” Yong Zhao

Other elements that could be incorporated: Critical Thinking, Choice, Connected Learning, Problem Finders/Solvers

Self-Assessment

Rationale: School has been set up in a way that we have become dependent upon someone else telling us how we are doing in our learning.  It is not only in our report card system, but also our evaluation process of educators.  Students will encounter bad teachers, teachers will encounter bad principals, and principals will encounter weak superintendents.  If we create a system that becomes dependent upon someone above else to tell us “how we are doing”, this quickly falls apart when that someone is not strong.  Having your own understanding of your strengths and weaknesses, is hugely beneficial not only in education, but in all elements of life, whether it is personal or professional.

Idea: Blogs as Digital Portfolios are an opportunity to not only showcase learning, but an opportunity to take time to reflect and grow from the process.  Having my own digital portfolio for the last five years (this blog), has helped me grow more than most professional learning opportunities that have been given to me.  I have collected and developed resources on both “how” to create a digital portfolio, and the power of learning through this type of self-assessment.  I feel that there is more growth in this type of process because I own my learning; it is not graded by someone else, but also documents my learning process over time so that I can easily see my own growth.

Although there may be “guidelines” that must be done for teacher evaluation (three visits into the classroom, etc.), having educators their own ongoing portfolio is a great opportunity to shift the conversation from the “evaluator” to the “learner”.  For example, the traditional conversation that has happened in evaluations is that observations are shared from the viewpoint of the administrator, to a teacher.  Conversations can be started from these types of evaluations, but from my experience, the focus is far too great on the evaluator than it is on the teacher.  By using a digital portfolio process as part of the (self) evaluation, the conversation can simply be started by asking the questions, “Where are you strong and where do you need to grow?”  The shift in this process is to the learner, and as Dean Shareski has stated, blogging is a great way to develop better educators. Putting an emphasis on this type of self-assessment is not only beneficial to the individual learner, but when shared openly, can help drive change.  The more we are able to see and understand the learning of other educators both inside and outside our organizations, the more we can tap into one another to drive positive change.

Other elements that could be incorporated: Reflection, Voice, Critical Thinking, Connected Learning

Critical Thinking

Rationale: In this video on “Critical Thinking”, this visual is shared to help us better understand elements of the process:

Screen Shot 2015-04-05 at 10.28.04 AM

In a world where information is in abundance, it is important for our students to be able to take information, understand their own thoughts and biases, as well as develop criteria to evaluate information, while developing questions to challenge conventional wisdom.  The image below shares what developing “critical thinkers” moves us towards;

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 1.03.26 PM

Although this is something that we are looking for in our students, do we promote this in meaningful ways with our own professional learning?  Not just by learning about “critical thinking”, but pushing our own organizations by encouraging this within our organizations.  If we are ever to move forward as schools, we need to have leadership open to people asking questions and developing what we already see.  A flattened organization is the only place that this type of thinking will thrive.

Idea: There has been a lot of information shared throughout this document, and I think that this gives us an opportunity to challenge our conventional wisdom of professional learning.  As I stated earlier, these are not “prescriptive ideas”, but my own thoughts on how we can revamp professional learning.  This is not “black and white” but grey.  Is it possible with staff to develop criteria on what successful professional learning looks like, and then develop new ideas on how it could be implemented.

What I would love to see in our schools is this process being implemented on an individual basis where staff share what they believe to be successful personal learning, and provide a plan on how this could be implemented at a personal level.  Is it possible to develop individual learning plans for ourselves to really take ownership of our learning?  Can we take what we know, and apply it to better professional learning for ourselves?

Other elements that could be incorporated: Opportunities for innovation, Voice, Choice, Problem-Solvers Finders

Concluding Thoughts

Professional learning in many places, needs an overhaul.  I see educators go to places like EdCamp and share how excited they are about the opportunities for learning that happens at those types of events, yet it is rare that I see people sharing how excited they are to attend their own PD days.  We need to change that mindset by tapping into the different types of learning opportunities that are present today.

It is not about doing everything that I have suggested, or to be honest, any of it.  Really, it’s  about contemplating why we do what we do, and then thinking about how we do it.  If we do not change the way we do our professional learning, nothing will change in the classroom.


(If you want to read both part 1 and 2 as one piece, here it is on a Google Document.)

 

Quick Guide

Element Activity Links/Resources
Voice #EDUin30 type activityTweeting one thing a day of the learning that is happening in your school What is #EDUin30?
Choice #EDCAMP professional learning day What is EdCamp?
Reflection Embedding blogging time into learning or even something as simple as giving people time to reflect on what they have learned throughout the day Create a survey using Google Forms
Problem Solvers-Finders Inquiry Based Learning Professional Development Inquiry Based Professional Learning
Connected Learning Using Social Media to develop their own learning networks (The networked learner Edublogs Teacher Challenges
Self-Assessment Blogs as Digital Portfolios Resources for Digital Portfolios
Critical Thinkers Developing Criteria for what powerful professional learning looks like and helping to create the day. What is critical thinking?
Opportunities for Innovation Innovation Day or Genius Hour embedded into professional learning time Educators Innovation Day
Fed-Ex Prep Time

 

 

If you are scared of change, ask yourself this question.

People are terrified of change.  Not just of change, but the process of change and what it entails you.  You cannot change your practice without work, time commitment, and sometimes shifting priorities.  In leadership positions, this is the same with helping people move forward and having them invest their time in a new project or initiative.  You will want to guard them from all of the work that they will have to do when time is precious.  So when you go through the process, ask yourself this question:

Is this best for kids?

If you can answer unequivocally that the answer is “yes”, then the change process is necessary.  It might not be easy, it might take time, it might be messy, but it needs to happen.

If you are unsure if the answer is “yes” or “no”, use that same question to guide your search.

If it helps our students, it is worth doing.

That simple.

Should every educator be an “innovator”?

Having a conversation with an administrator, and talking about the notion of the “innovator’s mindset“, they asked me if I thought every educator should be an innovator.  I answered with one word.

Yes.

When we went deeper into the conversation, and the comment was made that not every educator is good with technology.   Innovation doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with technology as the two words are not necessarily synonymous, although technology allows us to accelerate and amplify the process if used in purposeful ways.  It is about having a mindset towards continuously developing new and better ideas as outlined below.

Innovator's Mindset

This was obviously built on Carol Dweck‘s work regarding the “fixed and growth mindset”, but it goes further in the notion and is essential in our work with students every day.

For example, you are working with a student and you have learned several strategies that you use to help for reading, yet none of them work for the student.  Do you give up, or do you take what you know (or find out things that you don’t know)  and try to figure out a new way to help this student?  If we simply go with what we know right now, a lot of students will be left behind since there is no one solution that helps every kid.  If there was, we would all know it.

Or what about the administrator that may have budget constraints and work within a system that expects us to do more with less?  If we do not think of new ways that we can do things, then how will we ever move forward?  Innovation is not about “stuff” but more about a way of thinking.  We live in a complex world that needs us to not do just what we have done, but to look for new and better ways to solve problems to help those we serve.  These are the characteristics of the innovator’s mindset.  This way of thinking is by far the biggest game changer in education; it will never be a technology.

This is not about embracing failure, but doing whatever we can to help our students today become successful.  The other idea is that “innovation” is not something reserved for the select few in education, but is something that all levels of our organization, from students to superintendents, need to embrace.

When we look at ourselves in terms of having the “innovator’s mindset” and say “that’s not me”, not only do we sell ourselves short, but our kids.  We need to constantly ask the question, “what is best for this learner?” This is a question we all need to continuously ask in education.

What’s your one word?

I was reading my friend Tony Sinanis’ blog and his post on “Dear Sucky Teacher”, which was preceded by “Dear Sucky Administrator“.  I have had a lot of conversations with Tony, and I can tell you that he is one of the kindest and most supportive people I know, but I will admit, the title threw me off.  I have said before that nobody gets up in the morning wanting to be terrible, and although there are teachers out there that don’t love their job, there is always more to a story than we know.  In no way is this meant to be a challenge on Tony’s post, but it just made me think and connect to my own learning.

One of the comments that I made about the post would be on changing the title to, “Dear Struggling Teacher”.  What would that say?  I know some amazing teachers who have not lived up to their own standards themselves, and have had tough years.  I know that I have had my own tough times and I have not lived up to my own standards whether it be personally or professionally.  Some people actually excel in their jobs when things are bad in other areas. It is often how they are wired, sometimes it is the superior ability to compartmentalize, and sometimes it’s avoidance.  As someone who wears their heart on their sleeve, you can see when I am having a bad day from a mile away, and I know it can affect what I do.

So in light of Tony’s post and people sharing their “word” for 2015, I have thought about a word that has kept popping up into my head over and over again; empathy.  I have especially thought about it a lot in a world where technology so dominates us, that we often forget that there is a human being on the other side of that connection.  It has made me step back and really think about how it is so easy to go online and complain about a bad customer interaction, not really knowing more to the story. I know that I have been prone to push in person and online, so I have tried to step back and ask more questions than anything, and as Stephen Covey would say, “seeking to understand”.

Empathy is crucial to innovation and design thinking, and that is being mentioned quite a bit, but it is also crucial to every interaction that we have. So personally and professionally, So in 2015, I am going to focus more on asking questions and trying to understand, as opposed to being stuck to an opinion.  Hopefully this goes way beyond this year.

What’s your word?

3 Ideas on Innovation in Education from Vine

I have really started looking at Vine as a social media platform, and have been really interested in how it is being used.  Over the Christmas holidays, I could easily get lost in going through the posts of others and seeing what they have shared, and an hour could disappear in seemingly seconds.

If you don’t know what Vine is, here is the summary from Wikipedia:

Vine is a short-form video sharing service. Founded in June 2012, it was acquired by microblogging website Twitter in October 2012, just before its official launch. The service allows users to record and edit five- to six-second-long looping video clips, and to “revine”, or share others’ posts with followers. Some Vines are revined automatically based on what is popular. The videos can then be published through Vine’s social network and shared on other services such as Facebook and Twitter. Vine’s app can also be used to browse through videos posted by other users, along with groups of videos by theme, and trending, or popular, videos.

When I first heard of the platform, I didn’t think it would ever catch on.  I mean really, what could you do with only 6 seconds in a video?  But quickly, it has become one of the largest platforms for sharing videos, and there are many people (many of them in their teens), who have acquired millions of followers from their highly entertaining videos that they have shared.  Like any social media platform, not all content shared is something that I would be interested in, or even appropriate, but there is a lot of really interesting things being shared through the service.

This one made me really laugh, combining a “viral video” from the past to today’s popular music:

As I look deeper into the idea of “innovation”, especially as it relates to schools, there are some lessons I have noticed from the use of Vine.

1. Innovation can still happen with constraints.  As mentioned earlier, there was not much I thought that could be done with a 6 second video, but people are making some pretty amazing videos. Check out the following time lapse of the Northern Lights:

Or this one of a simple leaf:

Instead of focusing on what people “don’t” have in the use of Vine, they focus on what they do have, and many, try to create something amazing within the system.  There are many people that would love to totally start school from scratch, and sometimes I agree, but the reality of our world is that this is not likely to happen, and we are going to look at what he have to not always think “outside of the box”, but figure out how to be innovative inside of it.

2.  Multiple ideas can often lead to multiple great ones.  Some of the most followed “viners” post something new daily, and although many of the things they share are great, some of them are duds.  Instead of quitting, they continue to share different videos and make something new consistently.  In education, we might try something new and it doesn’t work the way we expected, but we need to continue on pushing new ideas and focusing on what works best for kids.  Even in my own blog, some of my posts are better than others, but I focus on continuing to write instead of focusing on something that I feel did not turn out the way I wanted it to.  Many teachers self-identify as “perfectionists” but here is the reality; if you are waiting for “perfect”, you will be waiting forever.  Being “perfect” and “learning” do not go hand-in-hand, so we have to keep trying and taking the good with the bad in our pursuit of growth.

3.  You are more likely to grow if you support others, as opposed to only focusing on yourself.  One of the things that I noticed about some of the most followed “Viners” is that they don’t just share their content, but the content of others.  It is their way of pushing the community and helping everyone to get better, not just trying to be the best.  In education, the people that are often the most successful are usually the ones that connect and support others.  People are drawn to those that give themselves to others, and that often comes back to the individual when those come back to support them.  In leadership and education, the people that are the most successful, are the ones that support and make those that surround them better.  A teacher’s and leader’s  legacy is not in what they do, but what is made by those they support.

As I wrote this post, I realized that these ideas for innovation that I connected from watching Vine, are universal in so many other areas.  How will you apply them in your work?

School vs. Learning

I have been thinking a lot about the “traditional” model of school and how people actually learn. If done the wrong way, school can actually go against what is needed for learning.  There are a lot of schools and classrooms that are doing amazing jobs at really promoting there students become learners as opposed to learning stuff.  

Here are some of the ways where school and learning can become divergent.

School promotes starting by looking for answers.  Learning promotes starting with questions.

School is about consuming.  Learning is about creating.

School is about finding information on something prescribed for you.  Learning is about exploring your passions and interests.

Schools teaches compliance.  Learning is about challenging perceived norms.

School is scheduled at certain times.  Learning can happen any time, all of the time.

School often isolates.  Learning is often social.

School is standardized.  Learning is personal.

School teaches us to obtain information from certain people.  Learning promotes that everyone is a teacher, and everyone is a learner.

School is about giving you information.  Learning is about making your own connections.

School is sequential.  Learning is random and non-linear.

School promotes surface-level thinking. Learning is about deep exploration.

I know that the statements above are not 100% true on either side of the spectrum, but what if you combined the statements to make something new?  Would schools become a place that is truly developing learners that are flexible and agile in a world that is constantly changing?  For example, take the statement:

School promotes starting by looking for answers.  Learning promotes starting with questions.

… and change it to this:

School promotes developing your own questions and finding answers.

What would school look like if we really focused on developing our own statements that focus on the power of developing learners?  I would love your thoughts on this.

Update:

Here is an image that Sylvia Duckworth created to correspond with the post.

Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 4.44.10 PM

Character, Credibility, and Social Media

Stephen Covey talks about the idea of “character and credibility” being essential to successful leadership.  Character is how people perceive you as a person, and credibility is how they perceive your ability as a leader.  Years ago, while many principals were against the use of social media due to hearing things about online safety, cyberbullying, and a myriad of other issues, you saw many administrators against the idea of using social media.  Yet, there were a many administrators that saw these new “tools” had the potential to not only build their own credibility as leaders, but also create a deeper connection into their own character.

The expectation for school leaders is that they are instructional leaders. Although long before social media existed, many administrators were actively learning and enhancing their craft, it was hard to exhibit the characteristics of “lifelong learners” that we promote so actively to our students.  Instead of simply going with sharing their learning at the sporadic staff meeting, administrators are now actively sharing their learning through Twitter, blogging, Google Plus, and a plethora of other tools.  They are showing not only their expertise, but their growth as learners in a much more open example of transparent leadership.

To be a leader in schools, you need to be a learner first.  Where are your examples?

But how do we show character?

Social media is not only about sharing our learning, but it gives a view into our outside interests as well.  Principals are not just principals.  They are mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, friends, music lovers, pet advocates, and a whole host of other things, that they can now show their community.  In Rita Pierson’s Ted Talk, she states, “kids don’t learn from people they don’t like”.  This goes for adults as well.  The best teachers in the world connect with their students on some personal level; this is point that should not be lost on the connection leaders have with their schools.

5 Questions You Should Ask Your Leader

5 Questions You Should Ask Your Leader

I was recently asked by a superintendent if I had some questions to ask his principals to start off the year.  The questions I gave him were based on the following areas:

  • Fostering Effective Relationships
  • Instructional Leadership
  • Embodying Visionary Leadership
  • Developing Leadership Capacity
  • Creating Sustainable Change

In my opinion, the principal is probably the most important job in an educational organization.  There are many studies that reiterate this, but I think it is that they have the most authority closest to kids.  It is not to say that teachers aren’t important; they are absolutely vital.  But a great principal will help to develop great teachers, and a weak principal will do the opposite. They also tend to push great teachers out of schools, although most of the time unintentionally.  Bad leaders tend to drive away great talent.  A great teacher can become even better with a great principal.  As the very wise Todd Whitaker says “when the principal sneezes, the whole school gets a cold.”

Even though the questions were developed for superintendents to ask principals, I think that they should be questions any educator, parent, and even student should be able to openly ask their principal.

1.  What are some ways that you connect with your school community? (Fostering Effective Relationships) – When asking a principal this question, it is important to look for answers that go beyond the basic answers like staff meetings, emails, etc.  I would look for answers that go above and beyond what is expected.  For example, one of the best principals that I knew spent every morning welcoming staff and students to the school at the main doorway.  He would ask questions about their family, talk to them about their lives, and get to know them in a much deeper way than what was expected.  Although this principal has been retired for a few years, many of his staff refer to him as legendary because of the way that he would go above and beyond connecting with kids and community, before and after school.

2. What are some areas of teaching and learning that you can lead in the school? (Instructional Leadership) Covey talks about two important areas for leaders; character and credibility.  Many principals are great with people, yet really do not understand the art and science of teaching, or have lost touch with what it is like to be in the classroom.  Although a leaders does not need to be the master of all, they should be able to still be able to walk into a classroom and teach kids.  They should also definitely be able to lead the staff in workshops that focus directly on teaching and learning.  If teachers understand that a principal understands teaching and learning, any initiatives are more likely to be seen as credible in their eyes.

3.  What are you hoping teaching and learning looks like in your school and how do you communicate that vision? (Embodying Visionary Leadership) – There are many leaders in schools that often communicate a BIG PICTURE of what schools should look like, but can’t clearly communicate what it looks like for teachers and students. It is important to be able to discuss elements of learning that you are looking for in the classroom.  Not only is important to hold this vision, but to help develop it with staff and be able to communicate it clearly.  Many new educators walk into schools thinking that “quiet and order” are the expectations for classrooms, so even though they are doing some powerful work in their classrooms that looks quite messy, they are worried that it does not fit in with the vision of their boss. Due to this, many will often try to tailor their work to look like what they think the principal wants because they really don’t know what is expected.  Having a vision is important but clearly communicating and developing that with staff is also essential.

4. How do you build leadership in your school? (Developing Leadership Capacity) – Many principals are great at developing followers, but fewer are great at developing more leaders.  There has been this notion for years that you do everything to keep your best talent at all costs, but in reality, it is important to figure out ways to develop people, even if that means they will eventually leave. Great schools have become “leadership” hubs that they are continually losing great people, but they often get a reputation of being places where leadership in all areas is developed, which actually tends to attract some great people.  Wouldn’t you want to work with someone who is going to try to get the best out of you? There is a great quote that I’ve shared before (paraphrased) on this exact topic.

Many leaders are scared about developing people and then having them leave.  They should be more worried about not developing people and having them stay.

Again, great leaders develop more leaders.  What is your plan to make this happen?

5. What will be your “fingerprints” on this building after you leave? (Creating Sustainable Change) This has been a question that was asked of me years ago by my former superintendent, and has been one that has always resonated.  What she had shared with me is that she should be able to walk into my school and see the impact that I have had as the leader of the building.  This is not to say we throw out what the former leader has done, in fact, quite the opposite.  Great leaders will not come into maintain the status quo, but will bring their unique abilities to a school that will help them get to the next level.  They will build upon what has been left, but they will work with a community to ensure that their impact on a school lasts long after their time serving the community.  This where all of the other questions above truly come together, but it takes time and dedication to make it happen.

The old notion is that teachers and students are accountable to a principal is one that is dying (thankfully).  Great principals know that to be truly successful, it is the principal that is accountable and serves the community.  They will help create a powerful vision but will also ensure that they do whatever work is needed to be done to help teachers and students become successful.  I encourage you to talk to your principal, no matter what your role, and ask her/him their thoughts on some of these questions provided.