Navigating Educational Riptides: 3 Strategies for School Leaders

Navigating Educational Riptides: 3 Strategies for School Leaders

Effectively navigating the high seas of leadership requires a seasoned leader who can manage high-pressure situations where quick and decisive decision-making is necessary for the well-being of their schools. The savvy and wise leader is attuned to the school and navigates the waters like a seasoned captain. As we introduced Brian in a previous post, we indicated that he was in his third year; he was learning and feeling his impact and the undercurrents of his decisions. A critical first step in becoming a great leader is knowing how big the waves are that you’re making, good or bad. Yet, not all rough seas that we experience are generated or even within the control of the leader. Worse yet, many decisions cannot even be avoided, and if you struggle against them, the situation is likely to only get worse. 

The ocean has wicked currents that are essentially channels of water that can pull a person completely into deeper, dangerous conditions. In fact, the United States Lifesaving Association estimates that the annual number of deaths due to rip currents on our nation’s beaches exceeds 100. What’s fascinating about riptides is that they are commonly found near the shoreline, where people feel safe; yet, an unknowing or unassuming beachgoer can quickly find themselves getting pulled way out into the ocean. Rip currents account for over 80% of rescues performed by surf beach lifeguards and are referred to as “drowning machines.” And interestingly, you can’t fight your way out of a riptide; you have to swim with the current until you can find an exit. Tell that to someone who feels like they’re being pulled into shark-infested waters. Yikes! 

Our goal isn’t to be overly dramatic or suggest that leaders need to walk around with life rafts. First, that would be weird, and second, a liferaft isn’t a very useful item to have in a school. But, similar to the perils of ocean riptides, the educational challenges that we encounter have the potential to be detrimental, significantly diverting a leader and a school from their intended course.

Thinking back to Brian, as he becomes more perceptive and mindful of his decisions, he must also be aware of the riptides that seemingly come out of nowhere and can completely pull him and the school in the wrong direction. Consider for a moment the narrow definitions and measures used to account for student achievement and school success that are used by most communities. Very often, it is a one-sided equation–over-emphasis on standardized testing that casually overlooks many of the successes that a school is achieving. Not only does this taint the public’s perception of the school, but with enough pressure, it can force a school to abandon certain initiatives to double down on raising test scores.  

Principal Brian was, in fact, impacted by this very scenario. He initiated a robust student-centered activity period that emphasized social and cultural awareness, which included club meetings and student government to hold various student-led events. Unfortunately, this effort was viewed as nonessential and unimpactful toward student growth, causing the school to change course. The following semester, the activity periods were turned into study periods and test-prep sessions to improve student performance on standardized assessments.

Please don’t think we’re opposed to strong performance on assessments or efforts to ensure that our students are learning each and every day. Rather, it’s the single, convenient measures used to drive agendas and over-politicized change that fail to account for some of the incredible work being done by phenomenal educators. Phew! We said it. 

The problem with Brian’s scenario is that the riptide of test score accountability pulled the school away from something that had major benefits for young people. The riptide itself was probably unavoidable, but fighting against it was. As you’ll see in the following piece, Brian should have leaned into the riptide, held onto the activity period, and stayed the course for calmer waters. 

3 Strategies for Working Through the Riptide

We’ve already said it, but it’s worth repeating: you can’t fight rip currents. In a recent blog, we mentioned the game, Name that Riptide, as a means of pinpointing the factors that pose a threat to our success this year. We identified a few that are common:

  • budget constraints
  • external community pressures
  • policy changes
  • staff shortages 
  • lack of resources

We could list more, but you get the point and could probably add a few of your own. It’s vital to understand that these issues act as riptides; we need strategies to navigate them effectively rather than trying to avoid them and allow them to take us out to sea. This is crucial because leaders can survive any given rip as long as they have tools. That said, let’s look at the best 3 ways to navigate riptides as an educational leader. 

#1 — Open Communication

We know what you’re thinking: open communication is a very common recommendation that’s become trite. That said, it’s still true and unfortunately, many leaders still get it wrong. Don’t confuse more communication with better communication. We stress effective, open communication because misinformation or, worse yet, a lack of communication are two powerful riptides that can pull people in the wrong direction. 

How to build a culture of open communication:

  • Be transparent. Transparency is about sharing relevant information with key stakeholders. This sounds easy, but many school leaders struggle with transparency because it requires vulnerability and a willingness to share challenges, mistakes, and uncertainties. The last thing a leader wants to do is reveal information that could make them appear incompetent, undermining their authority. Done skillfully, though, the leader will build trust and unite the community. Brian could have been more transparent about the activity period’s benefits, working on adding the study sessions rather than replacing the school’s initiative. 

#2 — Continuous Improvement

Too often, the negative “we’ve done that before” mentality can create serious riptides within any organization, literally dividing a staff. If we’re being totally fair, the sentiment is not completely wrong, but that’s because the problems and challenges remain the same. They’re constant. We will be the first to admit that we cannot lilypad our way out of problems by jumping from solution to solution, hoping that one will work eventually. Rather than being so focused on solving problems, what we need is a culture that reinforces expectations for better performance and goal attainment. The key to successfully navigating riptides is to make incremental gains. We should be looking for progress, not a quick escape. 

How to build a culture of continuous improvement:

  • Establish clear feedback mechanisms. This strategy also supports and reinforces open communication because it requires transparency with things like updates on progress toward established goals. If you survey a bunch of staff members, they’ll likely reveal that they are in the dark on a number of issues. We know this is not intentional from school leaders, but in order for people to consistently support efforts, they have to be in the know. Clear feedback on progress will help everyone understand and accept necessary changes and small steps toward success. Imagine the difference had Brian been clear on what the activity period was doing for kids; no one would have argued that it wasn’t helpful. 

#3 — Self-Development

This is an often overlooked strategy because so much of professional learning is geared toward the system and not the individual. Although that’s important, a self-development mindset positions you to navigate the complexities of education more effectively. The relentless dedication to self-development can become the cornerstone of transformative leadership, fostering a culture of continuous improvement and success. We ought to be strong before the riptide hits, diminishing its natural strength against our own understanding of it and the power we have to navigate it. 

How to build a culture of self-development:

  • Lead by example. It’s imperative for leaders to showcase their commitment to self-improvement through visible actions. Share success stories of your own personal growth to inspire others. Let them know what you’re reading, the webinars you’re attending, the professional learning you’re embarking on, and, most importantly, why! Human connection is powerful and no more powerful than in education. Be a connector through vulnerability and a willingness to share your journey. Brian was probably steeped in the research about student connection with school beyond academics, even what that can do for test scores. He should have been open and adamant about it. 

You can’t avoid riptides, but you can navigate them effectively. Fight against them, and you’re doomed. Understand them, provide feedback as you experience them, communicate transparently about their impact, and you’re bound to find your way back to the safety of calmer waters in no time. 


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.


Mindset and Management: Two Must Reads for School Leaders Who Want to Manage the Impossible

Mindset and Management: Two Must Reads for School Leaders Who Want to Manage the Impossible

Joe and T.J. Recommend that School Leaders Read The Following Two Books



Unlocking Excellence: Read to Lead Better, Learn to Grow Faster

In this episode, Joe and T.J. introduce two books that they know will make a difference in your life as a leader. Kotler’s book is about operating in a state of flow for improved focus and productivity. Who couldn’t benefit from learning more about flow and how we can get into a flow state?  

Murphy’s book is basically a “how-to” on management. Very practical with specific suggestions to improve your skills. There are also some ideas and thoughts that will challenge your current thinking about managing people. The author is clear that many management principles simply don’t work

Why Joe and T.J. Recommend The Art of Impossible by Steven Kotler and What Makes Great Managers Great by Curtiss Murphy

T.J. kicks off by explaining that when we don’t believe something or can’t imagine accomplishing it, we are limiting ourselves. We can’t do what we don’t think is possible. 

He reminds us of Roger Bannister breaking the 4-minute mile barrier, which seemed like an impossible feat. In fact, scientists deemed it physically impossible for humans to do so. 

T.J. tells listeners how the book moves through the key concepts of peak performance: motivation, learning, creativity, and flow. 

One major feature that makes this book a critical read for leaders is that it has research and data, along with various stories, to back up the assertions that the author makes. 

T.J. calls The Art of Impossible his favorite book of 2023. Bold statement!

Joe starts by letting the audience know that What Makes Great Managers Great has stories that accompany the management principles being described. This is a great feature because, too often, when reading books that are designed to improve our skill set, we don’t necessarily understand the full context. 

This book’s table of contents is organized so that you understand precisely what management principle is going to be covered. One principle that really resonated and challenged Joe was to assume confusion is everywhere. Listen to Murphy describe that himself on our podcast episode with him

Another great facet of this book is the focus on the power of praise. Similar to what we’ve described in the past, this book emphasizes the need for the praise to be specific and focused. 

T.J.’s Reading Tip: Set specific reading goals, which are essentially learning goals. Along with your goal, develop a list of books that you want to read. Don’t leave your reading habit and growth to chance. Too many of us finish books and don’t start another one right away. With your list in hand, that won’t ever happen again. 

Let us know what you’re reading by contacting us at And don’t miss our leadership newsletter every week by subscribing to the site. 

We can’t wait to hear from you. 

Joe & T.J.

The Undercurrents of Decision-Making: A School Leader’s Guide

The Undercurrents of Decision-Making: A School Leader’s Guide

Brian has been a school principal for three years, and he finally feels that he’s finding his stride. While talking with Brian about his goals for the school year and the successes he has had to date, we found ourselves continually circling back to the various reactions that people have to certain decisions. Brian noted that his estimation of peoples’ responses was wrong at times, too often in fact. What he thought would create a major kickback recently, didn’t cause a stir, yet another decision he made, which was seemingly harmless, caused staff to panic. Perhaps, as a school leader, you can relate.

Every decision you make, big or small, creates undercurrents that ripple throughout the school community. These undercurrents can potentially have a profound impact on the staff, students, the greater school community, and, ultimately, the direction of the school.

Schools are notorious for implementing countless initiatives, all with good intentions in the name of a “need” or an “improvement.” We’ve implemented many of these initiatives ourselves–with varying degrees of success, mind you. School leaders embark on these new journeys to improve their schools, yet we find a spectrum of results, reactions, and responses to what we propose.

It’s probably not surprising, but we’ve yet to meet a school or district leader who willingly disrupts a school simply to wreak havoc on it. Yet, albeit comforting, we’ve also yet to find a school leader who didn’t have experience with the implementation of something that would help students, only to be met with despair by the staff. Despite what some would like to believe, school leaders want to improve student performance while supporting teachers, typically with the least amount of disruption possible. It just doesn’t work out that way.

Unfortunately, what is often underestimated is the scope of the initiative and the numerous decisions that will create countless undercurrents. Let’s take a look at some of the top initiatives implemented over the last couple of years. We’re sure that you could add to this list below.

• Technology Integration: Many school leaders have aggressively sought to integrate technology into the classroom with the goal of enhancing the student learning experience and improving their digital literacy skills.
• Personalized Learning: Many classrooms are very diverse and in multiple ways. Tailoring education is not just nice to do; we know that meeting individual students’ needs benefits all students.
• STEM Education: Schools are very aware of the need to promote Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics education programs to prepare students, especially students of color and female students, who are traditionally underrepresented for careers in these high-demand fields. STEM is the future of the economy.
• Social and Emotional Learning (SEL): It cannot be said enough, especially after COVID, schools know the importance of emotional intelligence and the interpersonal skills necessary for student development, alongside academic achievement.
• Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Schools have also focused heavily on creating inclusive and equitable learning environments that recognize, address, and support the diverse needs of students from various backgrounds. It’s important to note that it is the role of a school leader to confront and alter inequities, yet even these initiatives can be met with resistance.

These five areas are massive efforts and require a tremendous amount of time and expertise to get right and implement effectively. These aren’t programs or short, quick fixes, but rather holistic efforts to effectively meet the needs of our students and the demands of our communities.

Consider SEL as an example. SEL is not new, but the intentionality and focus within the curriculum and other school-wide efforts is a new approach to it. To illustrate the depth of the initiative, we’ve built TheSchoolHouse302 Initiative Chart to demonstrate how detailed and involved a particular initiative can be.



We share this chart not as a “How To” on implementing initiatives, although that’s important; instead, our focus is on the details that this provides, which reveals just how each aspect of the initiative is very involved and requires a large degree of work. If it looks a little overwhelming, it’s okay to acknowledge that an SEL initiative is a large undertaking. Underestimating the scope of an initiative is one of the most common mistakes that a new (and seasoned) leader makes.


Each of the 7 areas can be broken down into several smaller segments to detail the intricate work that needs to take place for successful implementation. Going through this exercise is powerful because it not only shapes the scope of work but, more importantly, provides a view into what the work entails and how it involves and impacts the school community. Remember, your decision to embark on any new journey is either going to have a ripple effect toward success or trigger negative ways of dissent.

Rippling Toward Success or Triggering Negative Waves of Dissent

It can’t be said enough that the decisions you make as a school leader have the power to create positive or negative undercurrents that can shape the entire school community. By being mindful of the impact of your decisions and by making choices that are in the best interests of the school, you can create a more positive and productive learning environment for everyone, even when you’re making significant changes and improvements. To do so, perception and mindfulness are two skills that school leaders must master. 

The Power of Perception

One of the most important things to remember as a school leader is that your decisions are not just about the content of the decisions themselves, but also about how they are perceived. As American political consultant and strategist Lee Atwater said, “Perception is reality.” Every decision you make sends a message to the school community about your values, priorities, and commitments to creating a positive learning environment.

For example, if you make a decision that is seen as unfair or unjust, it can create an undercurrent of skepticism and resentment among staff and students. This can make it difficult to implement other initiatives and can even lead to a decline in morale and productivity.

On the other hand, if you make decisions that are seen as thoughtful, transparent, and in the best interests of the school community, it can create an undercurrent of support and positivity, rippling out toward success. This can make it easier to implement new initiatives in the future and can foster a more collaborative and productive school environment. We can’t overstate how critical transparency and approachability are for school leaders. 

The Importance of Mindfulness

The second critical skill is mindfulness. We believe the mindful leader to be a present leader. As a school leader, it is important to be mindful of the potential impact of your decisions. This means being fully present and mindful when making decisions. Take the time to consider the different perspectives of the school community and weigh the potential consequences of your actions. It also means being open to feedback and making adjustments as needed. 

Here are some tips for being more mindful as you’re making decisions:

  • Be present: With social media, email, and other buzzing, flashing devices, school leaders can often be swept away from a conversation right at the moment. Avoid this by committing to be present when you’re gathering input or communicating a decision. There’s nothing worse than a school leader whose attention is divided. 

  • Consult with others: Get input from a variety of stakeholders, including staff, students, parents, and community members. Great leaders surround themselves with individuals who are willing to say what needs to be said and who have the perspective of the community at heart. 

  • Consider the long-term impact: Don’t just think about the immediate consequences of your decisions. We believe this is why so many educators are frustrated. For too long, leaders have made decisions for short-term wins without taking into account the long-term consequences. Considering how decisions might affect the school community in the years to come is the hallmark of a future-driven leader. Don’t miss what Donya Ball says about it

  • Be open to feedback: We know this is hard, but as Maxwell explains in his Law of Solid Ground, trust is the foundation for success; it requires a culture that expects courageous conversations and candid feedback. Be willing to listen to feedback from others and make adjustments to your plans as needed. Don’t forget, too, that one step in the implementation phase is making sure that implementers are getting feedback and taking action on it. 

As we always say, leadership is complex, but it does not have to be complicated. One powerful way to uncomplicate leadership is through effective decision-making. This involves understanding the undercurrents created by decisions–the ripple effects that extend beyond the immediate outcome toward clearer waters or waves of dissent. The use of our Initiative Implementation Chart contributes to creating positive undercurrents that foster trust and, ultimately, advance student learning and overall school success.

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.

Mindset and Management: Two Must Reads for School Leaders Who Want to Manage the Impossible

A Captain’s Guide to Success in School Leadership: Two Must Reads for School Leaders Who Want to Navigate the Leadership Waters

Joe and T.J. Recommend that School Leaders Read The Following Two Books



Unlocking Excellence: Read to Lead Better, Learn to Grow Faster

These are two powerhouse books that capture the journey of leadership. These two books are distinctly different, but both reflect our focus on school leaders’ need to Navigate the Seas of School Leadership

Joe recommends Sea Stories: My Life in Special Operations, which is an autobiographical book by Admiral William H. McRaven, a retired Navy SEAL and former commander of the United States Special Operations Command. The book is a firsthand account of Admiral McRaven’s remarkable military career, spanning from his childhood, the early days in training, to his experiences leading special operations missions.

The narrative is filled with anecdotes and insights into the world of special operations, offering readers a glimpse into the challenges, triumphs, and lessons learned in high-stakes environments. 

It’s an amazing exploration of leadership, resilience, and the values that underpin success in the most demanding situations. The book not only shares the author’s personal journey but also imparts valuable leadership lessons that can be applied in various contexts, making it a great recommendation for school leaders who are navigating their own challenges.

T.J. recommends, Working Backwards: Insights, Stories, and Secrets from Inside Amazon, a book written by Colin Bryar and Bill Carr, former executives at Amazon. The book provides a unique insider’s perspective on Amazon’s culture, leadership principles, and business strategies.

In “Working Backwards,” the authors share anecdotes and insights based on their experiences working with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. The book covers Amazon’s customer-centric approach, decision-making processes, and the principles that have contributed to the company’s success. It also offers valuable lessons for leaders and businesses seeking to adopt Amazon’s innovative practices.


What You’ll Learn in this Episode with Joe & T.J.

 Joe reveals that his mentor and friend, Dr. Steven Godowsky, originally shared this book with him, knowing his interest in leadership perspectives from the military. 

Listen to Joe describe how Admiral McRaven structures the book to capture the intention of the reader.

Joe also emphasizes how Sea Stories covers McRaven’s career. Too often, leadership books don’t chronicle the journey of a leader and the many different leadership positions that an individual may hold. This book does!

Who doesn’t want a look inside Amazon? Listen to T.J. describe why he likes this book and why he recommends it to school leaders.

T.J. describes how these gentlemen detail their work within Amazon and the lessons that can be learned for leaders. You don’t want to miss how the authors describe working for Jeff Bezos.

Let us know what you’re reading by contacting us at And don’t miss our leadership newsletter every week by subscribing to the site. 

We can’t wait to hear from you. 

Joe & T.J.

Undercurrents, Riptides, and Swells: Navigating the Seas of School Leadership

Undercurrents, Riptides, and Swells: Navigating the Seas of School Leadership

“Do you have a minute?”

School leaders make countless decisions every day, and every decision impacts something or someone. Great leaders are very aware and sensitive to this truth because they understand that even the most benign decision may have undesirable and unintended consequences. For this reason, effective school leaders develop the ability to zoom out from a situation so that they can see the bigger picture before making a decision, answering a question, or working to solve a problem. 

The skill to step back, be patient, and not respond too quickly is definitely one that every school leader needs as they walk the halls of their school on any given day. As former principals ourselves, we can vividly remember the number of times that members of our school community would approach us with this simple question: “Do you have a minute?” We’re fairly certain that this question ranks as the most commonly asked question to school leaders. 

Every time those words are uttered, a request, an idea, a complaint, or an issue usually follows. That’s the nature of schools and the demands that get placed on school principals. In many ways, though, that’s also the joy of the position; within every question, every minute, lies an opportunity. As school leaders, we can do so many wonderful things through the decisions we make. We can open doors that were once shut, we can provide opportunities that may not have existed, and we even create possibilities that help people dream big.   

As school leaders, it’s essential to recognize the dynamic nature of leadership and the challenges that come with it. Just like the vast ocean, school leadership can be compared to various elements such as undercurrents, riptides, and swells. Each one offers valuable insights into our journey as educational leaders. From the decision you must make in a moment’s notice to the challenges that distract your efforts to the unforeseen ups-and-down of the ride, we must always set sail for the best possible outcomes for our students. Let’s dive even deeper into uncharted waters.

The Undercurrents of Decision-Making

Two of Joe’s sons are ocean lifeguards in the beautiful town of Fenwick, Delaware. As lifeguards, they’re trained to see issues before they develop into real problems. The ocean is as powerful and deadly as it is beautiful. And much like the unseen undercurrents that shape the movement of the ocean, every decision a school leader makes creates ripples that impact the staff, the students, and, ultimately, the direction of the school. 

Whether it’s deciding who will serve on the instructional leadership team or implementing a new bathroom policy, each action sends waves through the school’s ecosystem. It’s crucial for school leaders to be mindful of how their decisions create undercurrents. Each undercurrent we generate changes our school community in ways that we may not even recognize at first

School leaders must never underestimate the profound influence that they wield and the weight of their decisions, even quick one-minute discussions in the hall or office. Every choice, every word, sends ripples throughout the school community. These ripples shape the culture, morale, and even the brand of the school as a place to work and learn. 

Like ocean lifeguards, who must be vigilant in identifying potential dangers, school leaders must be mindful of the far-reaching consequences of their actions, as they have the power to either enhance or hinder the growth and well-being of staff and students.

3 Questions that School Leaders Should Be Asking about the Undercurrents of Their Decisions:

As we navigate these undercurrents, we must prioritize transparency, collaboration, and thoughtful consideration of minute-to-minute decisions to ensure that our actions propel our schools in the right direction and don’t alter the vision that we’ve established for success. We suggest asking these three questions whenever a “quick” decision comes your way

    1. Who else should be included in this conversation before I make a decision about this item? Is this my decision to make, or are others more involved in this work?

    2. How fast does this decision need to be made? Is speed important or is thoughtfulness the key?

    3. What else should we consider? Are there alternatives to our current program, process, or policy?


    Caught in the Riptides

    Riptides, notorious for their powerful currents, can swiftly pull swimmers away from shore. They are a constant threat and commonly can be found on the East, West, and Gulf Coasts. Rips, as they’re often referred to, can be likened to the challenges and distractions that divert school leaders from their educational vision, mission, and core values. As educational leaders, we can find ourselves caught in a metaphorical riptide–situations that threaten to pull us away from our core values and previously set objectives. 

    One of the most recent rips that we can think of and cannot hide from is the politicization of education. Here’s what that means for school leaders: To politicize something is to focus on how to play it for an advantage in the pursuit of power and prestige. Although education is highly political, it doesn’t mean that it has to be politicized; however, this is what has occurred in many school communities in America. 

    In a highly politicized local school community, school leaders may find themselves pulled in different directions and distracted from their core educational values due to external pressures to conform to certain political ideologies or agendas. This can lead to decisions and policies that place political considerations first over the best interests of students and the quality of the education that we provide them. 

    We could easily play the game, Name that Riptide, to identify what is threatening our success this year. These could include budget constraints, external community pressures, policy changes, staff shortages, and more. It’s vital to recognize these distractors as riptides so that we can develop strategies to navigate them effectively. Otherwise, they pull us out to sea rather than allowing us to stay the course. By anchoring ourselves to our educational compass–our vision, mission, and core values–we demonstrate resilience in the face of conflicting priorities.

    3 Questions that School Leaders Should Be Asking about the Riptides that Can Take Us Off Course:

    As we identify and recognize the riptides within our schools and systems, we must prioritize and solidify our vision, mission, and core values. These three areas provide the solid foundation necessary for leaders to chart their true north

    1. What are some common “riptides” affecting your school community that can divert you and your team from their core values? How can you and your team best identify these challenges?

    2. Which recent riptide distracted you from your goals, and what can you do differently in the future when a riptide seems to take hold?

    3. How can you communicate your vision, mission, and core values in a way that deters people from even attempting to alter your direction?


    Riding the Swells of Adversity

    The third oceanic element that we want to dive into is the swells. Just as experienced sailors navigate the swells and waves of a rough sea, educational leaders must handle challenges and adversity with skill and precision. Swells represent the highs and lows that inevitably come with the educational territory. Every year, school leaders will face a variety of issues. We’ve mentioned a few already–budget cuts, managing a variety of different conflicts, adapting to new educational initiatives, special education policy changes, etc.–all can be compared to rolling on a stormy sea. 

    Let’s consider technology integration into the classroom, as an example. This can be an ongoing challenge, especially with the rapid evolution of the available tools to support teaching and learning. One recent swell is the advancement of artificial intelligence. As AI becomes more accessible and easier to use, it poses a number of threats to how students can gather and present information, including inaccurate information and the opportunity to cheat. 

    Albeit scary for teachers and school leaders, we must navigate the use of ChatGPT, and similar AI tools, rather than pretending that we can avoid them. We appreciate Wharton Professor Ethan Mollick who pivoted to requiring his students to use ChatGPT in his class rather than penalizing them for its use. As Professor Mollick says, using AI effectively is an “emerging skill.” This is a great example of “riding” the swell rather than being pummeled by it. 

    With the right mindset, effective school leaders view these swells as opportunities for increased collaboration, professional growth, and even innovation–ultimately, steering the school community toward calmer waters. By understanding that change is inevitable, school leaders can guide their schools through even the most tumultuous ups and downs.


    3 Questions that School Leaders Should Be Asking about the Swells of Adversity:

    As we identify and recognize swells, it’s vital that the school leader navigate them well by focusing on the broader context and not just the particular issue at hand. The swell can beat against the boat or we can use it to create momentum in our already established direction. 

    1. What are some examples of “swells” in your school that you are currently facing?

    2. What does it look like to embrace one or more of the swells you’ve identified, rather than trying to avoid them?

    3. Who on the team can become an expert in the swell so that we understand what it means and what the future will look like when it hits?


    The High Seas of Leadership

    In the realm of school leadership, drawing parallels with some of the toughest oceanic elements provides us with valuable perspectives. As a seasoned captain navigates the seas with skill and intuition, educational leaders must also chart a course that recognizes the power of their decisions and the undercurrents they create, the potential of being caught riptides, and the ability to ride the swells of adversity. 

    Our journey as school leaders is filled with intricate dynamics. Every decision, every challenge, and every triumph shapes the future of our students and our communities. 

    It’s our job to evaluate our decision-making process, avoid the distractions that take us off our path, and embrace challenges as opportunities to enhance our efforts. Great school leaders take advantage of the conflicts associated with school improvement rather than allowing the storms that arise to capsize the ship. 

    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.


    Mindset and Management: Two Must Reads for School Leaders Who Want to Manage the Impossible

    Two Must Reads for School Leaders Who Want to Build a School Culture Where Teachers Want to Work


    Joe and T.J. Recommend that School Leaders Read The Song of Significance and Retention for A Change



    Unlocking Excellence: Read to Lead, Learn to Grow Faster

    It’s no mystery that we are big fans of Seth Godin, especially T.J., but there is a good reason for that in terms of learning to lead better and grow faster. In many ways, Godin challenges conventional wisdom but remains practical in his advice. His insights are unique, and school leaders can benefit from his work. Here’s what you’ll learn from this podcast about Seth’s new book.


    • Find your unique voice as a school leader to help develop a school environment that empowers teachers and students. There is no greater superpower than authenticity. The goal is to create a space where people live out their feelings of significance. 
    • Schools are not only a part of the community; in many respects, they are a community within themselves. Godin writes about tribes and groups that join together to unlock potential. Schools are a natural place for this work. It requires a skilled leader to create the right conditions, though.
    • Lastly, Godin talks about generosity. Tune in to find more.


    We always feel a little odd showcasing our own work. However, Retention for A Change (RFAC) is packed with great strategies, from practitioners for practitioners.

    • Learn how to Motivate, Inspire, and Energize your team.
    • Uncover key ways to onboard and support your new hires. The real work starts when the hiring is done. 
    • Lastly, schools are in a constant state of transition. We would love for things to slow down and for the waters settle, but we don’t see that happening any time soon. RFAC recognizes that reality in education and provides school leaders with real tools to navigate the daily grind. 



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    We can’t wait to hear from you. 


    Joe & T.J.