Season 3, Episode 13 of FocusED with John Almarode #FocusED

Season 3, Episode 13 of FocusED with John Almarode #FocusED

John Almarode Joins FocusED to Discuss How School Leaders and Classroom Teachers Can Focus on Clarity for Learning

This is Season 3, Episode 13 of FocusED, and it features our guest, John Almarode. It was originally recorded live for a studio audience in Delaware, provided as a professional development experience for Delaware teachers and leaders. Don’t miss what Dr. Almarode says about the importance of clarity for learning, evidence of learning, the science of teaching…and so much more. 

_______________________________________

John Almarode Brings Tons of Experience to FocusED Listeners

When John was 10-years-old, he walked down the hallways of Stuarts Draft Middle School to find his locker and classes on what he believed was a normal “back-to-school” night. However, the moment he walked through the door frame of Room 30, he met his sixth-grade science teacher, Ms. Cross. From that moment on, he knew he wanted to be a teacher – not just any teacher, but a teacher as influential as Ms. Cross. 

That moment in Room 30 where he met Ms. Cross still fuels his drive as a teacher. Yet, his single greatest accomplishment, if asked, is his family. If you have ever worked with John via Zoom, WebEx, Google Meets, or Teams, you have almost certainly met each member of his immediate family through their impromptu cameo appearances. 

John lives in Waynesboro, Virginia with his wife Danielle, a  fellow educator, their two children, Tessa and Jackson, and Labrador retrievers, Bella, Dukes, and Ollie. Oh, and Tessa and Jackson affectionately call Ms. Cross, Grandma Sally.

Outside of being a husband and father, John is an Associate Professor of Education in the College of Education at James Madison University and works with preservice teachers and graduate students across multiple teacher preparation programs.

John is a bestselling author (of 11 books) and has worked with schools, classrooms, and teachers all over the world on the translation and application of the science of learning to the classroom, school, and home environments, and what works best in teaching and learning.

Today, we discuss John’s book, Clarity for Learning and what that means for teachers and students as well as school leaders who are looking for instructional excellence in the classroom. 

________________________________________

FocusED Show Notes with John Almarode 

Don’t miss what John says about clarity of learning for teachers but also students. 

What do we want our students to learn? 

How do we want them to learn? 

How will they know if we’ve learned? 

Relaying feedback to learners is important but it’s also important for learners to relay feedback to us. 

Having learning intentions and success criteria is one thing, but they can’t just be practices on the board. 

Teachers need to pay attention to the verbs in the standards: “compare and contrast” versus “explain” and other behaviors that we want students to communicate and display. 

Don’t miss the secret that John tells us about what separate teachers who have the highest degrees of learning and growth. 

The science learning has been around since 1885. Once you learn something, if you don’t practice retrieving it, you’ll forget it. Unfortunately, we don’t always use the science. 

Our work now: how do we support teachers with the science of learning to apply it in the context of the classroom so that we can learn more about the science of teaching. 

John talked about his other book, How Learning Works, as a place to go to support teachers now in terms of where we might start with the science of learning. 

It is very difficult to learn in an environment where you don’t feel like you belong. ~ John Almarode 

Listen to John describe what happens in a threatening environment; students will simply not care about what the teacher planned for them to learn. 

John ends the episode with a message about focusing on what really matters most versus what we don’t have any control over. 

John Almarode Quotes 

It is very difficult to learn in an environment where you don’t feel like you belong. ~ John Almarode 

Thanks for listening to FocusED, an educational leadership podcast brought to you by TheSchoolHouse302 @ theschoolhouse302.com where we publish free leadership content. Go to the site, subscribe, and you’ll get all of our content sent directly to your email. 

 

FocusED is your educational leadership podcast where our mission is to dissect a particular focus for teachers and school leaders so that you can learn to lead better and grow faster in your school or district with more knowledge, better understanding, and clear direction on what to do next.

This episode was brought to you by GhostBed, a family-owned business of sleep experts with 20+ years of experience. With 30K+ 5-star reviews, you can’t go wrong with GhostBed. Their mattresses are handcrafted, and they come with a 101-night-at-home-sleep trial. For a limited time, you can get 30% by using our code — SH302 — at checkout. And, even if you tell someone about GhostBed, you can earn a $100 referral reward. Go to Ghostbed.com today and use SH302 at checkout. 

Every School Leader Wants a Professional Learning Culture that Inspires Teachers to Grow–Here are Three Areas You Cannot Overlook

Every School Leader Wants a Professional Learning Culture that Inspires Teachers to Grow–Here are Three Areas You Cannot Overlook

Be not afraid of growing slowly; be afraid only of standing still.  ~ Chinese Proverb

It’s safe to say that most educators epitomize lifelong learning. They desire to learn more about their subject, their students, new techniques, and effective practices. The real question isn’t if teachers want to learn and grow, but rather do they want to learn and grow from what you are offering? Candidly, as educational leaders, practitioners ourselves, we know that is a tough question to ask ourselves and our staff. The answer may be difficult to hear, but this blog is about real talk for real leaders, where we willingly face some uncomfortable truths for the betterment of our schools and students. And, what we know is that schools that act as centers of adult learning thrive in ways that other schools don’t. It’s that simple, and that’s the hard part. The harder part is knowing how to build a culture where everyone wants to learn and grow together.

As educational leaders, we know that we don’t always have the liberty, time, capacity, or need for à la carte items that will satisfy every learning palate. Additionally, with increased mandates and required training, there is less flexibility on what can be offered to our staff. Yet, the truth is that there still is a way to cultivate and develop a culture that recognizes, appreciates, and understands the learning needs and growth experiences of every single person.

21st Century effective school leaders embrace their responsibility to prioritize professional learning and growth for every staff member. A robust adult learning culture is the only way to develop specific skills and build capacity in-and-out of the classroom. This effort requires a sophisticated but practical approach so that teachers and support personnel receive multiple layers of learning–as individual contributors, in teams at the school and district level, and through opportunities to learn about leadership. 

There are multiple positive effects of this effort and culture-building. One is an improved and highly skilled teaching core; two is increased student performance within the classroom; and three is developing leaders among the staff. 

In a series of studies, the Wallace Foundation uncovered that there are five critical practices that are essential to school leadership. For this post, we want to highlight two that we believe have the greatest impact on student achievement and a school-wide culture that is focused on learning. The two practices that effective leaders must excel at are:

  1. Cultivating leadership in others so that teachers and other adults assume their part in realizing the school vision. 
  2. Improving instruction to enable teachers to teach at their best and students to learn at 

their utmost.

This post is also timely, considering the clock on the 2022 school year is winding down. School leaders need to act fast to gain the necessary footing for well-developed professional development to take place next school year. Although the month of May is a hectic and exhilarating time, it is a time to reflect on this past year’s professional learning opportunities and set aside deliberate time to plan professional learning for the upcoming school year. 

To achieve this end, we developed a three part model that takes inventory of where people are on their personal professional learning journey, the overall school professional learning plan, and the leadership opportunities that are offered throughout the school year. The power in following this model is in the alignment of the three areas, how they coordinate and support one another, and how they reinforce the two practices that The Wallace Foundation described above.

Individual Learning and Growth 

For schools and districts to develop valuable, worthwhile, and results-oriented professional learning, the overall “health” of the organization must be good. According to Lencioni, “at its core, organizational health is about integrity, but not in the ethical or moral way that integrity is defined so often today. An organization has integrity–is healthy–when it is whole, consistent, and complete, that is, when its management, operations, strategy, and culture fit together and make sense.” Great schools build great teachers within healthy systems. 

This means that school leaders work to build an environment where the individual strengths and weaknesses of a teacher are known and supported–where teacher goals reflect not only their student data but their own growth and development. This is an environment that embraces risk-taking where teachers willingly try new strategies, implement new ideas, and toy with new resources. It’s a mindshift for some schools, but this mentality about learning and growth fall within a school leader’s control. 

We’ve often heard that people don’t quit jobs; rather, they quit bosses. But, that’s not the full story. The truth, found within one study at Facebook, is that the decision to exit can be because of the work. “They left when their job wasn’t enjoyable, their strengths weren’t being used, and they weren’t growing in their careers.” This is why tuning into the individual teacher is critical. A teacher can literally spend their entire career in the same classroom. Yet, they can have a unique and exciting experience every day as long as the context of their growth is central to how they interact with their work, their students, and their peers. The opposite is also true; isolated teachers don’t grow and can become disenfranchised by their work. 

Great leaders apply pressure and support. They support and encourage individual growth with an expectation that everyone is a learner. Doing so at the individual level demonstrates a leader’s capacity to improve instruction by enabling teachers to teach at their very highest levels. 

Technical Tip: Inventory your staff’s unique skill sets. Every school should know who excels at what and how they can lend their expertise. Some may excel at blended learning, while others are incredible at developing higher order thinking questions. Can you answer these two questions:

  • I know my staff’s unique skills?
  • I actively build a culture that allows teachers to build on their strengths?

Professional Learning

Every school has a dynamic staff with a unique set of talents and skills. Knowing what those skills are is vital to a staff’s growth, which also means professional learning cannot be a one-size-fits-all model. Educational leaders sometimes underestimate how personal a teacher’s classroom and expertise is and simply offer what they believe is best for everyone at the macro level. Great professional learning, according Linda Darling Hammond, “is most effective when it addresses the concrete, everyday challenges involved in teaching and learning specific academic subject matter.” 

This is why we appreciate the work of Michael Mankins and Eric Garton. In Time, Talent, Energy they claim that “perhaps the most transformational thing a company can do for its workforce is to invest in creating jobs and working environments that unleash intrinsic inspiration. This is the gateway to the discretionary energy that multiplies labor productivity: An inspired employee is more than twice as productive as a satisfied employee and more than three times as productive as a dissatisfied employee.” We wrote a ton about this concept in Retention for a Change if you want to know more about how this works in schools. 

The key is unleashing the intrinsic inspiration by learning the staff’s strengths, understanding what they need to improve their day-to-day performance, and tapping into discretionary energy by ensuring that professional learning is relevant to the individual, timely in terms of need and execution, and quality as an engaging offering. Teachers want their students to succeed, so the greater connection they see between professional learning (relevant) and their classroom, the more invested the teachers will be.  

Technical Tip: Review your professional learning (PL) calendar and determine the level of alignment between the offerings throughout the year and your answers to these two questions:

  • Is PL aligned to what improves instruction?
  • Is PL relevant to staff during the time we’re offering it?

Leadership Opportunities

The first national presentation we ever led was on teacher leadership at the ASCD Conference in 2015. Since that time, we’ve taught and coached on several different topics, but teacher leadership and feedback cycles remain near and dear to our heart and what we’re mostly requested to help with in schools around the country. Why? Because as former principals, we know that any effective school has incredible teacher leaders and that they deserve quality feedback on their leadership skills (not just their ability to teach well). And, developing teacher leaders is an active pursuit. We fully agree with the words from these directors from New Leaders, “our most successful principals unfailingly encourage and cultivate leadership among their teachers so that the burdens and rewards of conceptualizing and carrying out instructional improvement efforts are shared.”

Effective school leaders use teacher leaders to fulfill the vision and mission of the school, which is the other critical practice identified by The Wallace Foundation. This intentional development should build teachers to take on a variety of roles from professional learning responsibilities, non-evaluative and non-threatening peer observations, researcher roles, community outreach, assessment team leader, and a host of other possibilities. The truth is that there are so many responsibilities that leaders work to control, and, if they’re just willing to work with their staff, developing leaders among them, then the school will accomplish so much more and grow in diversification and authenticity. 

Technical Tip: Effective leaders spend time actively developing teacher leaders because they know that they cannot do it all. Make sure your leadership team agenda includes book studies, case studies, and more. Answer these two questions: 

  • Have you asked your staff for help, to specifically lead initiatives or other areas, where support is needed?
  • Do you actively invest in teacher leaders in meaningful ways, such as book studies and other important time spent at meetings with leaders? 

Measuring the Degree of Growth in Schools

One way to know if people are growing and feel that their growth is supported is to ask. Great leaders measure effectiveness and take inventory. We always talk about measuring what matters, but few leaders measure whether or not the culture is one that can be described as growth oriented.  

That’s why REPSS has an entire section dedicated to growth, and all of the questions are about the five principles from above. The support section questions are below, and you can get the whole survey in our Building a Winning Team book. 


Reputable, Effective, Perception Survey for Schools

Support (REPSS)

    Growth Questions

    1. My supervisor encourages my learning and growth. 
    2. An administrator, other than my supervisor, has spoken to me this year about my progress as an educator. 
    3. There are opportunities to serve in leadership positions at my school. 
    4. The building level professional learning I participated in this school year was relevant.
    5. The building level professional learning I participated in this school year was timely.
    6. The building level professional learning I participated in this school year was quality.
    7. The district level professional learning I participated in this school year was relevant. 
    8. The district level professional learning I participated in this school year was timely.
    9. The district level professional learning I participated in the school year was quality. 
    10. I am given the opportunity to provide professional learning to my colleagues.

As always, let us know what you think of this with a like, a follow, or a comment. Find us on Twitter, YouTube, iTunes, Facebook, & SoundCloud. And, again, if you want one simple model for leading better and growing faster per month, follow this blog by entering your email at the top right of the screen.

TheSchoolHouse302 is about getting to simple by maximizing effective research-based strategies that empower individuals to lead better and grow faster.

Joe & T.J. 

This blog post was brought to you by GhostBed, a family-owned business of sleep experts with 20+ years of experience. With 30K+ 5-star reviews, you can’t go wrong with GhostBed. Their mattresses are handcrafted, and they come with a 101-night-at-home-sleep trial. For a limited time, you can get 30% by using our code — SH302 — at checkout. And, even if you tell someone about GhostBed, you can earn a $100 referral reward. Go to Ghostbed.com today and use SH302 at checkout. 

Season 3, Episode 12 of FocusED with Robyn Jackson #FocusED

Season 3, Episode 12 of FocusED with Robyn Jackson #FocusED

This is Season 3, Episode 12 of FocusED, and it features our guest, Robyn Jackson. It was originally recorded live for a studio audience in Delaware, provided as a professional development experience for Delaware teachers and leaders. Don’t miss what Robyn says about building culture as a school leader…and much more. 

_______________________________________

Robyn Jackson Brings Tons of Experience to FocusED Listeners

Robyn Jackson is passionate about building better schools. As the CEO of Mindsteps Inc.®, she has helped thousands of K–12 administrators and teachers develop the clarity and confidence to turn their classrooms and schools into success stories.

Jackson combines her experience as an English teacher and middle school administrator and her work in thousands of schools and districts to help teachers and administrators develop rigorous instructional programs that provide students with the support and motivation they need to reach or exceed the standards and helps refocus vision, mission, and core values to build better schools.

She is the author of 10 books, host of the School Leadership Reimagined podcast, and an internationally recognized keynote speaker and consultant.

________________________________________

FocusED Show Notes with Robyn Jackson

Robyn talked about the failed leadership models that we all learned but that aren’t working since they are designed to maintain. 

Don’t miss what she says about doing the work of leadership in schools without a new program, without firing people, without adding…by building. 

Don’t miss the 4 things that Robyn teaches in her builders’ lab. 

Robyn talked about vision statements being promises for our students. 

There’s great power in the way that Robyn describes teacher development, growing them one level in one year. Picking one thing to develop and targeting that area. 

We need to know the most critical areas of instruction to set as our focus for teacher growth. 

Robyn talked about this mantra: Bosses say “you go.” Leaders say “let’s go.” Builders say “come.” 

The leader dictates the vision but that staff should put boundaries around their own behavior by setting the core values. This is the purpose stage that Robyn teaches. 

Don’t miss what Robyn says about every teacher becoming a master teacher. 

Listen to what it means to interrogate your teacher evaluation system. What’s one thing that teachers need to do to get to the next level? 

Books mentioned by Robyn Jackson on FocusED

Never Work Harder Than Your Students by Robyn Jackson 

 

Robyn mentions books outside of education, including the book Upstream by Dan Heath. She talked about trying to solve problems at the source. 

Robyn Jackson Quotes 

Being successful is boring. Being really successful is really boring. ~ Robyn Jackson 

The best gift you can give every student is a master teacher in every classroom. ~ Robyn Jackson

We need staff to grow in both their skillset and their willset so that they’re not just better teachers but also that they feel safe to try new things, take risks, and improve practice. ~ Robyn Jackson

_________________________________________

Thanks for listening to FocusED, an educational leadership podcast brought to you by TheSchoolHouse302 @ theschoolhouse302.com where we publish free leadership content. Go to the site, subscribe, and you’ll get all of our content sent directly to your email. 

 

FocusED is your educational leadership podcast where our mission is to dissect a particular focus for teachers and school leaders so that you can learn to lead better and grow faster in your school or district with more knowledge, better understanding, and clear direction on what to do next.

This episode was brought to you by GhostBed, a family-owned business of sleep experts with 20+ years of experience. With 30K+ 5-star reviews, you can’t go wrong with GhostBed. Their mattresses are handcrafted, and they come with a 101-night-at-home-sleep trial. For a limited time, you can get 30% by using our code — SH302 — at checkout. And, even if you tell someone about GhostBed, you can earn a $100 referral reward. Go to Ghostbed.com today and use SH302 at checkout. 

Dan Butler: Leveraging the Support that Is Needed to Prevent Burnout Among Teachers #OneThingSeries

Dan Butler: Leveraging the Support that Is Needed to Prevent Burnout Among Teachers #OneThingSeries

About Dan Butler

Dan Butler serves as the principal of Epworth Elementary School and has been named the next Superintendent in the Western Dubuque Community School District effective July 1. Previously, he was the principal of Epworth and Farley Elementary Schools simultaneously for four years, focusing on positive relationships with all members of the learning community, high impact instructional techniques, building leadership capacity in others, and establishing successful school cultures. Prior to serving as an administrator, Dan taught third and fifth grades in the Western Dubuque District, as well as serving as a baseball and football coach. In addition to his responsibilities as a building principal, Dan works as an adjunct professor in the Educational Leadership department at the University of Northern Iowa where he earned his doctoral degree.

Dan has received numerous awards and most recently was recognized as a finalist for the School Administrators of Iowa Elementary Principal of the year in 2019 and 2020. He received the University of Northern Iowa Educational Leadership Legacy award in 2018 and was a 2017 bizTimes.biz Rising Star in the Dubuque area. For more than six years, Dan served as a co-moderator of Iowa Educational Chat (#IAedchat), a weekly Twitter forum dedicated to the latest trends in education. He recently published his first book, Permission to be Great, and has published various articles to Principal Magazine, focused on digital leadership, literacy, productivity, and educator engagement. Dan and his wife, Johna reside in Iowa with their sons, Mason and Nolan. Read more about Dr. Butler by visiting danpbutler.com or follow him on Twitter: @danpbutler.

What You’ll Find in this Podcast Episode with Dan Butler

Dan talked about the concept of support for the employee in the work environment. Don’t miss what he says about defining what matters most, including core values. 

You’ll want to pay attention to what he says about reactive approaches to support versus proactive approaches to support. 

Dan lists some essential questions when creating the right environment: 

  • What are the things that need to stay? 
  • What are the things that we can remove? 

He reminds us that if everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. 

Dan reminds us of the very powerful Eisenhower Matrix when we are looking to make critical decisions. 

Pay attention to how Dan frames delegation and what you might be doing that takes away from the talents and skills of others.  

When asked about key people who Dan tunes into for inspiration, he doesn’t hesitate to talk about the powerful work of Tim Kight. If you want to learn more about culture, check him out.

Dan says that everyone needs a physical activity routine, preferably in the morning. He focuses on mental clarity and other important results from exercise. 

Listen to Dan eloquently describes the sweet spot of performance feedback.  

We are always intrigued to learn more about people who great leaders turn to for their own growth; Dan describes the work of Greg Deutmeyer and Jenny Hillebrand — School Talk Podcast.

Dan finishes the interview strong and reminds us that as leaders we don’t have to know all the answers. That success hinges on empowerment and collaboration.

We wish Dan the best in his new role as superintendent. 

There’s too much to do and not enough resources to get it done. ~ Dan Butler

Books Mentioned by Dan Butler During the Podcast

The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni 

The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes and Posner 

More Free School Leadership Resources for Principals

As always, let us know what you think of this with a like, a follow, or a comment. Find us on Twitter, YouTube, iTunes, Facebook, & SoundCloud. And, again, if you want one simple model for leading better and growing faster per month, follow this blog by entering your email at the top right of the screen.

TheSchoolHouse302 is about getting to simple by maximizing effective research-based strategies that empower individuals to lead better and grow faster.

 

Joe & T.J. 

This episode was brought to you by GhostBed, a family-owned business of sleep experts with 20+ years of experience. With 30K+ 5-star reviews, you can’t go wrong with GhostBed. Their mattresses are handcrafted, and they come with a 101-night-at-home-sleep trial. For a limited time, you can get 30% by using our code — SH302 — at checkout. And, even if you tell someone about GhostBed, you can earn a $100 referral reward. Go to Ghostbed.com today and use SH302 at checkout. 

Season 3, Episode 11 of FocusED with Tom Hoerr #FocusED

Season 3, Episode 11 of FocusED with Tom Hoerr #FocusED

This is Season 3, Episode 11 of FocusED, and it features our guest, Thomas Hoerr. It was originally recorded live for a studio audience in Delaware, provided as a professional development experience for Delaware teachers and leaders. Don’t miss what Tom says about leading for empathy…and so much more. 

_______________________________________

Thomas Hoerr Brings Tons of Experience to FocusED Listeners

Dr. Tom Hoerr led schools for 37 years and is currently a Scholar In Residence at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, teaching in the Educational Leadership and Policy Studies program. His newest book, The Principal As Chief Empathy Officer: Creating A Culture Where Everyone Grows, shows the role of empathy in relationships in leadership. Hoerr believes that we can all grow our empathy.

Hoerr currently writes a monthly leadership blog for ASCD and wrote a monthly column, “The Principal Connection,” from 2004 to 2018. His previous two books focused on the importance of SEL to students and staff (Taking Social Emotional Learning Schoolwide and The Formative Five: Fostering Grit, Empathy, and Other Success Skills Every Student Needs). Hoerr has written four other books, more than 170 articles, and has presented at schools and conferences around the world on grit, leadership, multiple intelligences, faculty collegiality, empathy, and the Formative Five.  

___________________________________________________

FocusED Show Notes with Thomas Hoerr

People value their leader, not because of what they know, but because of the relationship they have. 

Joe asked about strategies that leaders can employ to become more empathetic. Don’t miss the three things that Tom talks about. 

Leaders should always explain why they’re doing something, not just what they’re doing. 

Part of growing your empathy is knowing what you don’t know. ~ Tom Hoerr 

Tom emphasized the power in creating scenarios for professional dialogue. 

Don’t miss how Tom defines “empathy conversations” and the need for them. 

Dr. Hoerr addresses the problem with our political and social bubbles and how they prevent empathy. Let’s talk about the bubble! Naming it is the first step to widening perspective.

You want to hear what Tom says about the 5:1 positive interaction ratio…for adults and students. 

Tom talked about writing empathy goals at the start of every year. 

Dr. Hoerr belongs to a book group, and he’s the only educator. A major theme from the podcast is about getting out of your comfort zone and gaining perspective as a school leader.  

Thanks for listening to FocusED, an educational leadership podcast brought to you by TheSchoolHouse302 @ theschoolhouse302.com where we publish free leadership content. Go to the site, subscribe, and you’ll get all of our content sent directly to your email. 

 

FocusED is your educational leadership podcast where our mission is to dissect a particular focus for teachers and school leaders so that you can learn to lead better and grow faster in your school or district with more knowledge, better understanding, and clear direction on what to do next.

This episode was brought to you by GhostBed, a family-owned business of sleep experts with 20+ years of experience. With 30K+ 5-star reviews, you can’t go wrong with GhostBed. Their mattresses are handcrafted, and they come with a 101-night-at-home-sleep trial. For a limited time, you can get 30% by using our code — SH302 — at checkout. And, even if you tell someone about GhostBed, you can earn a $100 referral reward. Go to Ghostbed.com today and use SH302 at checkout. 

School Leaders: 5 Ways to Show More Support To Create the School Culture that Teachers and Students Need

School Leaders: 5 Ways to Show More Support To Create the School Culture that Teachers and Students Need

Charles leaned back in his chair after a long week, feeling the weight of his school community’s needs. All things considered, the school has handled the pandemic well. He looks over at this year’s motto hanging on the wall, Stronger Together, and is reminded of how much they have overcome. He also knows that his teachers and staff are tired. The uncertainty in the world and in their community creates an intensity that makes one hour feel like two. 

He also sees it among his students. Their reactions to situations, or should he say, overreaction indicates frustration. A minor situation escalates fast, and students are on edge. Resilience and grit are needed now more than ever. Although the pandemic seems to be in our rearview mirror, the toll it has taken on many is significant. And some students are wrestling with how to move forward, which is evident in how easily they want to give up on things. 

Despite all of this, Charles is confident in his school and the great people with whom he works. He also realizes that as the school year winds down, they must finish strong. The next three months have to be incredible. Understanding Kahneman’s peak-end rule, Charles knows that a strong end to this school year will help start next year even stronger. Although there’s no easy answer, he understands that he has to connect with those he serves, hear from them, and truly listen so that he can build a culture of support. If he wants to lead better and support his community, he has to know what they are thinking and feeling.

Listening for Greater Support

Getting individuals to open up and be candid, requires a level of trust within the school culture. The upheaval and loss that the pandemic brought with it is hard to fathom and impossible to quantify. Effective principal leadership is needed more than ever, and it starts with listening to the individuals we are actually working to serve. 

  • Teachers: Voices from the classroom
    • What are teachers experiencing in the classroom?
    • Probe to uncover insights about their experiences and their students’ needs.
  • Support Personnel: Voices from the staff
    • What are support staff experiencing?
    • Probed to uncover insights about their experiences and their students.
  • Students: Voices from the students
    • What are students experiencing within the school?
    • Probe to uncover insights about their experiences.

Figure: 1 Model for Voices to Hear

The intent to listen is to truly uncover the experiences that people are having. Great principal leaders use an inquiry-based approach to better understand what is occurring so that effective decisions can be made. There are a few ways to achieve this in schools. Although online surveys are efficient and effective, we suggest a couple different methods–from surveys to group discussions to one-on-one conversations. The purpose of each is to gather as much accurate and real data as possible to focus the work at the most granular level. This is what will drive support because school leaders will know what to prioritize based on the data. Without the information from surveys and conversations, we become susceptible to working hard but working on the wrong stuff. 

For example, Charles may decide to leverage group discussions with the support staff, school counselors, nurses, deans, etc. to gain a clear account from what they are experiencing and what they are also seeing in their students. This valuable information can provide insight that can support the social and emotional efforts in the school. Leveraging incredible resources like CASEL is vital, but only if it is aligned to needs within the school. We think of this process–identifying trends and key points of information–similar to what we find in the medical field. General practitioners are invaluable and treat the everyday needs of the community, but if our issues are no longer cured with that approach, we need a specialist–someone who is able to take an acute approach.

We’ve generated 5 key areas that need to be considered in every conversation. The goal is to transform the conversations into useful, actionable next steps for school leaders. 

Every Voice Heard in Every Conversation

One of the initial fundamental aspects of great conversations is informative and open dialogue. Above all else, school leaders need to welcome ideas and suggestions. That’s why it’s our first principle of the five. 

#1. Welcome ideas and suggestions from everyone

Unfortunately, this doesn’t come naturally to all school leaders. To complicate matters, creating dialogue among staff is a skill that many educators haven’t formally developed. This results in many group conversations defaulting to those who are willing to talk or those who somehow feel obligated to represent the group. This is why our conversations require norms. We’re not talking about the typical meeting norms but rather ones that are designed to create conversation, respect, and openness. 

Conversation Norms

  1. Don’t interrupt–Allow individuals to complete their thoughts.
  2. Focus on experiences–Using “I” is encouraged.
  3. Accept non-closure examples–Uncertainty is ok.
  4. Suspend judgment–Avoid value statements.
  5. Honor confidentially–Support and require privacy.

These norms are crucial because not only will they establish ground rules, they will also build a culture of rapport. This is crucial for idea sharing and hearing suggestions. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of putting up barriers and finding a reason to say, “yeah, but.” This is to be avoided so that the group can learn how to rumble

This brings us to our second key principle, which is being comfortable with discussing uncomfortable ideas and topics, even those that may be taboo. School leaders have to welcome the discomfort that comes from hearing something that isn’t ideal. 

#2. Feeling comfortable sharing difficult issues 

Difficult issues are just that, difficult. Difficult to discuss, explain, and understand. This is only compounded by our natural human hesitancy to deal with conflict. To start creating a level of comfort, we encourage teams to use the 2 Ts:

  • Trust and Truth

Trust and truth are imperative for open dialogue and getting to the core of situations. It’s easy to meet and easy to have conversations, but digging into the core of an issue is challenging. Communicating in a spirit of trust allows people to have confidence in one another, while the truth ensures that people are going to express how they feel and share their thoughts and ideas. Trust and truth come from our ability to be candid with one another. Candor is a skill; honesty is about our character. Everyone can learn to be more candid to support a level of comfort with difficult issues, but it takes practice. 

To build an environment that is supportive of the two Ts school leaders must provide time and space. 

#3. Providing time and space to listen

Have you ever compared the game of baseball to basketball? One is a game of space and the other time. The fast paced, high octane nature of basketball, brought on by the shot clock, could not be any different than a sport with no time frame, just rules that determine the beginning and end. Great meetings with open dialogue do both. The meeting length provides ample time to meet the agenda items while there is no pressure to get through all of them.  

The root of frustration in many meetings is due to the need to meet only to have enough time to go over cursory information or force decisions. Getting through the agenda doesn’t mean that any of the items get resolved. One antidote to this, as Joel Garfinkle writes, is to, “focus on what you’re hearing, not what you’re saying. People who shy away from conflict often spend a huge amount of time mentally rewording their thoughts.”

Schools that have a culture of support almost always report a sense of feeling like everyone is on the same team.

#4. Feeling like we’re on a team

The power of a great team is found in their centralized focus on a clear goal. That goal is supported by core values that guide and remind everyone of #2 and #3 from above. What we also love about teams is that they know how to celebrate. Could you imagine the culture and atmosphere of schools if the high five became as prevalent in schools as it did on the athletic field? What a difference that would make for feeling like we’re playing on a team. 

Without going into too much baseball history, it is believed that the first high five occurred between Dusty Baker and Glenn Burke of the L.A. Dodgers after Baker hit his 30th home run in the final game of the season. This was the first time in baseball history that 4 players ended the season with at least 30 home runs in a single season. We can learn a great deal from sports and the one thing that requires zero training, no degree, and no talent is celebrating others at work. Encourage conversation, thank people for their contribution, recognize when someone is out of their comfort zone, and praise as often as possible.

The fifth component is the linchpin, making sure that people have the resources they need to do their jobs well.

#5. Ensuring people have the resources to do their jobs well

This is the part of the conversation where school leaders simply need to be up front and ask people if they have what they need to do their jobs well. Asking is the easy part, listening and acting on the information presents the challenges. Do teachers have the following?  

  • Classroom resources to support the curriculum 
  • Technology to enhance instruction 
  • Instructional materials that promote student academic success
  • Assessments that are aligned to standards
  • Time in PLCs to discuss student achievement 

These areas represent fundamental needs for staff to thrive in their working environment. In her book, If You Don’t Feed the Teachers They Eat the Students!: Guide to Success for Administrators and Teachers, which is filled with stories and valuable insight, Dr. Neila Connors shares practical ways to support teachers and build an incredible school culture. 

Measuring the Feeling of Support in Schools

One way to know if people feel supported in general is to ask. Great leaders go beyond asking and they measure. We always talk about measuring what matters, but few leaders measure whether or not the culture is one that can be described as supportive.  

That’s why REPSS has an entire section dedicated to support, and all of the questions are about the five principles from above. The support section questions are below, and you can get the whole survey in our Building a Winning Team book. 


Reputable, Effective, Perception Survey for Schools

Support (REPSS)

  1. Our school culture welcomes ideas and suggestions.
  2. I feel comfortable going to my administration with issues.
  3. My supervisor respects my suggestions and ideas. 
  4. The principal provides ample opportunity for suggestions and ideas regarding school initiatives. 
  5. I feel like I’m on a team when I come to work. 
  6. I have been recognized recently for my contributions to the school. 
  7. My classroom is designed to do help me do my job well. 
  8. My classroom is equipped with technology to facilitate student learning.
  9. I have the necessary instructional materials to successfully meet the needs of all my students.
  10. I feel supported by the administration. 

 

As always, let us know what you think of this with a like, a follow, or a comment. Find us on Twitter, YouTube, iTunes, Facebook, & SoundCloud. And, again, if you want one simple model for leading better and growing faster per month, follow this blog by entering your email at the top right of the screen.

TheSchoolHouse302 is about getting to simple by maximizing effective research-based strategies that empower individuals to lead better and grow faster.

Joe & T.J. 

This blog post was brought to you by GhostBed, a family-owned business of sleep experts with 20+ years of experience. With 30K+ 5-star reviews, you can’t go wrong with GhostBed. Their mattresses are handcrafted, and they come with a 101-night-at-home-sleep trial. For a limited time, you can get 30% by using our code — SH302 — at checkout. And, even if you tell someone about GhostBed, you can earn a $100 referral reward. Go to Ghostbed.com today and use SH302 at checkout. 

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

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

Learn how you can give practical praise each day as you lead your school to develop a better and more positive culture through this complimentary eBook we use in our workshops to help principals all over the nation and subscribe for more resources like this one delivered to your inbox. 

Congratulations on claiming your copy - you may download it here: https://theschoolhouse302.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Technical-Tip-Praise-Practice-A-Model-for-Specific-Praise.pdf