Tag Archives: leadership

4 Ideas To Have A Successful First Year as Principal

I am so intrigued with the number of people that are jumping into principal positions as I think it is truly one of the best jobs in the world.  It is also one of the toughest.  Isolation within a school (even though that is a choice that we now make ourselves) has been kind of a norm in past years, so to have a shared focus as a school is foreign territory for many (including principals).  Yet with a constant focus on “change”, many principals bring people together, but often for the wrong reasons.  If you move to fast, that can often lead to strained relationships within a school and resentment towards the new “leader”.  As much as principals want to make it “our school”, many admin really try to make it “their school”, or at least, that is the picture that they paint to their staff.  Sometimes you need to move slow to go fast.

Here are some things that I have learned from my time in both success and failures.

1. Build strong relationships first.  If you did a “Wordle” on my blog, I am guessing the term “relationships” would be the word that is in the top five for being most used.  Although this may seem redundant, to emphasize the importance of this over and over again, is something that cannot be understated.  The investment you make in your staff, students, and community will come back tenfold, but it takes time to build trust.  I have watched administrators like Patrick Larkin, Kathy MeltonJason Markey, Amber Teamann, and Jimmy Casas show and share the significance that they put into people.  This is not just your teachers either.

Every single person on your staff is an important part of the team and should be treated in that same manner.  Make sure that you connect with every person on that staff and know something that goes beyond the building.

One of my favourite things to do with the community was to wait for the busses and talk to kids and parents as they arrived to school.  Talking to kids is huge and a great proactive way to avoid issues later, while also being visible to the community.  It also builds credibility with staff.  Relationships, relationships, relationships.  Trust me, it is the most important part of the job and the foundation that all great schools are built upon.

2. Find the value of every staff member.  I tweeted the following yesterday:

Principals often want to make a splash with staff and bring in “gurus” to move them ahead, but I truly believe that most schools have everything they need within the building, we just have to find a way to bring it all together.  It is not that you shouldn’t look for outside help ever, as a differing perspective helps sometimes, but you should also balance that with having your own staff deliver professional development as well.  This builds capacity and relationships (see number one) within your building.

Every person in your organization has something to offer.  What is it? This is fundamental to “strengths based leadership” and people that know they are valued will go above and beyond. There is a difference between “developing” and “unleashing” talent; a great principal does both.

Great leaders develop great leaders.

3.  Show instructional leadership. There used to be a belief that “those who can’t teach, become principals”.  This drives me crazy.  The other idea is that the principal should be the best teacher in the school.  That is also a fallacy.  Some teachers are absolutely amazing and have no interest in becoming principals; there is nothing wrong with that.  You do however, need to show credibility in your role as principal.  This could be in delivering professional development to your staff or teaching a class, or even a combination of both.  Teachers connect well with teachers, and when they see that their principal, no matter the position, is still a teacher, it shines a different light on them.  When you teach, it also reminds you that the “change” that we try to implement is not as easy as it sounds with 25 kids in a classroom.  It is possible, but it takes time and this perspective that you gain by staying current in your own teaching practices is important.

4.  Don’t focus on “change” as much as you focus on “growth”.  Change and growth are often synonymous but the words sometimes the words evoke different emotions.  If you walk into a school and constantly talk about “change” or how you are going to create the “best school yet”, you are disrespecting the work that has been done prior by the same staff that you are now serving.  I agree that there are lots of things that need to “change” about schools, but I also know there are lots of great things that have already happened in many organizations.  Growth is different.  We expect it from kids and we should expect it from ourselves.  You may have seen the light and changed your teaching practice, but my guess is that you didn’t change every aspect of what you used to do.  You probably got better.  And when you ask for “growth”, make sure you model how you are growing as an administrator as well.  Say when you screw up, admit mistakes, apologize, learn openly, and do things that show you want to get better in your role to model what you want from your staff.  Modelling growth moves from saying, “do this”, to “let’s do this together”.  Very different ideas with the latter being much more effective.

Everyone wants to make a big splash when they are starting a new job, and administrators are no different.  Yet sustainable growth takes time and as Covey states, it is important as a leader to show “character and credibility”.  Both of these things take time.  You may have a vision of where you want school to go but the best leaders hold that vision and break it down in smaller steps so that people can gain confidence and competence in the process.  If you want to create something great, it will take time and will only come from the people that are a part of your learning community.  Honour and tap into them and you will move further than you could have ever imagined.

Investing in Individuals First

Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 6.24.00 PM

“Every single employee is someone’s son or someone’s daughter. Parents work to offer their children a good life and a good education and to teach them the lessons that will help them grow up to be happy, confident and able to use all the talents they were blessed with. Those parents then hand their children over to a company with the hope the leaders of that company will exercise the same love and care as they have.” Simon Sinek

With the focus on “collaboration” in many organizations being the forefront in what they do, we often forget that each team that exists within an organization is made up of individual people.  People are often asked to sacrifice for the “good of the team”, but this does not happen unless a safe culture is created by its leaders.

If you are spending a third of your day working with others, we have to realize how important each person is and how much we need to care for these individuals.  Simply saying, “we are a team”, does not make it so.  In fact, that constant push for collaboration without caring for individuals often pulls teams apart and creates an “every person for themselves” mentality.  The “greater good” does not happen without individuals and when people are asked to work long hours and sacrifice, they are more likely to do it when they know they are valued as people first, and employees second.

When I have worked for people that have taken the time to care for me personally, my loyalty to them is unwavering and sacrifice is simple.  Those moments that we simply “check-in” with one another builds that trust daily, and often forges the team.  This does not happen without great leadership constantly building trust with individuals to create a strong team.

One thing that I have seen from great leaders that has made a huge difference is how they are truly in the moment with you.

Every educator is busy; how many have you met that don’t know what to do with the abundance of time that they have left over?  “Busy” is a given that we do not really need to share in every conversation.  What I have seen some of the best leaders do when they talk to people is not share how they only have a “few moments” to talk when their colleagues come talk to them, but they make them feel welcome and are glad to have the conversation in the first place.

Yes, you are probably busy, but the time a leader takes to really talk to someone when they have the chance, often comes back in spades from people who will go above and beyond for someone who makes them feel valued, as opposed to simply watching a clock for those that seemingly do not care.  Just like with our students, when we take time to build relationships with our colleagues there is an initial time investment that is made at the beginning that pays off greatly later on.  That’s why it is called an “investment”.

Now that many people are going back to school, it is easy to talk about the bigger “we”, but remember that your team are made up of individuals.  We need to cherish each person and their strengths AND weaknesses before we can do something great together.

“We need to build more organizations that prioritize the care of human beings. As leaders, it is our sole responsibility to protect our people and, in turn, our people will protect each other and advance the organization together.” Simon Sinek

P.S.  This post was inspired from reading the new Simon Sinek book , “Leaders Eat Last”, that was suggested from my recent visit to Richland Two School District in South Carolina.  It has been fantastic so far!

One Step At a Time

The push to totally change the way school looks, is coming from many that believe that education as it looks today is not sufficient for our kids.  Although I do believe that we have to change some major elements of school, I also believe that there are lots of positive elements that we can build on as educators.  When we say “everything has to change”, we also tell educators that “everything you are doing is wrong”.  We have to build upon our strengths, while also paying attention and developing on our weaknesses.  This does not happen overnight.

Barry Schwartz talks about the “paradox of choice”, and in his Ted Talk (one of my favourites), he talks about abundance of choice often making people miserable.  This would be no different with what is happening to many educators.  When we say “change everything”, people are often overwhelmed and change nothing.  Personally, I understand that although teachers need to question the system, they also need to work with inside of it to make change.

So if we are really going to make powerful long lasting change, we have to realize that this happens one step at a time.  Although we might have a vision of where we want to go long term, successful leaders will help break the BIG VISION into smaller, achievable steps.  With every single step, we move closer to our goals, while building confidence in a “new way of learning”.

My suggestion for people wanting to change what they do?  Focus on one thing at a time.  Look at something you currently do, and ask how you could do that better, and improve learning opportunities for kids.  Once you have seen success, move onto another thing.  I love this story from Will Smith about something he learned from his dad when he was young:

When Will was a 12-year-old kid, his dad gave him an impossible task: rebuild the brick wall in front of his business. It took Will and his little brother a year-and-a-half, but they built the wall.

How did a couple of little kids build a big brick wall? Will explains, “You don’t try to build a wall. You don’t set out to build a wall. You don’t say, ‘I’m going to build the biggest, baddest, greatest wall that’s ever been built.’ You don’t start there. You say: ‘I’m going to lay this brick as perfectly as a brick can be laid.’ And you do that every single day, and soon you’ll have a wall.”

Success breeds success, and if you focus on that one brick at a time, soon you will have something that is so much better than what you started.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Lao-tzu

4 Types of Leaders You Shouldn’t Be

First of all, I am going to challenge my own title in this writing as the qualities that I am about to list are not usually people with influence, but people with titles and authority.  Leadership and administration are sometimes not synonymous and if an administrator does not make those around them better, they are not leaders, they are bosses.

Working with many different organizations, I have heard either the frustration from educators within the organization that feel like they are running on the spot, while also working with administrators that are more focused on holding down the fort as opposed leading with vision.

Here are some styles you should avoid being or working for if you want to really move forward.

1.  The “Blame Everyone Else” Leader

Ever tried to do something that is new to an organization only to be stopped by an administrator saying that “others” are holding things back?  Often times, they will say things like, “if it were up to me, I would love for this to happen”, or even act as if they are a martyr and trying to save you from getting in trouble from others.  Whatever the case, if someone is blaming others in the organization for not “allowing” you to move forward, trust will be at a minimum.  Most administrators are part of a team and although they might not always agree with one another, they will never blame others for a lack of opportunities for educators.

If you think about if, if  they are going to throw someone else under the bus, including someone on their own administration team, what do you think that they do when you are not around?

2. The “Driven by Policy” Leader 

Policies are often put into place to ensure that students and teachers are safe, yet the process to create them is often long and arduous.  With education moving so quickly, some policies are simply outdated and they are not in the best interest of organizations, and more importantly, students.  Sometimes policy interferes with doing what is right, but sometimes, doing what is right is hard.  It is easy to hide behind policy in this case.

Sometimes obviously we have to stick with policies to ensure safety and I am not saying that we throw them all out the window, but when policy trumps common sense, there are issues.

3.  The “Dead-End” Leader

You come up with a great idea that is new to an organization that you are willing to put in the work and effort.  You approach your boss and share it with you and they tell you why it probably won’t work.  You wait for suggestions.

Waiting…waiting…waiting…

Nothing.

There is nothing that can kill enthusiasm for someone at work when they are simply told “no”.  Great leaders want people to take risks, and although they are trying to protect others, a simple “no” can have harsh repercussions on an individual and ultimately school culture.

This does not mean you need to say yes to everything.  But you should ask for further explanations and help people look for ideas, alternatives, or give them the opportunity to take risks.  A yes rarely needs an explanation, but in my opinion, “no” always does.  But even with the explanation, it is still important that we try to create opportunities to keep that creative flame burning in others and getting involved with an idea or project, or at least offering guidance, says much more than “no”.

4.  The “Lack of Knowledge is Power” Leader

With all of the changes in our world, society, and culture, schools need to change.  With many administrators, this change leads to not only differences in the classroom, but in their own practice.  If administrators do not continuously learn and grow, students lose out.

Yet learning and growth take time and effort, and for some, doing what is comfortable is an easy option.  Some of my best administrators were not people that believed they knew everything, but those that actually showed vulnerability and that they actually didn’t know.

Yet when we admit that we don’t know everything, that means we have to trust others and give our “power and authority” away.  This model of distributed leadership is very tough on some and they end up hiring great people only to micromanage them.  A person that pretends that they know something is much more dangerous than those who can fully admit that they don’t.

So instead of showing humility and a willingness to learn, they often pretend they have an understanding of things that they don’t, which often leads to poor decisions that impact many.  The interesting thing is that those that are willing to get into the trenches and admit that they don’t know always have more credibility than those that pretend they do.

Weakness is not knowing, it is not being able to admit it.

I am sure that everyone of us (including myself) that is in a position of authority has done this.  No one is perfect.  But when these things become the norm, any one of them can be highly detrimental to the culture of a school.  It may not impact students directly, but long term, they will lose out the most.

 

“The world only cares about what you can do with what you know.”

I read a fascinating article from Thomas Friedman on the weekend (read the whole thing) on what Google looks for in hiring employees.  Here is the last paragraph:

Google attracts so much talent it can afford to look beyond traditional metrics, like G.P.A. For most young people, though, going to college and doing well is still the best way to master the tools needed for many careers. But Bock is saying something important to them, too: Beware. Your degree is not a proxy for your ability to do any job. The world only cares about — and pays off on — what you can do with what you know (and it doesn’t care how you learned it). And in an age when innovation is increasingly a group endeavor, it also cares about a lot of soft skills — leadership, humility, collaboration, adaptability and loving to learn and re-learn. This will be true no matter where you go to work.

A couple of thoughts…

First of all, as a principal, I rarely if ever looked at a person’s marks from university when hiring them.  It was not a determining factor especially since I saw that some of the worst teachers from my time in school had the best marks in university.  This is not always true, but when someone has mastered the way school has been done, the notion of school looking different for students is pretty tough to swallow.  The skills that Friedman referenced that Google looks for are similar to what I looked for in hiring a new teacher, and I am guessing, it would be similar to most employers today.

Secondly, if these skills (leadership, humility, collaboration, adaptability and loving to learn and re-learn)  are so important for a company like Google, will this skill-set not become the norm for others? And if they are, how will a system that is so focused on grades and marks deal with developing skills that can’t be easily measured?

Entitled Leadership?


cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Ed Yourdon

A story from growing up…

After playing football for the high school team for three years (starting in grade 9), in my fourth and final year on the team, I felt, as a grade 12 student in my fourth year that I would be named as one of the captains.  Unfortunately, we were getting a new coach this year and I did not know how he would take to the idea.

As I met him two weeks before school started, I let him know that as one of only three players with four years experience, that I was going to be one of the captains.  He looked at me dumbfounded and said, “Really?”

I looked right back at him, and said, “Really.”

Simply, he replied, “we will see.”

Astonished that a newcomer was going to come into my school and start deciding what my final year was going to look, I was quite upset that I was going to have to prove myself over again.  Every time someone was a four-year veteran on the team, they became the captain.  That’s how it was and that’s how it should be.  With that being said, I knew that we had a bright outlook as a team and I would put all of my effort into proving him wrong (in my mind), and that he would have no choice but to name me as one of the captains.  I busted my butt in every single practice and tried to not only lead with words, but actions.  I was going to make certain that I would do anything to be captain that year as it was more about the prestige than anything at that time.

One of the traditions of the football team was the “rooking” process which had gone on for many years before I started to play.  Seems stupid now but it was part of what we did when we were kids. It was nothing like the “hazing” that we often hear about on television, but it was a “gotchie-pull” here and there.  It was considered initiation onto the team and a rite of passage that the grade 12’s passed on to the new players on the team.  That was until the new coach explicitly told us that this would not happen this year as it did not build a positive culture on the team.  Again, the “new guy” was wrecking everything.

Secretly one day, we decided to go against our coach and go through the process.  Unfortunately, the secret did not last long and at practice the next day, our coach asked us, “Did any rooking happen and if it did, who was responsible?”  Everyone was terrified.  At that point, all I could think of was losing the shot at being captain because I totally screwed up, but I also could not be dishonest.  As we stood in practice, I stepped forward in front of everyone and said that I was responsible and it did happen.  After that, all of the other teammates that took part also stepped forward.  Because of this, our coach made us do drills near to the point of exhaustion and on a hot day, it was not easy.  I remember doing what he asked and not complaining once, knowing that I had done something wrong.

The next day, as he named the five captains, he called my name last.  Even after screwing up, he still named me a captain.  As I talked to him later, he told me that my leading by example in the good times and taking ownership for screwing up showed leadership potential.  I would still have to prove him right throughout the year, but he knew that I had the potential for leadership and it had nothing to do with the number of years that I had played or put in.  It had to do with my actions.

A lesson that sticks with me to this day.

3 Conversation Starters for the School Year

Last year, as I documented some of the crucial things that we needed to discuss to further innovative practices in our school, I feel more prepared to have some crucial conversations in my role this year.  I wrote a few blog posts to help guide my own learning but I wanted to put them on one post as a focus for next year.

Below are some posts that I am hoping others can use as conversation starters with staff as they prepare for the 2013-2014 school year.

1.  Is your digital citizenship practice a pass or fail?

Several schools are looking at improving the opportunities for “digital citizenship” in schools, yet are sometimes missing crucial elements.  Blocked sites that can be beneficial to students take away from the “real world” that students live in outside of our schools.  Ignoring discussing “digital citizenship” in schools is also a disservice.

Hopefully, this rubrics is beneficial to see where your school is at, while also sparking some necessary conversations.

2.  4 Guiding questions for your IT department

I love the following quote from Harriet Rubin:

“Freedom is actually a bigger game than power. Power is about what you can control. Freedom is about what you can unleash.”

As we focus on technology in our schools, the question that we all must consider is “What is best for kids?”  That should guid all conversations.  The other 3 questions that I continue to consider are the following:

How does this improve learning? 

If we were to do _________, what is the balance of risk vs. reward? 

Is this serving the few or the majority? 

The conversations we have with our IT departments, in both directions, should always be focused on serving kids first.

3. Building the Culture of an Empowered Mindset Towards Technology Innovation 

The role of principal is extremely important as it can “make or break” a school culture.  I really believe in the notion that principals should be the “lead learner”, and that it often leads to schools becoming a culture of learning that continuously grow and evolve.  A static school is a school that can be full of dead practices.

In this graphic, I try to show the correlation between administrator and school mindset, and how open minds often open doors for innovative learning opportunities.

Hopefully the three examples above are posts that will help people with some considerations for their upcoming school year.

Want to be successful? Be a sponge.


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by George Couros

I have worked with some brilliant leaders and educators and I have noticed the same things about all of them.

They listen.

No matter their position, they are successful because they see every opportunity as an opportunity to learn.  Even when they are in a higher position than myself, they see an interaction with myself and others as an opportunity for them to always stay on top of their game.  The other things that I notice is that although they know they do not have all of the answer, they sure have a lot of questions.  

Leaders continue to ask questions.

When I think of thought leaders in my school district, I think of people like Jesse McLean and Travis McNaughton, and the amazing ability they have as well as their insights regarding education.  They are leaders that make a huge difference in their communities and the one word that I think of when I think of either one of them is “sponge”.  They soak in everything they can, but eventually they release they learn and share it with others.  They also do not learn only from people that are “above” them in the organizational hierarchy, but they learn from every person they interact with.  They focus not only on the knowledge of that person, but they soak in the characteristics of that person and learn about them as people, which is imperative in the change process.

“Every change requires effort, and the decision to make that effort is a social process…human interaction is the key force in overcoming resistance and speeding change.” Atul Gawande

Even when they disagree, they don’t jump in and start defending their beliefs, they continue to listen. They think. They absorb. They think of what they are learning, how they can adapt it, and how they can share.

This does not mean that they agree with everything that they hear.  Not at all.  In fact, many people simply regurgitate what they hear from someone else and agree openly although deep down, they don’t agree with what is being said.  Leadership takes a back-bone to stand up for what you believe in, but it also is imperative to focus on what you can do better.  Leaders know that it is not about being right but about doing right.

The next time that you have an interaction with someone, ask them questions, see what you can learn, see what you can take, and see what you can share with others.  That is what a “sponge” does and it is a characteristic that is crucial to effective leadership.

My Bad


cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Lorenzo

Reffing a few years ago, I was officiating a college game with a three-person crew, I felt that none of the calls were coming my way at all that night. Sometimes that is just the normal ebb and flow of the game, but I didn’t want to seem that I was not doing my job.

As one of the plays was happening, I ended up “reaching” across the floor and made a call that was a) not mine to make and b) terrible.  I knew it the second I made it but in the way the game is played, you have to sometimes stick with your mistakes.  As I walked towards the scorer’s table to report the foul, the coach was YELLING at me and I simply said, “Coach…the next break we have I will come over and talk to you.”

That settled him down for about a few seconds but then he decided to call a time-out to ensure that there was a chance to talk to me.  As I walked over to him, my fellow officials, who knew I made a horrible call, told me NOT to go.  As his face was red, ready to argue with me about my call, I simply looked at him and said, “Coach, there is no need to argue because I agree with you.  It was a terrible call and I am going to work my butt off to make sure I get the rest of them right. My bad.”  He smiled at me, nodded his head, we parted ways, and the game continued. That was it.

In that situation, as in many others, whether it be personal or professional, it would be easy to argue for the mistake that we made, instead of just owning up to it.  As I watched an episode of “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” with Jerry Seinfeld last night, he said something that really stuck out to me:

The truth ends every conversation.

Sometimes when it seems the hardest thing to be honest with others, we obviously are not being honest with ourselves.  People are much more forgiving of what they believe to be a mistake then they are to what they believe to be a lie.  In life and leadership, this is a lesson that we always have to remember.