Great School Leaders Think About Their School as a Brand: 5 Ways to Tell Your School’s Story

Great School Leaders Think About Their School as a Brand: 5 Ways to Tell Your School’s Story

Great School Leaders Know How (and Why) to Tell Their School’s Story

We think that everyone can agree that there simply is not enough good news being spread among the masses, all around the world. That’s why we loved John Krasinski and his show, Some Good News, during the pandemic. It was a great reminder to all of us that great things were happening despite the rest of what we heard and saw on TV. Spreading the good news about our schools is no different. 

The most important reason to tell your school’s story is that if you don’t control or contribute to the narrative, someone else will. And, the media is quite negative; as the old saying goes, “if it bleeds, it leads.” Why? The reality is that our brains are attracted to it and controversy sells. A Pew Research Center’s study revealed that most people believe the media negatively contributes to our view of the world, yet, we still tune in.

64% of Americans say social media has a mostly negative effect on the way things are going in the U.S. today.

~ Pew Research Center

That’s why we need to highlight as much of the positive news about our schools as possible. Great leaders embrace this responsibility, and they learn to brand well. This post is designed to help you to tell your school’s story better or, at the very least, to validate the ways in which you already spread your school’s good news. 

The second most important reason to tell your school’s story is that your school deserves to have a brand that attracts top talent. With staff shortages and shallow application pools, school leaders are missing opportunities to showcase their school if they don’t have channels for doing so. The fact is, when it comes to attracting, hiring, and retaining teachers, there are–and will continue to be–winners and losers. Some schools and districts will fill their positions to a greater degree than others, and it will come right down to one thing–the reputation that your school culture has within the community. 

If you have a crappy internal culture, that’s the place school leaders must start and change fast. The best way to do so is through a pressure and support model that’s designed to set clear values and high expectations that are attached to strong staff support.  

But, if your school is already a decent place to work–treating teachers and other staff with dignity and respect–you should be telling your story as loudly and as far and wide as you can. The first step is that all school leaders must learn to think like marketers. 

School Leaders Should Think Like a Marketing Agency

Thinking like a marketer is not something you likely learned in your principal preparation program. That’s because the people who build those programs are former school leaders, and they didn’t likely think like marketers either. TheSchoolHouse302 is to the rescue; we always try to demonstrate the nuances of leadership, including the counterintuitive nature of leading well and the aspects of school leadership that you can’t find from most other leadership development firms. With that said, we’re here to tell you that if you don’t have a marketing hat as one of your many school leadership thinking caps, you need to get one…fast. 

To get you started with your new marketing mindset, we developed five marketing considerations for school leaders that come from research and evidence in the field of marketing. Again, most school leaders don’t study this closely, but you do–or at least you do now–which gives you a competitive advantage when it comes to building your winning team.

5 Ways for School Leaders to Think Like a Marketer 

#1. Culture is King–Marketing is about who you are, not what you are 

The first principle of marketing is that it’s not just advertising; it’s all of the lived experiences that your customers and employees have on a daily basis. You can advertise anything you want, but that doesn’t mean it’s real. Marketing starts with the culture of the school. It’s everything you do. For a long time, schools could operate without a customer service mentality because going to school is compulsory–everyone needs education and everyone sends their children to school. School choice changes that reality. Parents have options and teachers have options, more options than ever before. If we don’t build a positive culture on the inside of our organizations, nothing we say to advertise our schools will matter

Pro Tip: Great school leaders don’t just know that culture is king, they measure it. Check out our Reputable, Effective, Perception Survey for Schools (REPSS) for an example of an instrument that can measure the success and needs of any school culture.  

#2. Great Brands Make a Difference–Marketing is about innovation and leadership 

School leaders who care about marketing can learn from great brands like Patagonia, which has “cause no unnecessary harm” as one of its four core values. For schools to follow the “we make a difference” principle of marketing, the school should clearly be innovative, making a substantial change to what it means to be an effective school. The new crop of teachers who are entering into education wants to work at schools that are not only having an impact but are doing things differently, breaking the traditions and testing new waters. School leaders who want to reap the benefits of an innovative environment need to build a brand that speaks to taking risks and pushing boundaries. 

Pro Tip: Revisit your vision statement and core values. Do the words speak to innovation, leadership, change, and risk-taking? If not, consider a revision. The information that you have posted online are your marketing materials. 

#3. First Follows Matter–Marketing is about knowing “the others”

One thing that great marketers do is to find their people. Seth Godin calls this tactic the “people like us do things like this” phenomena. People want to be part of something that makes them feel included with a sense of belonging that fills a very natural human desire. Knowing this helps leaders to make decisions about who to give certain tasks to and how to spread news quickly when the need arises. School leaders know who the big fans are of the school and those are the people who need to know first when something special is happening or when something new is on the horizon. They are the marketing team, whether they know it or not. 

Aside from Godin, you can check out this concept in more detail from Li Jin who wrote about 100 True Fans, Kevin Kelly who talks about 1000 True Fans, and Derek Sivers’ famous video called, Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy. The point is that when you want to market something, you need to spread the word through the voices of the people who are likely going to tell the story by finding “the others.” 

Pro Tip:  School leaders who want to build a reputation outside of the school walls should create a marketing team to discuss what to market and how to market the school’s story. The first step in this direction is to simply add a “marketing” agenda item to the leadership team meeting. 

#4. Stand Out Amongst the Crowd–Marketing is about being unique 

Unfortunately, schools in America are all very much the same in terms of the student and staff generic experience. It’s still very common to see English 9, English 10, English 11, and English 12 as the high school English curriculum versus naming these courses and teaching them thematically through the use of unique content and experiences that are relevant to our diverse student populations–whether that be their background or interests. The good news is that becoming unique and marketing something special about your school isn’t difficult. If you want to attract people who want to belong to a special experience then you need to market the uniqueness of your school or district. 

Pro Tip: Reflect with your team: what makes our school different for students and staff that would help us to stand out in the crowded space of teaching and learning? What can we do that would make us unique and special for our students and staff? 

#5. Show Up Regularly–Marketing is about being consistent

Anyone can send a tweet once in a while to demonstrate the things that are happening in their school. That’s not enough. Great marketers all have one thing in common–which is also common among great leaders–they’re persistent and resilient. They consistently show up with great messaging, new material, and interesting stories. Their news is on multiple channels with tons of likes, positive comments, and shares. The great story that you have to tell is only as good as your reach and the response that you get from your audience. The key is to be loud and proud. 

Pro Tip: We hate to say it, but get on Twitter. Three posts a day is the magic formula. If you’re on Twitter, get on more often. Twitter has become an educator’s workspace for sharing ideas, posting photos, and building a school, district, and personal brand. We’ll see you there: @tjvari & @Supt_Jones

Your School is a Brand 

As we wrap up this post, we encourage you to think about the things that great brands have that schools also tend to create: vision statements, core values, logos, merchandise, etc. As a school leader, your access to taking photos, posting news, and promoting a daily message is far greater than what many other professions offer in terms of an image. It’s just about taking advantage of what you’re already doing by telling your story to the world. 

And, we owe it to ourselves and the profession. When you see schools in the news, it’s rarely a depiction of the good things that we’re doing. Let’s change that narrative together

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.

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.

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.

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.

Embracing Your Inner Tony Stark: How School Leaders Can Unleash Innovation in Their Schools

Embracing Your Inner Tony Stark: How School Leaders Can Unleash Innovation in Their Schools

Sometimes you gotta run before you can walk. ~ Iron Man

As many readers will know, Tony Stark is a Marvel character and a founding member of the Avengers. He’s also a brilliant inventor and CEO of Stark Industries. Stark invents Iron Man to help fight villains. And, if you have leadership on the brain no matter what you’re doing–like watching a science-fiction movie–like we do, you take note of the ways in which Tony Stark is innovative. 

First, the number of suits that Stark creates demonstrates the diversity in his thinking, the multiple angles in which he views a problem, and the pursuit of never-ending improvement. Second, Stark explores an abundance of ideas with both speed and precision. And, third, maybe most importantly, he takes risks. He challenges himself to get better, be better, and grow stronger because his purpose is resolute. Granted, Stark definitely has character flaws. He is brash and arrogant, but his innovative ways undoubtedly make him a unique contributor to the team. 

You might not love Tony Stark or even the Avengers. But, school leaders must support innovation. We can’t expect new and different results by continuing to do what we’ve always done. The problem is that a culture of innovation often feels like “one more thing” to staff, and comments about “the new shiny project” or “this too shall pass” can quickly take the wind out of your innovation sails. 

The difference between school leaders who successfully weave innovation into the culture and those who don’t can be found in their approach to the three concepts that we draw from Stark. Let’s explore the model and dive deeper into all three. 

A Culture of Innovation Requires Diversity 

The Google search rate for the definition of innovation exceeds 74,000 searches per month. People clearly want to know what it means to be innovative. Science, technology, and innovation can be at the center of economic development, which is one reason why STEM is so popular in schools. But innovation doesn’t always mean science and technology. In fact, innovating in schools is often about doing something different versus just doing what we’ve always done and expecting different results. 

A first step, for any team that wants to drive innovation for change within the school culture, is to establish a definition of innovation. This makes it so that everyone is crystal clear what we mean when we talk about innovating. 

TheSchoolHouse302 Definition of Innovation 

Any new idea, program, project, or initiative that enhances or alters what we used to do, creating something new and different.  

One thing is for certain, leaders who want to drive innovative decision-making through a culture that embraces change, have to diversify the staff and the teams who are making the decision. Research finds that when teams are diverse, not only do they analyze and process facts more carefully–staying objective with the problem as opposed to subjectively inserting an opinion–they innovate at a greater speed. Homogenous groups, on the other hand, may be more comfortable for leaders to establish, but their conformity discourages innovative thinking.

School Leadership Tip #1: 

Reflect on the diversity of your staff. Consider their culture, race, age, gender, or expertise. Don’t settle for the makeup of the team as it stands. Just because the team formed itself, or was already in place, doesn’t mean that we can’t add people to it to make it more diverse. Not only should you be hiring for diversity on your staff–recruiting as best you can–you should be using the diversity that you already have on staff to create more innovative teams

A Culture of Innovation Requires Open Dialogue 

For innovation to be a norm within your school culture, people need to be free to express new ideas in their peer groups and to their supervisors. This is unfortunately not the case in every school; new ideas are often stifled by staff who perceive their peers as creating more work for them with new ideas, and leaders can often thwart new idea generation by communicating that if new ideas don’t come from them then they aren’t as important. 

In a culture of innovation, every new idea is welcomed and celebrated. This is not to say that every new idea is implemented, but it is given the chance to be heard, tested, and reviewed for its merit. In these cultures, we find that leaders have a specific method–meeting structures, timelines, communication platforms, etc–for people to express new ideas. And, research, data, and evidence are almost always presented in a way that supports a change. This type of environment is collegial, and staff feel free to challenge each other and their supervisors in a productive way

School Leadership Tip #2: 

Actively create a culture of open dialogue. This will not occur on its own. Start by creating what Jennie Magiera calls a Critical Friends group. A first step to creating a culture where new ideas are free-flowing is to develop spaces and times for it to happen. These can be established and supported much like an Edcamp. These spaces and times will widen and expand as you continue to push people to challenge the status quo until one day you’ll be surprised by how accepting people are of new ideas, and innovation will become a norm within the culture. 

A Culture of Innovation Requires Risk-Taking

Innovation in a school cannot rise above the leader’s willingness to support it. Leaders who actively support and build a culture of innovation are also the ones who encourage staff to take calculated risks and fail faster as they implement. They do their best to create situations and scenarios where teachers can simulate and role-play as learners who are trying new strategies, but they also promote mistake-making and progress over perfection. 

School leaders cannot underestimate how stressful risk-taking is in schools. The status-quo is safe and known; innovation is the exact opposite. Leaders who create a culture of innovation are able to help staff recognize the power of innovation and how it improves their professional practice, which decreases stress as anxiety. It’s a mindshift for staff that risk-taking is worth it, that it is exciting, and that it is one of the most important ways in which we make improvements. In this type of innovative culture, people view mistakes as valuable and don’t worry about whether or not something is going to work well the first time. 

School Leadership Tip #3: 

Praise effort rather than always looking for quality execution. Leaders can learn to praise teachers for their effort and willingness to take a risk that rewards the implementation of a new idea even if it is not perfect the first time. Of course, we want new strategies to be effective, but the only way for that to happen is through the evolution of practice. You can grab our model for praise and use it right away for those who are willing to take a risk

From a Culture of WHY to a Culture of TRY 

A very recent movement in organizational design is for leaders to consistently communicate the WHY of the organization or even that of a project so that staff can embrace the rationale behind it. We embrace this type of vision setting strategy for school leaders, but we also know that it cannot stop there. Schools are dynamic and complex, and everyone is not going to share the same WHY, even when it’s described in detail and is backed by research and evidence; as Doug Reeves says on our One Thing Series podcast, buy-in a myth. For this reason, school leaders should push past a culture of WHY and move to a culture of TRY.

Next time you focus on the WHY of your new innovative idea, be sure to include a “bias for action” and develop a culture of TRY. The key is to establish a small coalition of people who are willing to put something into practice before it’s totally understood. These folks are typically the ones who know that the current system is broken. They may not be Gung Ho! about the new idea, but they are passionate about change. They’ll go first, and they’re movement will be what others see. This public display of “trying something new” is sure to spread, which is what changes the culture from wanting to know the WHY to a willingness to give something new a TRY. Use the following three action steps to put this school leadership model for innovation into practice in your school. 

The Innovative School Leadership Model in Action:

  1. Reflect on the diversity of your team.
  2. Actively create a culture of open dialogue.
  3. Praise efforts for trying something new.


Reputable, Effective, Perception Survey for Schools

Support (REPSS)

Innovation Questions

 

    1. The staff at our school is made up of a diverse group of people. 
    2. My colleagues challenge my thinking in productive ways.
    3. I am encouraged to take instructional risks in the classroom. 
    4. I use data to alter my methods of teaching to improve student achievement. 
    5. I used what I learned in professional development this year. 
    6. I was recognized for being innovative with our practices. 
    7. Overall, innovation is a norm at our school. 
    8. I feel comfortable expressing new ideas to my colleagues.
    9. I feel comfortable expressing new ideas to my administration.
    10. Our school has a method for me to express new or different ideas. 

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. 

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. 

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