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.

Season 3, Episode 14 of FocusED with Joe Sanfelippo #FocusED

Season 3, Episode 14 of FocusED with Joe Sanfelippo #FocusED

This is Season 3, Episode 14 of FocusED, and it features our guest, Joe Sanfelippo. 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. Sanfelippo says about what it means to lead from anywhere and how leaders build intention, connection, and direction in schools. 

_______________________________________

Joe Sanfelippo Brings Tons of Experience to FocusED Listeners

Dr. Joe Sanfelippo is the Superintendent of the Fall Creek School District in Fall Creek, WI. The Fall Creek School District was named an Innovative District in 2016 and 2017 by the International Center for Leadership in Education. Joe holds a BA in Elementary and Early Childhood Education from St. Norbert College, a MS in Educational Psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, a MS in Educational Leadership, and a PhD in Leadership, Learning, and Service from Cardinal Stritch University.  

Joe is also an adjunct professor in the Educational Leadership Department at Viterbo University. Joe has taught Kindergarten, 2nd Grade, and 5th Grade. He was a school counselor and high school coach prior to taking on an elementary principal position in 2005.  He has served as a principal in suburban and rural Wisconsin.  

Joe started the #1minwalk2work Leadership Challenge, and co-authored:

The Power of Branding-Telling Your School’s Story

Principal Professional Development: Leading Learning in a Digital Age

Hacking Leadership: 10 Ways Great Leaders Inspire Learning That Teachers, Students and Parents Love

and his new book is Lead From Where You Are: Building Intention, Connection, and Direction in Our Schools

He was selected as 1 of 117 Future Ready Superintendents in 2014 and 1 of 50 Superintendents as a Personalized Learning Leader in 2016 by the US Department of Education. He attended summits at the White House for both distinctions. Education Dive named Joe 1 of 5 K-12 administrators to watch in 2018 and their National Superintendent of the Year in 2019

He has been a featured speaker in multiple states in the areas of Advancing the Use of Social Media for School Leaders, Telling Your School Story, Creating a Culture of Yes, and Personalized Professional Growth for Staff.  

Go Crickets!!

FocusED Show Notes with Joe Sanfelippo 

Joe wrote his new book as a legacy piece. Listen to what he says about his kids and leaving something behind. 

His insight about leading from a position of isolation is powerful. 

Joe sees a lot of leaders asking the same questions, that often have answers, but that everyone is asking in their own bubbles. 

Joe recommends balance in your emotional state when making decisions. You have to hear what he says about the highs and lows of school leadership. 

Joe talked about better student ownership through adult learning. When adults like what they’re learning, they’re more likely to translate that for kids. 

When it comes to “resources,” Joe says that teachers and leaders should have a core group to go to for reflection and support. 

Don’t miss what Joe says about amplifying your school’s message. 

Joe’s final message about treating everything like it matters is inspiring. 

Great Quotes from Joe Sanfelippo 

If you get locked into your own thinking, you miss the opportunity to build capacity for how you lead. ~ Dr. Joe Sanfelippo 

As long as you have people who are honest with you, you’re going to be in a better place. ~ Joe Sanfelippo 

We have to remember that people are just starting out in leadership. ~ Dr. Joe Sanfelippo 

Questions Asked by Joe Sanfelippo on FocusED 

What do you do to put yourself in the right mindset to run your school? 

What are the ten things you do when you get to school? 

How can we make more intentional decisions? 

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.

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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. 

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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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