Jonathan Alsheimer: Don’t Leave Supporting Your Teachers to Chance #OneThingSeries

Jonathan Alsheimer: Don’t Leave Supporting Your Teachers to Chance #OneThingSeries

Why can’t school be more like Disney World? ~ Jonathan Alsheimer 

About Jonathan Alsheimer

Jonathan Alsheimer is an unorthodox, energetic, and entertaining middle school teacher who refuses to live a life of limitations. Jonathan is often referred to as “my favorite teacher” by his students, and he’s the author of NEXT LEVEL TEACHING.

As a passionate educator and National Keynote Speaker, Jonathan Alsheimer presents limitless possibilities for teachers and the impact of an infectious classroom and school culture. NEXT LEVEL TEACHING is about every teacher bringing their unique flair to better their school every single day, always reaching for the NEXT LEVEL.

Jonathan taught at the world-renowned Fred Lynn Middle School, which was featured in two documentaries “Relentless” and “Relentless: Chasing Accreditation.” He has been featured as the teacher who forged a partnership with UFC Fighter and light-weight contender Paul Felder to bring the message that students should never give up, fighting for their education, and empowering them to believe in themselves, all principles that Jonathan promotes in his classroom.

As Jonathan always says, “Game-changing is not a cliche motto; it is a way of life…some talk about it while others live by it!”

What You’ll Find in this Podcast Episode with Jonathan Alsheimer

Jonathan starts out of the gate on fire! His energy is almost a superpower.

Listen to him dispel the misunderstanding about what it means to be a “next level teacher.” It’s not about perfection. 

Jonathan opened up about the stress that teachers feel and what school leaders can do about it. These are things leaders can do right away. 

When asked about protecting teachers from minutiae, Alsheimer talked about meaningless meetings that “kill the heart of the staff.” 

Don’t miss what Jonathan says about teachers’ time and what it takes to plan an awesome lesson. 

Jonathan talks about working together so we don’t all have to work harder. Let’s pool our resources and share more. Think about what this would mean for new teachers!

Jonathan gives administrators advice:

  1. Develop “lesson plans” for staff meetings.
  2. Reflect on the agenda items–are they critical?
  3. Does the meeting focus on learning, teacher development, and relationships?

Jonathan throws out a number of ideas to gamify the classroom and make it more fun for students. How can you use this in your classroom? 

Alsheimer mentions Dave Burgess (@burgessdave), Jimmy Casas (@casas_jimmy), Hamish Brewer (@brewerhm). Bottom line, go on Twitter. 

Teachers and leaders should see us smiling and having fun. If we want kids to be motivated to learn, we have to be motivated to teach and lead. 

You have to hear what Jonathan says about turning a worksheet into an activity. He literally cut it up and put it into paper bags to make it more fun and exciting for kids. 

Oh, Boy! Wait till you hear what he says about diving with sharks and our response as Delaware beach-goers. 

Jonathan talks about being tough on himself in a competitive way to get 1% better each day. He reflects on his “why” often, and that reflection makes a difference in his growth and perseverance.  

He thinks about what kids deserve, including his own, and that fuels his drive each day. 

He used to think that test grades matter; now he believes that growth is the bigger deal. 

Let us know if there’s a guest who you want us to have on the show by leaving a comment below or by contacting us at contact@theschoolhouse302.com. And don’t miss our leadership content updates every week by subscribing on the site. 

We can’t wait to hear from you. 

Joe & T.J.

The Definitive 5 Ways that School Leaders Can Support New Teachers

The Definitive 5 Ways that School Leaders Can Support New Teachers

The expert in anything was once a beginner. ~ Helen Hayes

We’re going to put it right out there, the education profession is in trouble. Fewer-and-fewer teachers are entering into the profession, with over a 30% drop in teacher prep program enrollment. Couple this with an unprecedented number of teachers who want to leave the profession, and we are well within a serious crisis. 

Teaching is an incredible and noble profession. The complexity of the job requires not only technical and content expertise, but also a profound love for kids. The degree of patience, understanding, and generosity needed to connect and motivate students is not common within other professions outside of education. Believing in the incredible and positive mark that we can have on a child seems to have somehow lost its allure. Regardless of the multitude of reasons why this is the case–ranging from pay to feeling unsupported–many potentially great teachers are not choosing this profession. We need to do something about it. 

Source: Madeline Will, EdWeek

However, there are still great people who are entering the field, choosing to be classroom teachers. For those teachers, we applaud you. With that said, applause and a well-stocked teachers’ lounge aren’t enough. School leaders have an important role in supporting new teachers to substantially increase their chances of remaining in the profession. New teachers leave within their first five years at a much greater rate than those who leave after year five. Much of this is within an administrator’s control, which is why we put together the following strategies for school leaders who want to hire and retain the best staff. 

Before, During, and After Hiring (BDA)

A well-known reading strategy that good readers inherently understand is called “before, during, and after,” (BDA) which refers to what good readers do before reading, during reading, and after reading a selected text. Simply described, good readers prepare themselves for the text of their choice by thinking about and connecting to prior knowledge; they ponder the text while reading by summarizing and pausing to improve comprehension; and then after reading, they reflect on the content of what they read. In doing so, they have stronger comprehension than readers who don’t use BDA successfully. 

The same is true for employee motivation, support, and retention. Once a new teacher is identified and hired, the “after” part becomes critical in how we support them. For many new teachers, the next few months and years are pivotal. 

Teachers with 1 to 5 years: The Vulnerable Valley

The first few years for a teacher are when they are most vulnerable. Doubt, fear, uncertainty–all emotions that work their way into a new teacher’s mind. Make no mistake, there is nothing like suddenly being in charge of a group of students who you have to educate. Words can’t describe the level of responsibility and inadequacy that many new teachers experience early in their careers. Despite this being normal and really okay for that matter, many new teachers struggle. Too many of them leave. The following five strategies create a meaningful support system for new teachers, and we hope that it helps with our ability to have them choose to stay instead

The Definitive Five Ways to Support New Teachers

#1. Maintain high standards while providing support for growth

A culture of growth has a balance of pressure and support. High expectations grounded in support and encouragement yield results. School leaders who are supportive but don’t set high expectations not only support mediocrity but fail to tap into the human desire to get better. 

Even worse is the leader who applies pressure through unsupported expectations. Without a structure of support–including resources and time–teachers experience burnout. The result of a high-pressure, highly supportive work environment is extreme growth. New teachers (and veterans) desire growth and progress and that feeling leads to greater rates of retention. 

Pro Tip: Set meaningful and realistic goals early. Granted, there may be state-required metrics as well, but don’t let them be the only metrics used to establish meaningful benchmarks that demonstrate growth.

Example: Create meaningful formative assessments so that teachers can see their student’s progress, which leads to a greater sense of self-efficacy as a teacher. 

#2. Increase productivity by being present and using praise

Relationships are everything. Leaders have to build connections with the people who they lead for increased motivation and retention. That means spending more time in their spaces and not in our offices or conference rooms. When you’re present as a leader, it’s easy to find quick moments to praise the work that people are doing. Use the One Minute Praise that Blanchard and Johnson teach. You can’t go wrong! This model of being present and giving genuine praise in the moment leads to productivity at a new level, and productive happy teachers are more apt to stay at their schools. To harness the power of praise, check out our four part praise model that we wrote in Retention for a Change.  

Pro Tip: Praise needs to specifically identify what is being recognized. TheSchoolHouse302 Praise Model is research-based and designed to reinforce desired behaviors. 

Example: “Jill, excellent job using the Muddiest Point check for understanding formative assessment. It’s a quick and easy way to identify an aspect of the lesson that students are struggling with or just need some additional clarification. Taking time and going back to see what needs more clarity is critical. Great work!”

#3. Balance risk and autonomy to unlock innovation 

Any sector of business depends and thrives on fresh, original thinking, taking chances, and exploring new ideas.” Teaching is no different. Leaders who support new ideas, encourage risk-taking, and praise out-of-the-box thinking drive innovation. Teaching is an art and a science that needs to be supported, encouraged and honored. An environment that supports creativity creates highly motivated and loyal individuals who are apt to try new strategies, create new lessons, and find unique ways to reach every student. New teachers want to know that they can challenge the status quo and pave a path for the future of education. 

Pro Tip: Encourage teachers to use specific strategies, skills, or technology that are learned during professional development experiences and invite yourself to see them fail in action. Walkthroughs don’t have to be a “gotcha.” In fact, they should be a tool to observe and coach, especially when teachers are learning a new skill. Support them when they fall and treat that as normal.  

Example: Instructional technology is fairly common in schools, but it is reported that 30% of software licenses that get used, only 2.4% are used intensively. That’s a lot of waste! Consider your RTI or MTSS initiative and the technology and diagnostic assessments used to support them. Are they being used? And, if so, to what extent? Maybe the expectation isn’t clear that they should be trying these new tools despite the fact that they might not work at first. 

#4. Communicate the expectations of the position 

Another aspect of teacher motivation, support, and retention comes through quality feedback. Whether this is through a formal evaluation system or walkthroughs, if you want your new teachers to grow, feedback is king. Your feedback should be aligned to the goals of the school and district, should be frequent, and should be easy to implement. The appraisal system must continue to communicate to the teacher about their role long after they are hired into it, and it should support their sense of belonging through a refocus on their purpose each time you meet one-on-one. We call for frequent walkthroughs, quality feedback, and more face-to-face meetings about performance. Let the teacher know you care about them by investing in them. Performance feedback is a lot less daunting when someone knows that you believe in them, which is especially true for new people.

Pro Tip: Feedback should be built around TheSchoolHouse302 Meaningful Feedback Model–A.F.A. This model is designed to ensure growth and forward progress. 

Example: “Joe, very nice job with today’s turn-and-talk. Not only was the strategy used effectively, it demonstrates your ability to use what we learned in our faculty meeting this month. Student voice matters and so does your ability to make adjustments based on professional learning in our school. Fantastic!”

#5. Provide meaningful mentorship

In Leading an Inspired Life, Jim Rohn writes, “Don’t take the casual approach to life.” Casualness leads to casualties. Seek out the mentors who you need and will lead you to greatness in your field.” Although Rohn is not writing to the leader, we like to look at it through that lens. Administrators who take supporting, coaching, and growing novice teachers casually, will only end up with casualties. Provide mentors who are skilled at planning, at managing time, at navigating difficult situations, and who are inspirational. Also, don’t consider years of experience to be a determining factor for a great mentor; sometimes, the best mentors are the ones who were just mentees a year or two ago. 

Pro Tip: Mentors should have training, be paid, have clear guidelines, and a well-developed checklist to use on a monthly basis. Below is just a quick sample of a checklist that can be used on Day One. Notice all of the items are basic. However, don’t let that fool you. It is the simple things that we don’t want to gloss over that can cause the greatest frustrations. 

Example:

TheSchoolHouse302 Mentor/Mentee Checklist

Day One

Logistics: 

  • Has been given a key fob to access the building. 
  • Has toured the building and knows where key offices are.
  • Has received the phone list and knows how to contact key individuals.
  • Has received their employee ID card. 
  • Has received a parking pass and knows where to park.

Technology:

  • Has received their email account.
  • Has logged in and accessed the learning management site (LMS).
  • Has successfully navigated their courses and student roster in the LMS.
  • Has tested out the instructional technology in their classroom.

Conclusion 

When school leaders use these five strategies with new people, they’re far more likely to stay in their schools and in the profession. All educators have to play a role in keeping our best and brightest new people in the spirits needed to make it past year five. Principals and assistant principals have a serious responsibility in this work, and we want to help you to make the difference that you set out to make when you became an educational leader. 

As always, we want to hear from you. Please hit us with a like, a follow, a comment, or a share. It helps us and it helps other readers, like you, to find our work so that more school leaders can lead better and grow faster. 

We can’t wait to hear from you. 

Joe & T.J.

Frederick White: The Labyrinth of Leadership #OneThingSeries

Frederick White: The Labyrinth of Leadership #OneThingSeries

Success is not established by winning all the time. ~ Frederick White 

About Frederick White

Dr. Frederick White is the COO of Digital PD 4 You, LLC and the author of

the book, The Skin You Are In: Colorism in the Black Community, the First (2020) and Second (2021) Edition. Frederick has served as a leader in the educational field for twenty-four years.

Dr. White has also spent the past fourteen years serving as an AVID staff development instructor. Dr. White obtained a Doctorate in Educational Leadership from Trevecca University and currently serves as a principal of a middle school in Memphis-Shelby County Schools in Tennessee.

His newest book is The Labyrinth of Leadership: Navigating Your Way Through the Maze, which we talk about on the show along with so much more leadership insight for school leaders who are looking to lead better and grow faster. 

Follow Frederick on Twitter @fdwhite02 to get his bi-weekly Labyrinth of Leadership tips for school leaders.

 

What You’ll Find in this Podcast Episode with Frederick White

The Labyrinth of Leadership, as Fredrick explains it, is a solicitation of ideas from leaders around the country–folks with “skin in the game.” 

Don’t miss what Dr. White says about his personal take-away from the Labyrinth project. 

Listen to the language he uses, so important and grossly undervalued. 

Frederick talks about self-reflection as a universal need for leaders. It’s all about finding the time. 

Dr. White tells us about the importance of defining the “end product.” This part is profound. 

He says that the greatest leaders are the ones who are willing to continue to grow, regardless of how much they have achieved. 

Joe asks Frederick to explain one of his recent tweets about celebrating small wins. Every school leader needs to hear this. 

Dr. White talks about the difference between goal setting and dream chasing. This alone is worth the listen. Be a dream chaser!

You want to hear the part about failure being the struggle that we often need to grow. Frederick’s butterfly story is awesome. 

Frederick mentions both Principal Kafele and Todd Whitaker as inspiration. 

Check out The Principal Project

Advice from Dr. White: pause and go for a walk. Just taking the time to walk and observe is powerful for peace, self-reflection, and a solid reminder of what we want and need. 

Frederick is striving for the most perfect environment he can provide. His reflection about this is great. 

To continue to grow, Frederick starts by never settling. He looks to be present with his teachers to learn from them. He mentions writing and researching as things that force him to continue to grow. 

Books We Recommend Based on this Podcast with Frederick White 

What Great Principals Do Differently by Todd Whitaker 

Is My School Better Because oI Lead It by Baruti Kafele 

Let us know if there’s a guest who you want us to have on the show by leaving a comment below or by contacting us at contact@theschoolhouse302.com. And don’t miss our leadership content updates every week by subscribing on the site. 

We can’t wait to hear from you. 

Joe & T.J.

2 Mental Shifts that Every School Leader Must Make for Greater Success

2 Mental Shifts that Every School Leader Must Make for Greater Success

Shifting our thinking in new and different ways requires a lot of personal reflection, self-understanding, and some technical know-how. It’s not easy, but it is possible. Thinking differently, outside of your normal realm, requires a paradigm shift. This shift is usually fueled by passion and fervor, and sustained through well-developed models that help frame our desire. We applaud leaders who have developed the skills to shift their thinking and agree with entrepreneurial giants like Ed Mylett who recognize that it’s actually a sign of strength.

Once we overcome some of the self-imposed worries like, “is changing my mind a sign of weakness?” or “will it look like I am indecisive?” or our favorite, “I don’t want to look like a waffler!” then we can start to make serious gains through our leadership. The following are two areas where leaders must shift their thinking for greater effectiveness and sustained change.

Shift From Fear to Courage

Fear is a natural emotion, and, left unchecked, it can put a stop to our ability to lead. The challenge that we find is that too many school leaders filter every decision through some sort of fear or deficit mindset. Instead of shifting their brains to operate from what is possible, they focus on the obstacles. They fail to harness the power and the responsibility to lead courageously and embrace what Jim Collins called the Stockdale Complex

On the one hand, they stoically accepted the brutal facts of reality. On the other hand, they maintained an unwavering faith in the endgame, and a commitment to prevail as a great company despite the brutal facts. We came to call this duality the Stockdale Paradox. (Collins, 2001)

While fear is natural, courage is not. Courage is actually a choice that leaders must make when they feel that fear is taking over. Fear often occurs when we’re feeling that things are too risky or when conflict aversion arises within us. It happens, for example, when we know that we have to have a feedback conversation that feels like it might not go well. Conflict aversion is mostly prevalent in people who enjoy harmonious relationship-driven work, which happens to be a huge aspect of what many school leaders believe is their job–to build strong personal relationships

The problem with this type of thinking and approach is that it puts the relationship first and makes the work come second, which can derail necessary and meaningful conversations. The relationship and the work have to go together, not one before or after the other. The way we build strong professional relationships at work is often different than in our personal lives. We build relationships at work by doing the work and succeeding together. It creates one of the most powerful social structures that humans can feel, which is called collective efficacy. 

Collective efficacy in schools has been demonstrated to be a game changer for student success. Any school leader who is looking to shift from fear to courage, can rely on the outcomes and relationships associated with a unified goal, collective effort toward that goal, and the relationships that are built when we reach the goal. Risk and conflict aversion begin to subside when we know that our leadership efforts are worthwhile and will make a difference. 

The second shift leaders must make is maintaining focus on the long game. Despite the allure of the short term, greater success is found when we create scenarios that yield results down the road. Great leaders never make long-term decisions with short-term emotions, but it’s hard. Thinking in the short term has long-term implications, which is why we must shift to longer-term planning so that our short-term reactions don’t cloud out what might happen in the future.

Shift From Short-Term Thinking to Long-Term Creating 

Let’s acknowledge up-front that playing the long game is difficult. Our own human nature is against us at times, convincing us to buy into a short-term win that isn’t going to be good later on. Why? Quick results are so much more attractive; they provide us and others the appearance that we are making progress. On a professional level, we often feel external pressures from boards, legislators, parents, and the community to deliver results. People want results right away to feel like things are improving. This can present a real challenge for school leaders who recognize the proven benefits of the long game but who also realize that some of the profound and difficult changes we make may not deliver results right away. 

When people say they want results, leaders often translate that as making a change. Rightly so. The truth is that when outside constituents demand a change, they’re often referring to the desire for comfort. But comfort doesn’t always provide the future that we want. This is why we constantly need to be communicating the reasons why the current initiatives are about long-term implications and not what it feels like at the moment. 

To make this mental shift for you and others, you have to fight short termism, an excessive focus on short-term results at the expense of long-term interests. For sustained and lasting change, this is critical for the success of any school. Effective school leaders embrace the idea of being a futurist, which is why we point to folks who can help with this type of thinking, like game designer Jane McGonigal.

Being a futurist means that we are creating and making the future. A futurist means being creative and imagining all the different possible futures and figuring out which future you want and making that a reality. ~ Jane McGonigal

Over the past couple months, we’ve been talking and writing about the “it’s possible” mindshift. Being a futurist embraces this challenge. As Susan Forchheimer writes, 

“…for futures thinking to be valuable it has to be grounded in present-day facts that with synthesis, sensemaking, creativity, and visualization are put into plausible, provocative stories about possible futures that resonate and inspire us to act differently today.”

For school leaders, this means that we must make time for ourselves and others to think about the future and communicate what it will be like so that current emotions don’t put a stop to changes that will put our school and our students in a better position for success. For futurist-type thinking as a team, we often do an activity that allows the mind to visualize possibilities rather than just talk about the goals and their outcomes. The following questions can be used as prompts: 

    • What does engagement in the classroom look and sound like? 
    • How do we want students to treat one another?
    • What does a lively and vibrant school culture look and sound like for teachers and students?
    • How do we create lessons that are rigorous and relevant?
    • What changes do we need to make to current practice for these things to be a reality? 
    • What supports do we need so that we don’t revert back to old practices when the going gets tough? 

The point is that this process sparks creativity and imagination, as well as a future that we can all agree, is possible. Too often we set goals but don’t necessarily realize what it will take to achieve them. Goal setting becomes an activity and not exploration. As Rosie Greer once said, “you have to sees it to seize it.” It’s also why leaders use models to help the team think differently. 

Using Models to Support Thinking Differently

One way to begin the process of embracing courage and fighting short-termism is using models. The truth about thinking differently is that we need models and structures to support our thinking and behavior or we will revert back to old thinking. Using the same type of thinking to solve our  problems will not work. Problems that haven’t been solved so far are not likely to get solved because we haven’t changed our model or approach to thinking about them. 

One model that we love is the S.W.O.T. analysis. A SWOT analysis can be used for an initiative, program, or a person. Just using this model–strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats–brings forth new information that might not have surfaced without the SWOT model for thinking. Thinking and designing the future requires planning and effective models take our thinking from the idea and insight phase to the investigation and implementation phase.

Below is a sample model to use for Professional Learning Communities. We chose PLCs because when they are highly effective and done well, they have a greater impact on collective efficacy. And, we know that collective efficacy is very impactful for student success. We also know that without a model for thinking about them, PLCs can mostly be a waste of time. It’s unfortunate, but sometimes the most impactful strategies are useless unless we’re candid about what we need to make them successful. Models help with that. 

Conclusion 

We cannot leave our future to fate. By embracing courage and willingly taking the time to think and dream big, you are taking the necessary steps toward success. Add using an effective and proven model like S.W.O.T. (and other models for thinking differently about problems), your school’s success will be inevitable. Mindshifting is not easy, but it is fun. It starts the process of creating a whole new world of what’s possible. Our students, our schools, our communities, need educators to embrace these mindshifts. Together we can create an incredible future. 

Follow along with us at TheSchoolHouse302 over the next several months, and we’ll uncover new and different ways that you and your team can approach problems in your school. We’re going to recommend books, interview experts, and keep you informed about who is cracking the code of school leadership and why. 

And, we want to hear from you. Please hit us with a like, a follow, a comment, or a share. It helps us and it helps other readers, like you, to find our work so that more school leaders can lead better and grow faster. 

We can’t wait to hear from you. 

Joe & T.J.

Ryan Hawk: Being Able to Change Your Mind is a Super Power #OneThingSeries

Ryan Hawk: Being Able to Change Your Mind is a Super Power #OneThingSeries

Leaders have to regularly do hard things. ~ Ryan Hawk  

About Ryan Hawk 

Ryan Hawk is the host of The Learning Leader Show. He has recorded more than 475 episodes over the past 7 years. Forbes called The Learning Leader Show, “the most dynamic leadership podcast around.” Inc Magazine said, “it’s one of the 5 podcasts to make you a smarter leader.” Apple named it an “all-time best seller” in 2020 and 2021.

Ryan is the author of Welcome to Management: How To Grow From Top Performer To Excellent Leader.  Book Authority named it to its 100 Best Management Audiobooks of all time (#25). Forbes called it, “the best leadership book of 2020.” Ryan’s second book is called The Pursuit of Excellence: The Uncommon Behaviors of The World’s Most Productive Achievers. It sold through its first printing in eight hours and shot to the top of the Amazon rankings.

Previously, Ryan worked in corporate America for 12 years. He started as an entry-level telephonic sales rep and worked his way to manager, director, and ultimately VP of sales for a multi-billion-dollar company.

When he’s not recording podcasts or writing books, he tries to help leaders be more effective. Some of the ways that he does that is through Leadership Circles, 1:1 advising, and teaching in The Learning Leader Academy (the online school that he created). Ryan has delivered hundreds of keynote speeches on leadership and performance excellence all over the world.

What You’ll Find in this Podcast Episode with Ryan Hawk

Ryan mentions tremendous leaders and their ability to change their mind. Don’t miss what he says about being hard on values but soft on beliefs. 

Check out what Ryan says when Joe talks about humility versus confidence. 

Ryan has interviewed tremendous individuals on his Learning Leader Podcast, listen to his Jim Collins reference from Episode 216.

Thoughtful Intentions: find out what kitchen cabinets have to do with leadership and who you surround yourself with.

Ryan says to pick your mentors based on someone who did something that you admire and that they did it in a way that you admire. Don’t miss what he says about specificity.  

Ryan talked about his parents and upbringing. Listen to how they were influential in terms of their work ethic. 

Listen to what Ryan says about showing up and doing the work without balance to achieve success early and in the long run. 

You want to hear how Ryan thinks about seasons, both in life and the year. 

You don’t want to miss why Ryan wants to be home at 3:00PM each day and what he’ll do to make that happen.

How he picks his guests for his podcasts is very intriguing and speaks to how he thinks and learns as a leader. 

We loved what he says about living at the edge of your current zone of competency. Stretching yourself is critical as a leader. Ask this: Am I going to learn from this? 

Cambridge, Massachusetts, home to many mental giants. You’ll want to tune into the simplicity in his answer about imposter syndrome. 

Ryan has evolved his thoughts about leadership styles and the meaning of being a leader. 

Books We Recommend Based on this Podcast with Ryan Hawk 

The Pursuit of Excellence by Ryan Hawk 

Welcome to Management by Ryan Hawk

Good to Great by Jim Collins 

Let us know if there’s a guest who you want us to have on the show by leaving a comment below or by contacting us at contact@theschoolhouse302.com. And don’t miss our leadership content updates every week by subscribing on the site. 

We can’t wait to hear from you. 

Joe & T.J.

From Crisis to Opportunity–A School Leader’s Playbook

From Crisis to Opportunity–A School Leader’s Playbook

By focusing my attention on the solution to the problem rather than the problem, I was able to quickly turn what seemed like a major crisis into an opportunity. ~ Les Brown

It’s Possible

Identified, as he calls it, “educable mentally retarded,” or what we would refer today as an intellectual disability, Les Brown was poor, and with a whole host of potential issues stacked against him–including low self-esteem in school–he emerged as one of the greatest motivational speakers to ever grace a stage. Adopted by a single mother, Miss Mamie Brown, a cafeteria worker, he found success only after he repeatedly picked himself up from unsuccessful attempts to be a radio personality.  

There is power in learning how to turn adversity into advantage, crisis into potential, and setbacks into motivation. Think about that for a moment, if we could harness those three opportunities when we encounter them–adversity, crisis, and setbacks–we could make serious progress in education. There is no doubt that some schools and districts are achieving greatness, but how do we scale that success for every child?

We turn to the popular lesson that Les Brown espoused throughout his career: It’s Possible. What exactly is it that possible, you may ask? The answer is simple–whatever you decide. That’s the importance of the message. Life is filled with challenges, hardships, and difficulties; great school leaders harness a resiliency combined with an unwavering belief that it’s possible, that anything is possible. 

  • It’s possible that all students can learn to read on grade level.
  • It’s possible to attract top talent to this profession.
  • It’s possible to build a culture where staff and students thrive.
  • It’s possible for the community and school to work together in harmony.
  • It’s possible to change grading practices.
  • It’s possible for educators to receive appropriate pay.
  • It’s possible for students to feel safe–emotionally and physically–in every classroom.
  • It’s possible for every American child to graduate with a high school diploma. 

The list can go on-and-on; you get the idea. If the tragedy of the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that this lesson from Less Brown is the truth, it’s possible. Covid19 created a crisis that quickly required educators to shift their thinking about how and where students would be educated. There was no alternative except to change what we were doing, and fast. 

Teachers shifted to instruct students remotely, administrators worked to provide students with access to devices and the internet, nutritional services provided curbside meals, school parking lots turned into vaccination events, classrooms were systematically transformed to meet safety protocols, grading and assessment practices were shifted, instructional methods were altered, and more. The crisis created opportunity, and, in many cases, things improved. Some of the troubles that we were grappling with for year–like internet access at home–were solved in a matter of days. 

A New Mentality

It’s amazing what we’ve accomplished in our profession during tough times. Trust us, we never want to go back to the height of the pandemic, and by no means was everything perfect, but what was accomplished was nothing less than incredible. Now that we know what we are capable of doing as educators, it’s time to tackle some of our other long-standing issues, using the same determination that we had during the crisis. This begins with two fundamental steps: 1. identify and define the new mind-shift that we used when the crisis hit, or when any crisis occurs, and, 2. enumerate the issues in education that are constant, perennial problems. 

A Crisis Mindset

The first step to making changes to perennial problems is to define and implement what we call a crisis mindset. We, along with our friend and co-author Connie Hamilton, developed this definition to accompany a new mentality for solving problems and adopting systemic solutions, An unfiltered 360° view and approach to solving problems with an urgency that abandons conventional wisdom and accepted restraints until a meaningful solution is found, implemented, and sustainable. 

Reflection: 

What are some of the longstanding problems within your school or district? 

Do you believe you can solve them?

Perennial Problems

Take your pick from the various issues that are the Achilles heel for many schools and districts. Perennial problems are issues that consistently limit the success for students, schools, and their communities. They demand a continuous effort to manage and often never go away. These issues require the school system itself to have structures and supports in place to effectively make changes. Ultimately, these problems require a different and new shift in thinking to successfully attack the problems at their core. 

Take a few minutes to identify one or two perennial issues that are negatively affecting student success in your school. Which problems will impact you and your student the most this upcoming school year? Consider academic achievement, school climate, teacher retention, and other issues that recur. 

Reflection:

What issue has to be solved this school year? 

What have you done in the past to solve it?

What new ideas or approach could you use to solve it?

Leadership Hack: Make Problems Tangible

When working to solve perennial problems, it’s critical to take the problem from your mind and make it into something tangible. It may sound simple, but writing the problem out in detail on a sheet of paper makes it real and identifiable to the team. Putting the problem on poster paper or a whiteboard brings it to life in a way that takes it from an abstract notion to a concrete object. 

After you write it down, place it on the center of the table for the entire team to see. Begin to work towards solving what’s in front of you, detail-by-detail. To begin unpacking the problem, we often need a new mental structure to apply. The same old thinking is not going to solve the same old problems. Now that you have the details on paper, tangible and visible to the team, we suggest that your team uses our R.E.P.S. model for thinking about the problem in a new and structured way. This is a SchoolHouse302 original to get conversations going and reflect on an initiative or problem as you shift toward a crisis mindset. Feel free to download our free R.E.P.S. template here. For other new thinking models, check out our new book, 7 Mindshifts for School Leaders: Finding New Ways to Think About Old Problems

Reflect on the work already being done in a particular area of concern. This should be a brain dump of the activities and work that has already taken place to solve the issue, even if it didn’t work well. 

Evaluate what is and what is not working. There are degrees of success when it comes to perennial problems; it’s never a zero-sum game. If something has worked or displayed average success, identify it and work to discover why it worked to the degree that it did and not better. There are often good solutions within current efforts that need tweaking. 

Plan on making adjustments. This can range from involving more people in the discussion to seeking outside expertise to abandoning a current practice and replacing it with another.

Solidify the next steps. Please know that we are not saying to solidify the plan. Don’t jump to conclusions too fast. Finding quick solutions is in and of itself a mistake in education and solving problems in general. There are no silver bullets. Period. It’s a continuous and constant effort to make necessary changes that lead to improvement. And it starts with the mindset that school leaders apply to the problems, which is why R.E.P.S. can help to make sure the team gets to this final step in determining which actions to take after we unpack the problem. 

Conclusion

Looking for opportunities in a crisis and seeing the possibilities that can come from the big problems that we face as school leaders isn’t easy. If it was, everyone would be doing it. The good news is that you’re a school leader who wants to lead better and grow faster. The hard part is done; you’re here. The harder part is implementing new structures and new mind shifts that can tackle age-old issues. That’s why you need a crisis mindset

Follow along with us at TheSchoolHouse302 over the next several months, and we’ll uncover new and different ways that you and your team can approach problems in your school. We’re going to recommend books, interview experts, and keep you informed about who is cracking the code of school leadership and why. 

And, we want to hear from you. Please hit us with a like, a follow, a comment, or a share. It helps us and it helps other readers, like you, to find our work so that more school leaders can lead better and grow faster. 

 

We can’t wait to hear from you. 

Joe & T.J.

Claim Your FREE Copy to Our Praise Practice- Practical Praise Giving Tips for Principals

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