Innovation is Born in the Heart and Developed in the Mind: Embrace these 4 Proven Strategies from Top Female CEOs that Every Principal Leader Must Know

Innovation is Born in the Heart and Developed in the Mind: Embrace these 4 Proven Strategies from Top Female CEOs that Every Principal Leader Must Know

The Principal as an Innovative Leader 

In March we celebrated Women’s History Month, which gave us the backdrop and motivation to do a bit of research regarding women innovators from four very different industries but who any school principal should know about as a leader. There is no substitute for effective leadership and taking the time to read and learn from diverse people from all industries helps to expand a school principals’ ability to view complex issues through a broad yet critical lens.

We’ve discovered that schools often fail to innovate and employ a number of diverse practices from inclusion to blended learning because of the organization’s culture and not the people. In fact, it’s misleading, and somewhat of a leadership cop-out, to believe that the teachers and the staff in the organization are the ones thwarting or blocking new ideas. 

There’s only one person in an organization who can truly squash innovative thinking, and that one person is the leader. It’s only the principal, the chief officer, the managing supervisor, or anyone directly in charge of a group of people who can actually suppress innovation. 

We are not suggesting that there aren’t what we call roadblocks of resistance, but the leader is responsible for developing a culture where innovation is core value. Unfortunately, we’ve witnessed how one department within a school can be cranking out new ideas all the time, working right alongside another department that is stifled and cannot make any forward progress. As John Maxwell says, “everything rises and falls on leadership.” 

The good news is that great leaders know how to create a culture where teams are working together, thinking together, and innovating together.

Two Elements of Leadership Success 

Tony Robbins, a success expert, once said that the only two things that matter in business are 1. Marketing, and 2. Innovation. He draws this conclusion for two reasons: 1. Regardless of how great the product or idea is, if you can’t market well and sell, it’s worthless. And, 2. Sometimes an innovation is so creative and so inspiring that it doesn’t really need marketing to sell. The product itself is so desired by the market that it moves all on its own. 

Although we are writing about school leadership, there are distinct parallels when developing a culture of success in any school. Any school leader must know how to effectively market ideas, changing priorities, new programs, and so on. They have to be able to communicate to many different stakeholders for successful implementation of any new change. On the other hand, effective leaders also need to move forward with innovative ideas that may put pressure in the system but that are fundamentally necessary to change processes and practices in a positive way.  

The challenge is harnessing both–effective marketing and quick innovation–for maximum impact. This requires a style of thinking that great leaders innately possess and that principals can use in schools. Most leaders want this type of innovative thinking to permeate the organization and to spur change, but we know that it takes deliberate practice. At TheSchoolHouse302, we’ve uncovered four powerful strategies that any principal can use to create a school culture that is grounded in innovation.  



4 Strategies to Drive Innovative Thinking in Schools: 

Strategy #1: Value New Ideas Over the Status-Quo

According to Megan Tull, “Risk taking is an increasingly critical element of leadership and essential for a leader’s effectiveness.” The schools and districts that capture our attention for innovation, such as High Tech High, didn’t become successful by playing it safe. To create system-wide organizational success, calculated risks must be taken and rewarded. Principals can’t expect teachers to try new tools or instructional strategies if they work in an evaluation-driven environment. There must be room for failure.  

The play-it-safe mentality in workers will always win-out over risk-taking when mistakes are seen as a performance problem. Risk-taking, of course, cannot become reckless, but the value of teamwork and employing great people has to be placed on idea-generation and trying something new. The culture has to be grounded in earning and exploring, not the status quo. This means that leaders have to place extreme value on a continual flow of ideas so that thinking is new and not stagnant. Complacency is the death of progress. 

So that principals can see this by example, we can’t think of a greater innovative leader for valuing ideas than Sarah Blakely.  

Sarah Blakely is Our First Innovator Spotlight: 

Sarah Blakely’s success and innovative thinking is downright jaw dropping. Why? She listened to herself, solved a problem, and then pursued her invention. Spanx was born. 

The Principal’s Leadership Lesson: 

We are constantly running into issues and obstacles in education. Rather than just tolerating them, like a pebble in our shoe, work to identify the issue and then solve the problem. Don’t jump to the solution without first analyzing the core of the issue. 

Strategy #2: Inspire Creativity by Creating Challenges 

In his book, Pure Genius, Don Wettrick outlines the fact that innovation is cultural and schools, classrooms, and organizations can all spark innovation through teaching the foundation of innovative thinking. It’s important for organizations to explicitly inspire people to take risks, to collaborate for synergy, to connect so that ideas are curated and then synthesized, to engage in a creative process that isn’t linear, and to always reflect on both the product and the journey in getting to it. Creativity is not a congenital trait but rather something that can be inculcated by culture and expectation. 

In a culture of innovation, the leader goes first and then expects others to innovate as well. Going beyond the status quo is not only the expectation, but sticking with old practices, especially when they’ve been recognized as ineffective, is met with disapproval. 

For our second spotlight innovator, we feature Jane Chen. 

Jane Chen is Our Second Innovator Spotlight: 

Jane Chen, a co-founder of Embrace Innovations, set lofty goals aimed at improving the quality of life for those in the developing world. The tagline says it all, healthtech with a heart. Their genius was born from a classroom challenge and evolved into an incredible purpose designed to help premature babies have a chance at life. 

The Principal’s Leadership Lesson: 

As detailed on their site, in one of their Stanford classes, they were “challenged to come up with an incubator that costs less than 1% the cost of a traditional incubator.” We want to recognize and honor the tremendous research and hard work this must have taken to discover and create, but we also want to direct principals towards the purity in that the team was explicitly charged with solving a problem. That works in schools as well. 

Strategy #3: Always Start with WHY 

As Simon Sinek explains in his book, Start with Why, great leaders know that inspiration comes from purpose, not from the product or process. The bottom line nature of profitability, following specific processes, and top-down management practices are just some of the reasons that contribute to an innovation void. These are put in place for a reason but also need to be challenged by going back to our purpose, choosing impact over compliance. 

When organizations have a clear set of communicated core values that drive shared decision-making, it allows for innovation to ensue because people are focused on the importance of the work and the mission at hand. This means that organizational culture has thinking and acting at its core rather than just following policies and gathering data. Great schools identify clear core values that serve as the filter for decision-making.

Our third spotlight is Grace Colon of Incarda Therapeutics. 

Grace E. Colon is Our Third Innovator Spotlight: 

Grace E. Colon is the CEO of Incarda Therapeutics. Dr. Colon earned her Ph.D. in chemical engineering from MIT. One main reason for highlighting Incarda is their purpose: Committed to developing transformative therapies for cardiac conditions. Talk about a clear WHY.

The Principal’s Leadership Lesson: 

One thing that Incarda preaches as an organization is that their team members complement one another, demonstrating the power in hiring for innovation and other values. At TheSchoolHouse302, we often argue that filling vacancies goes well beyond the position itself. In education we are not looking for someone who can teach a subject but rather the right people to fully live out our core values. Read more by checking out our newest book

Strategy #4: Allow Innovation to be Incremental

Going back a couple years ago, we interviewed @dougtimm34, an elementary principal who values innovation and leadership and who believes in what he calls “incremental innovation.” Innovation doesn’t have to be a massive change. It can be iterative. Doug explained that innovative thinking doesn’t have to be about introducing something brand new but rather allowing yourself to have a process of revision where the end product is new and creative as a result of the effort to refine ideas over time. 

The refinement process includes feedback from others and is used in top creative organizations like Pixar and Disney Animation where everything from the storyline to the characters of a film go under extensive review by teams of people before accepting a new product for development. Tiny tweaks are always at the core of great change. 

For principals to understand this in action, we introduce our fourth spotlight, Lynn Le. 

Lynn Le is Our Fourth Innovator Spotlight: 

Lynn Le is the founder of Society Nine, which centers on boxing and sports apparel for female users. The company champions the uniqueness of women and the original product-line offered women’s boxing gloves that were really non-existent before they brought them to market. This demonstrates the effectiveness in taking something that exists and putting a completely new spin on it. 

The Principal’s Leadership Lesson: 

Pay keen attention to how and why things are changing. Always work to ensure that you are representing all students. Boxing gloves have been around for over a century but were designed for men. As the boxing and mixed martial arts world evolved, with more and more women competing, the equipment and structures that support it must also change. Think about this in terms of curriculum, school calendars, grading, and other aspects of schooling that haven’t undergone enough scrutiny and change. 

We challenge principals to use these four strategies in your school so that you can create a culture of innovation where new ideas are paramount to the fabric of what you expect as a contribution from everyone on your team. These strategies are complex by the nature of doing business with people but they are not complicated. Any school principal can put them into place with thoughtful consideration and focus. 

Stay tuned for more nuggets of wisdom, podcasts, books to read, and the best resources for leading better and growing faster in schools. Follow us at to join thousands of leaders who get our content each month. Send this to a friend. 

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. 

Read This to Become A More Effective Principal: Is My School A Better School BECAUSE I Lead It by Baruti Kafele — Get Your Copy Today

Read This to Become A More Effective Principal: Is My School A Better School BECAUSE I Lead It by Baruti Kafele — Get Your Copy Today

Don’t miss this vblog on YouTube or catch our Read This segment of our One Thing Series podcast–books you need to read to lead better and grow faster. 

Featured Author: Baruti Kafele 

Featured Book: Is My School Better BECAUSE I Lead It?




Here’s Why Every Principal Should Read This ASCD Book by Principal Kafele:

  • Similar to other Principal Kafele books, he starts with the power of questions. If you read this book through the lens of self-development, not only will you understand yourself better, you’ll also continue on the great and challenging journey of leadership growth. 
  • Principal Kafele is comfortable with the uncomfortable. As humans, we don’t always like to confront the brutal reality, but growth occurs in the space where we willingly uncover our areas of weakness. A must read. 

Buy Is My School A Better School BECAUSE I Lead It? on Amazon

Don’t miss our One Thing Series podcast interview with Baruti Kafele where we dive into the servant leadership, social justice, and so much more. 

Let us know what you’re reading by contacting us at

We can’t wait to hear from you. 

Joe & T.J.

PS — If you have a topic you want us to cover or need recommendations on books to read in a particular area of leadership, just send us a tweet or an email. 

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And, let us know if you want to join our next MasterClass on Candid and Compassionate Feedback. If you want to see real growth in your school, click here to reserve your seat or here for more information. 

Lastly, join us in the Principals’ Club, designed to take your PLN to a PLC so that we can support one another in our growth as leaders. We hope to see you there. 

Principal Leaders, Don’t Fail to Serve: Master the 4 P’s of Service Leadership

Principal Leaders, Don’t Fail to Serve: Master the 4 P’s of Service Leadership

What’s Your Leadership Style? 

We’re not keen on labels. Why? Because labels typically end up limiting our thoughts and beliefs about ourselves and others. That said, identifying your leadership styles and strengths through reflection or by using a tool can be enlightening. You might find that you excel at communication and relationship building. You might realize that your style is more autocratic than authoritative. Or, maybe you learn that your strengths are visioning and goal setting, delegating and empowering the work that you want others to champion.

The question that all principals must ask themselves is: “what are the lived experiences of the people I seek to serve?” In other words, what is it like to be my follower, to work with me, and to experience my leadership? This type of reflection leads to perspective-finding, which is a powerful way to learn and grow. When we come to the realization that our role is in service of others, we can truly do what it takes to lead at a higher level. 

Servant Versus Service Leadership 

At TheSchoolHouse302, a fundamental aspect of our leadership paradigm is servant leadership. As Greenleaf, the godfather of servant leadership, once said, “the servant leader is servant first…the natural feeling that one wants to serve [others].” We subscribe to it, work to model it, and it underpins all of our materials, resources, models, and presentations. But, we draw a unique distinction between servant leadership and service leadership. 

Servant leadership is about empowering others, not using power over them. This style flips the demand-and-control mentality upside-down so that serving others is at the heart of leading. The goal is to fulfill the mission of the organization–to enable those whom the leader serves to best fulfill their role and to maximize their potential within the structures and norms of the organization. But, being a servant leader is not the same as service leadership. The simplest way to draw the distinction is that servant leaders use delegation and empowerment versus micro-management and authority; they see their job as setting the vision and getting out of the way. Service leaders, on the other hand, provide something special and unique for each person on the team or for the community at large. They don’t just empower, they provide. You can be both but only if you understand how each style works independently of the other. 

A Look Outside of Education: A Great Leader Who is Doing Both

Let’s take, for example, Scott Kammerer, who we interviewed for our #onethingseries leadership podcast. Listen here if you missed it. Scott is both a servant and a service leader. As an entrepreneur and restaurant owner, he embraces the spirit and attitude of a servant leader and uses his influence and opportunity to be a service leader as well. He’s the President of SoDel Concepts and the founder of SoDel Cares. So here’s how we draw our distinction. Not all restaurant owners are servant leaders. A restaurant owner could easily be an authoritative micromanager, who uses pressure without support, and even shaming to advance his goals. The opposite is the servant leader, clearly Kammerer’s philosophy, who leads people by identifying their strengths, lifting them to new heights, and empowering them to accomplish great things for the organization. In fact, Scott talks about getting out of the way so that people can exercise their greatest gifts, living by the vision of the company. That’s true servant leadership. 

But, Scott doesn’t also have to be a service leader. As a servant leader, he doesn’t need to go beyond SoDel Concepts to service the community, but he does. He’s the founder of SoDel Cares, which is a charity organization that gives money to assist children, at risk youth and adults, and the elderly. Their mission is “to contribute in a positive way to the communities where we do business.” SoDel Cares is a service leadership project that makes Scott not only a servant leader but also a service leader. 

Lastly, we imagine that someone could be a service leader but not a servant leader, although very unlikely. We doubt that too many dedicated service professionals have an authoritative approach, assisting with a need in the community but doing so in a dictatorial way. It’s possible, but not probable. In any event, we believe that leaders should “serve first” as Greenleaf put it. In growing your service leadership mindset, we have four areas that need attention to be a true service leader in your school and beyond.  

TheSchoolHouse302 Four Ps of Service Leadership 

#1 — People First.

Employees who believe that management is concerned about them as a whole person – not just an employee – are more productive, more satisfied, more fulfilled. ~ Anne Mulcahy, former CEO of Xerox

Angie Morgan, leadership expert and former officer in the United States Marine Corps, details in the book Spark an incredible story of where she was put first while in The Basic School, learning to be an Officer of Marines. Essentially, after the death of a loved one, her captain went above and beyond to ensure that every little detail was covered and taken care of for Angie, all prior to breaking the devastating news to her, which is custom for a captain to do. She explains that at that moment she learned “…to be a leader you can be tough, you can be aggressive, you can have demanding standards–but if you can’t be compassionate, empathetic, and caring, you’re never going to build a team of people who feel valued and connected.” 

Service-based leaders put their organization and their people ahead of themselves. They embrace the notion that to truly reach for and exact the vision of the school and live out the core beliefs, the people must feel valued and appreciated through the actions of the leader. You can see in this case that the captain provided a service above what it means to help people be their best self at work (servant leadership). 

Challenge Question: How are you putting people’s needs first by providing something unique to fulfil their needs?

#2 — Clear Priorities

The overwhelming reality is: we live in a world where almost everything is worthless and very few things are exceptionally valuable. ~ Greg McKeown, Author 

Ray Wang is the CEO of Constellation Research and the author of Disrupting Digital Business. He calls for companies to flip their thinking about priorities to include “strategic differentiation.” He tells HBR readers that priorities can “create game changing transformation” when we adopt social enterprises. Wang doesn’t say that these “social enterprises” have to be service-oriented projects, but in a service-based leadership model, we believe that one of the differentiated priorities should be “giving.” Making contributions outside of your traditional priorities will improve the spirit of the organization and the passion that people have for doing the work. 

Simple examples include philanthropic endeavors to raise funds for charity. More sophisticated approaches are to organize a group for a Saturday soup kitchen volunteer experience or even giving people time off (trading work time) for volunteer efforts that are pre-determined by the organization. In any case, differentiating priorities to include something that is philanthropic and outside the traditional scope of work will instill a positive attitude and sense of pride that are also part of this model for service leadership and certainly “exceptionally valuable” to the lives of people.  

Challenge Question: What is your school doing to give back to the community? 

#3 — Positive Attitude.  

If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. ~ Maya Angelou

Having a positive attitude is a fundamental way to approach life so that you are mentally available to “see” opportunities. As a leader, it is critical to move forward each day with a positive mentality. Please don’t mistake having a positive attitude for a Pollyanna, blind-to-reality, view on life. As Tony Robbins says, you can’t stand in a garden and tell yourself, “no weeds, no weeds, no weeds” and expect that to prevent weeds from growing. Rather, our view of the power of positivity rests on the fact that much of our interpretation of our surroundings–the events that we attend and the situations that arise in our lives are a result of our perception. The key is being guided by positivity rather than negativity–the idea that each moment in life has the potential for greatness, not the opposite. 

This approach has two primary methods that leaders put in place for themselves: 1. We have to be intentionally mindful and take notice of all of the great aspects and joys in life, not just the issues that plague too much of our mental space. 2. When faced with any situation, especially negative, leaders must be aware of their initial reactions. As Dr. Dennis Waitley writes in The Psychology of Winning, “…it makes little difference what is actually happening, it’s how you, personally, take it that really counts.” We realize that the daily grind makes implementing both of these mental methods challenging, but that’s the point, isn’t it? The power is in the control that we have over both our attitude and our effort. 

Challenge Question: What steps can you take to be sure that you and others in your organization view experiences through a positive lens?

#4 — Beneficial Pride

Generosity is giving more than you can, and pride is taking less than you need. ~ Khalil Gibran

Sometimes pride is less than beneficial. In fact, it can tear us apart, create dissent, and lead to arrogance, anger, and narcissism. But, pride can be beneficial as well. Psychology professor David DeSteno says that “while researchers long thought that all emotions inhibit self-control because they tip the mind toward valuing immediate pleasure, newer research suggests that certain emotions, including pride, do just the opposite: they nudge the mind to be more patient and future-oriented than it would otherwise be.” DeSteno’s research is not specific to service leadership, but it does show that when people are proud, in the same way that when people have gratitude and compassion, they tend to see value in what the future holds. 

This is an important aspect of service work because it means that instilling pride in people helps them to value the efforts they’re making for others toward a better future for all of us. To evoke pride in your team, DeSteno says, leaders need to give specific praise about a measurable task. When we praise people effectively, they feel the pride needed to continue the work, persisting longer than they would without the praise.  

Challenge Question: Do your people feel proud about the work they’re doing and are they future-driven about the value they add to your community because of the praise they receive? 

Service leadership is about the result of having a heart for and a desire to do for others what they might not otherwise be able to do for themselves. It first takes an understanding of oneself and inventory of your leadership style so that you can be the leader you wish to be for others. Being of service creates a greater sense of community, it works for the betterment of our society as a whole. The greatest service leadership is the giving of oneself to realize a world that we believe in and that we work toward. Service leaders support, develop, and build people through the 4 Ps of Service Leadership. Reach out and let us know how you are serving the people who you lead. 

Stay tuned for more nuggets of wisdom, podcasts, books to read, reflection sessions, and the best resources for leading better and growing faster in schools. Follow us at to join thousands of leaders who get our content each month. Send this to a friend. 

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, & SoundCould. 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. 

Principal Leadership: Every School Leader Should Know These 6 Incredible Black Educators–Celebrating Black History Month “Then” and “Now”

Principal Leadership: Every School Leader Should Know These 6 Incredible Black Educators–Celebrating Black History Month “Then” and “Now”

February is dedicated to Black History Month, and although the contributions of African Americans should be recognized every month–woven into all of our learning, celebrations, and acknowledgements–we wanted to take time this month to highlight the great accomplishments that are specific to the field of education. As educators, who grew up in the Christina School District and have worked, and continue to do so, in schools throughout New Castle County, Delaware, we have witnessed the tremendous work being done by African American teachers and administrators. These incredible leaders have accomplishments and stories that must be told throughout every year as schools look to educate their current students and work to build the next generation of educators. We feel that it’s of critical importance to our schools and districts that we spotlight the influences of both past and present African American leaders. These leaders have made and continue to make a huge difference in the lives of students in school and beyond. 

The individuals who are the focus of this piece are not only tremendous educators, but also shine in terms of the opportunities that they’ve created for others in such unique ways. There is a great deal of work being brought to the forefront recently regarding equity and agency, which is central to our focus in education and the reason for our selections below. To write this blog, we evoked what we call “standout educators” who have shaped and influenced the three of us as well as countless others. One such person is Booker T. Washington. Washington’s autobiography, Up from Slavery, describes the endless struggles that he endured and overcame throughout his life. His own formal educational pursuit, traveling over 500 miles to the Hampton Institute and then forming what is now Tuskegee University, has undoubtedly influenced America. Washington’s desire for a quality education and then the way he dedicated his life to a quality education for others changed our way of thinking forever. 

There are so many African American educators, such as George Washington Carver, who was hired by Washington, who we might feature for both inspiration and aspiration. The Black educators who motivate our efforts and captivate our attention are always the ones who have created the greatest change in our educational system. For the betterment of students, and society at large, they have altered what it means to be a teacher or leader in schools. 

We picked six for this blog, and we encourage you to add 6 more in the comments below. Our point is that there are great Black leaders from the past and the present, making a difference for students in a way that will transcend time. The first three are from the past; the next three are friends and colleagues doing the work today. We learn from the past to make connections to a future that will certainly be better for all kids. All kids. 

What we know about these leaders is that they all have the same three qualities in common, something we wrote about in our Passionate Leadership book. They focus on growth, challenging themselves to be their best at all times. They work hard for the sake of making changes that will last; they never shy away from even the seemingly impossible. And, they maintain a positive outlook, even when things seem bleak or desperate. You can learn from both their accomplishments and what they mean to a profession that shapes the fabric of our American culture. 

Three “Then” Leaders in Education

Our “then leaders” are slightly lesser known than maybe someone we could have highlighted that many people know as African American leaders in the field of education. We wanted to do that on purpose to show the contributions of the unsung heroes of our past and to demonstrate that leadership is important at every level. We never know the impact of the work we’re doing in our small corners of the universe, just that it matters now and we hope our legacy lives for another day. 

Marva Collins — Marva Collins is the first of our “then leaders” in education and Black History Month highlight for educators. Collins was unsatisfied with the education that poor black children received in inner-city public schools so she started a low-cost private school in Chicago. She invested her own money and provided a better education for her students at half the per pupil expenditure of the local schools. She was a leader who paved the way for those of us who want to do something different so that all students succeed. 

Kenneth Bancroft Clark — We celebrate Kenneth Clark as the founder of the Northside Center for Child Development in Harlem and the Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited organization. He was a psychologist who made major contributions to supporting young people, specifically in the methods of social work, psychological evaluations, and more. He was the first African American tenured full professor at the City College of New York. The grand scope of his books, publications, and contribution for educating and supporting young people is practically endless–a real educational hero. 

Edwina B. Kruse — Edwina is among a small group of Delaware educators who were committed to African American students getting a quality education during times of exclusion. She was the first Black principal for the Howard School in Wilmington, and through her leadership, the school became one of academic excellence with a rigorous curriculum for what was then the only high school for Black students in Delaware. A little known fact is that the school was practically a boarding school because students from Delaware’s lower two counties often resided with their teachers, members of the community, and even Edwina herself. 

Three “Now” Leaders in Education

It’s always great to review the history books, and being that it’s Black History Month, the history itself is of importance. But we don’t want to ignore that we have friends and colleagues who are making history. Current black leaders in education are laying the groundwork for the future of what education will look like for our students. They impress us with the work they are doing, and although it was difficult to narrow our selection to three, these folks are nothing but the best at what they do for their schools and districts.  

Cynthia Jewell — We wrote about Jewell in Passionate Leadership, and she has been doing nothing but great work since that book was published. She is focused on her own growth so that she can be a beacon of support for others. Recently, she earned a Dare to Lead certificate from Brene Brown. She leads school admin through a virtual PLC process that has transformed online teaching and learning in her district, and she continues to support principal leadership as the guiding force for improving schools. Cynthia is a powerhouse, and we’re happy to call her a friend. You can connect with Cynthia on Twitter at @CynthiaSJewell

Basil Marin — Dr. Marin is a champion. If you don’t already follow him on Twitter, click here and make that happen. He was a 2017 ASCD Emerging Leader and he holds a Ph.D. in educational leadership. His kids-first mentality shines through in every national presentation we’ve seen him conduct, and his focus on equity is making a difference in his school and beyond. You can check out his website here as well. You can connect with Basil on Twitter at @basil_marin

Deirdra Aikens — Simply put, Deirdra Aikens is an impressive educator with an intense resume. She joined us for our Principal Induction Program as a guest speaker, and we’re pretty sure she could have just led the whole evening’s session. She was a principal of a school, a senior director of teaching and learning, and currently serves as deputy assistant superintendent of schools in her district. She’s also a certified Data Wise coach for Harvard Graduate School of Education. She makes a difference across the country, and at home in our great State of Delaware.  

Our “then” and “now” educators are truly impressive and deserve to be recognized and celebrated. The most challenging part of this month’s blog was narrowing our list down to just a few incredible people. One of the joy’s of writing this post was doing the research and uncovering the tremendous “then” educators who have lifted so many students. We know that our “now” educators continue to do the same. 

We want to dedicate this blog to the African-American educators who have left an indelible mark on each of us. If it weren’t for Dr. Sandra Countley, Joe may have never entered into school administration. As a young, novice teacher at Newark High School, Dr. Countley mentored Joe and planted the seed that administration was for him. In a couple short years, Joe was working side-by-side with Dr. Countley at Christiana High where she served as principal and Joe as an assistant principal. Those early formative years of encouragement, support, and belief are guiding principles that continue to motivate him to this day 

In January, the world lost another American icon and we would be remiss if we also didn’t dedicate this post to Hank Aaron who once said, “I am very proud to be an American. This country has so much potential, I’d just like to see things better, or whatever, and I think it will be.” Those words still ring true today, and it is our fervent belief that things will get better because, together, that’s the direction that we will lead.  

Stay tuned for more nuggets of wisdom, podcasts, books to read, reflection sessions, and the best resources for leading better and growing faster in schools. Follow us at to join thousands of leaders who get our content each month. Send this to a friend. 

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, & SoundCould. 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. and our guest blogger w/ us this month is Principal EL (Dr. Salome Thomas-EL) 

4 Often Overlooked Strategies to Learn as a Leader — #SH302

4 Often Overlooked Strategies to Learn as a Leader — #SH302

Great leaders recognize that their own learning is directly correlated with their actual effectiveness. ~ TheSchoolHouse302

Anyone who is interested in growing as a leader should also be attentive to the speed at which they acquire new knowledge, skills, and abilities through learning. The concept of learning is an art and a science, and if we want to lead better and grow faster, we need to focus our efforts on being a super-learner in the areas that matter most to us.

Unfortunately, leaders are busy people, swamped with duties and responsibilities. Whether you are a principal, teacher-leader, or instructional coach, great leaders serve others. And, while servant leadership has grown to be a widely accepted leadership model, it’s often mismanaged and becomes a one-sided, output driven, approach. In other words, leaders who embrace the servant leadership theory, commonly confuse this method as solely aimed at providing for and serving others, versus also receiving growth experiences for themselves.

The problem is that when leaders fall into this one dimensional style of servant leadership and only address the people they serve, their personal mechanisms for learning stall. The old adage applies: “you can’t pour from an empty cup.” Learning and growing as a learning leader really is like a bank account; you cannot continue to make withdrawals if you do not make deposits.

The good news is that serving others is the foundation to serve oneself. Being grateful and giving to others are both strategies for renewal and servanthood. That said, those aren’t strategies for which leaders learn, grow, and acquire new knowledge. They are great ways to energize our efforts, but they don’t always provide the novel skills and abilities that leaders need as we progress in life and work. That’s why we’ve curated the four best strategies from our #onethingseries podcast to present here so that you can use them to learn and grow as a leader.

Being a servant leader includes serving yourself, and that means adopting a mindset that embraces learning as much as you can along the way. If you want to excel at being a servant leader, you must also be what we call a “learning leader.”

Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. ~ Brene Brown

#1. Be Vulnerable — Always think like a novice, never overestimate your own expertise.

Vulnerable leaders are “more interested in understanding reality than in being right and are not afraid to accept that they are wrong” (Edmondson & Chamorro-Premuzic). This vulnerable approach brings leaders into a learning-centered state rather than one where we need to know the answers. Especially during uncertain times, leaders need to be aware of their limitations. It takes courage to express our invincibility, but it allows us to see ourselves more clearly and take action that results in new learning. There are several key ways that we can engage with the act of being vulnerable. In the realm of learning faster, the critical resolution is to commit to self-improvement and to be open to criticism. The important mental model is that we think like novices and openly share our work for others to provide feedback.

Technical Tip: Be resilient. Resilience allows for growth and maturity. Coupled with one’s ability to remain vulnerable, it is a powerful combination that leads to explosive growth. One key to being resilient is to simply recognize when you’re anxious, which makes it challenging to lead with confidence.

Practical Strategy: Ship your work early. You’ll never know if something is going to be good enough until your audience gets to see a version of it. Whether you’re working on a memo, a blog, or a painting, let your audience comment on how it’s going before it’s done or at least before you think it’s done.

The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. ~ Albert Einstein

#2. Be Curious — Don’t assume that you know something in depth when you may only have a very cursory knowledge of the subject. 

A great example of a lack of curiosity in practice is education’s application of Professional Learning Communities. We hate to admit it, but the concept of a PLC has been grossly over employed to the point where PLCs have become the nomenclature used as a substitute for what we would consider a commonly scheduled meeting. Just because a group of people are coming together to discuss a topic, doesn’t mean that they’re conducting a PLC. Even if the group is coming together to solve a problem or learn something new, it doesn’t technically fit the description of a true PLC. That said, if we are genuinely curious about how PLCs should work to benefit students, we would study them in depth. We assume too much about our own understanding of the concept, and we move forward, often erroneously. In his book, Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends On It, Leslie calls curiosity a muscle, a natural part of us that atrophies without regular intentional exercise.

Technical Tip: Dive Deep. Learn to study a subject in depth over a period of time. Commit to a list of readings, not just one book or a single article. Develop your own curriculum and create your own learner-directed certificated program in the subject.

Practical Strategy: Block time for yourself as a learner–literally schedule time in your calendar for reading and researching. Because leaders are so busy, if you don’t schedule learning in your daily calendar, it likely won’t happen. We tend to rise to our level of incompetence, not because of a lack of skills but rather a lack of skill development.

With a versatile player, there’s no spot on the court where you can’t pass him the ball. You can do anything. ~ Kevin Durant

#3. Be Versatile — Expand your willingness to use multiple modalities as a learner.

As humans, we crave and desire consistency–consistency in how we feel, think, and act, even when it may be to our own detriment. Developing and honing our particular skill set through a preferred medium is fine, but it is through our ability to adapt, maneuver, and respond within different learning contexts that we achieve explosive growth. In Building a Winning Team, we describe the power of cognitive diversity and how it “accelerates learning and performance in the face of new, uncertain, and complex situations.” This is not only true for ourselves but particularly true for our students who benefit from experiencing content in multiple ways.

Technical Tip: Understand yourself. Know your learning preferences and also recognize that the concept of learning styles has been debunked. You can learn from multiple methods, and you should. People tend to approach learning in the way that they feel suits them best. You have far more capacity than that as a learner, and comfort may be getting in your way.

Practical Strategy: On the subject that you’re committing to learn, search for at least one book, one article, one podcast, and one video. Don’t just read, listen, or watch…do all three. Your brain will thank you.

A mind is like a parachute. It doesn’t work if it is not open. ~ Frank Zappa

#4. Be Open-Minded — Often there are multiple perspectives that must be explored and considered. 

Not only do we tend to fall into our own traps of thinking and doing, there are other powerful reasons for our lack of perspective in life and work. Google and other social platforms force us into the spaces that we’ve already explored. Through cookies and other search optimizations, our digital world is limiting our perspective and creating our environment for us. In fact, Andrew Arnold, in his Forbes article, wrote that “social media is a major influencer when it comes to the purchasing decisions of millennials. In fact, 72% of them report buying fashion and beauty products based on Instagram posts.” To learn more and grow faster, you actually have to challenge what you would typically accept to be true, even if you’re accessing a database of information. As learners, we are obligated to not only expect but to respect all the perspectives on any given subject, not just the one or two that we know best. Even what we hold to be absolute should be consistently revisited and analyzed with a new lens. Reitz and Chaskalson call for this perspective seeking open-mindedness to be done with teams, which provides us with what they call a “meta-awareness.” “Meta-awareness is the capacity to observe and describe experiences from an individual, team, and system-wide perspective rather than being confined solely within any individual’s personal experiences.”

Technical Tip: Enhance your life. Learning to be open-minded enriches your existence. Your ideas, thoughts, values, and goals evolve and expand when you are open to receiving the goodness that the world has to offer. By gaining a greater understanding and an enhanced perspective, you become more versatile in your decision-making ability. Much of this comes from the practice of mindfulness. Don’t miss our podcast interview with the authors of The Mindful School Leader for tips and tricks to use throughout your day.

Practical Strategy: Ask questions of the most diverse players on your team, especially the ones that don’t look like you or have your same background experiences. Here’s a sample question: If there was a way to improve our ability to think creatively together, what would it be? You can find other questions, embedded within an “inquiry” approach to perspective finding in the HBR article cited above.

That’s our model for leading as a learner. If you remain vulnerable, practice being curious, take steps to exercising versatility, and position yourself with an open mind, you will learn more and faster than ever before. That’s what the world requires of its most powerful leaders today. If you stop learning, you also stop leading.

Stay tuned for more nuggets of wisdom, podcasts, books to read, reflection sessions, and the best resources for leading better and growing faster in schools. Follow us at to join thousands of leaders who get our content each month. Send this to a friend.

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, & SoundCould. 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.

4 Excellence Hacks Every Educator Needs to Know — #SH302

4 Excellence Hacks Every Educator Needs to Know — #SH302

Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude. ~ Colin Powell

Excellence occurs primarily in two fashions: 1. Efficiencies–the things we get faster at doing so that our capacity is greater, and 2. Effectiveness–the things that we do that have an extreme impact given their intended outcome. It’s worth drawing these out a bit further so that we’re clear about what makes for excellence before we dive into some of education’s super-hacks for teachers and leaders. 

First, take a look at this 2×2 grid from InsightSquared. It is a simple, yet powerful, representation of the cross section between pursuing the right work and using the right resources–effectiveness and efficiency. Although this grid focuses on cost, we can easily replace it with any other aspect of teaching or leading in schools, such as lesson planning and the use of certain strategies in the classroom. Our later example, as in the use of homework, is often done with good intentions to increase learning but doesn’t yield the outcome we expect. As such, the teacher is pursuing the right goals, but with the wrong resource. This is an issue that we experience frequently, and, in order to achieve excellence, we need to do the right things, the right way.

With that in mind, let’s consider both concepts–efficiency and effectiveness–at once and then each separately. Although, efficient and effective are associated with one another, they are not the same thing. One is about getting faster and doing more, the other is about having a greater influence. A problem can occur when we value one over the other, though, because efficient can actually be the enemy of effective. In other words, people can get really good at following a process that doesn’t have the intended impact. 

Let’s revisit the concept of assigning homework. In the case of mathematics, we might use an assignment of 15 practice problems. Teachers (and students) can get quite efficient at assigning, completing, and grading homework, but that doesn’t mean that it’s an effective learning strategy. Quite the contrary, most homework strategies, unless used for retrieval practice or another research-based independent assignment, don’t have an effect size higher than about .28 versus implementing a flipped classroom, which has an effect size of .58

Comparing homework to a flipped classroom, which typically introduces the new learning outside of the classroom and creates opportunities to review and practice within the classroom, like homework is supposed to do, is a perfect demonstration of the difference between efficient and effective. We can efficiently do one (homework) without being effective, and we can easily implement the more effective one (flipped classroom) without being efficient (takes tons of the teachers’ and students’ time to do).  

But let’s dive deeper into the positive aspects of being efficient. Simply put, people who are efficient can get more done than people who aren’t. There are two ways that we become more efficient at any given task. The first is no secret: we practice long enough that we get better and faster at doing it. Anyone who does something over-and-over again will get incrementally better at it. The problem with this first solution is that it takes time, maybe even years, to become more efficient at many of life’s greater challenges. That’s why the second way is so important because it’s not just about the person becoming more efficient but rather uncovering “efficiencies” that can be applied as strategies. 

When we understand efficiencies in the completion of a task, we can complete the task faster, even if we’re new at it. That’s why, as long as efficiencies don’t become less effective, being efficient can allow you to do something faster, more accurately, and even more often. That’s when the concept of efficient bleeds into the concept of effectiveness. Being effective isn’t the same as being efficient because, given the case of the flipped classroom from above, if the effectiveness takes forever, it still reaps its benefits but the benefits aren’t timely. 

In that case, our job is to find efficiencies for an effective task. What are the small steps that we can take in the initial implementation of a flipped classroom that don’t take an incredible amount of a novice-flipper’s time but still count for an impact on learning? Hence, the question that every leader and every teacher should consistently ask: what are the efficiencies in making a change that will have a greater impact on what I’m trying to accomplish? Are there simple ways that I can lead better and grow faster that take less time than other strategies and garner greater results as such? We have the answer for you, embedded within the following four simple yet underused leadership hacks. 

  1. Ask For And Use Feedback Faster: 

Think about how often you’re performing any given task without an observer. Especially for tasks that are new to you, not having an observer is like slamming a bunch of weights on the bar, having no idea if you can bench press that much, and then going for it without a spotter. Even worse, you’re alone in the gym. It’s dangerous. The best hack for getting better at anything we choose to do is by finding someone to give us feedback. We have to ask for it and then use it. And we have to do that faster than we traditionally would. 

Pro Tip: Next time you ask for feedback, don’t reflect on the feedback, implement it and then reflect on the implementation.

  1. Determine Your Accountability System: 

Too often, we set goals without determining the measurements. And, sometimes our measurements are too far off to see gains as we’re trying so hard to form new habits. We say things like, I wanna lose 20 pounds or we need to increase our attendance rates this school year. While those are important and lofty outcomes, they’re not goals and they’re not the type of measurements that will hold you accountable. 

As far as goals go, the first statement’s goal should be something about being healthy or feeling good. The second “goal” should read more about daily student engagement. But, because our goal writing skills suffer so do our measurement and analysis skills. It’s far more realistic and attainable to measure more incremental goals, that’s what holds us accountable from day-to-day and even minute-to-minute. Trying to lose 1-2 pounds this week will keep you from eating the pizza for lunch; 20 pounds with no ending date in sight is a disastrous equation. Celebrating daily and weekly class-by-class attendance is not only superior to an annual number, it uncovers both the bright spots and the places that need our attention.  

Pro Tip: Underpromise and overdeliver. You may have used a strategy like this in your school or business plan, but it works just as well, if not better, with your own mental capacity for reaching excellence. If you tell yourself that you want to lose 1-2 pounds this week, and you lose 2.5, your motivation will skyrocket. 

  1. Predict Pitfalls:

Perceptual acuity is knowing what’s around the corner. Effective educators not only have a great vision but they also see the issues that are up ahead and can properly plan for them. This ability to “see around corners” is not an innate gift bestowed on natural born leaders, but rather a quality possessed by educators who are consciously present. The present leader does three things exceptionally well: 1. Tune In, 2. Presently Lead, and 3. Forecast the future

Predicting pitfalls is directly aligned to forecasting the future since leaders work to build the future they desire. As they are actively building the future, they are continually looking for blind spots that they may be missing or overlooking. As teachers begin a new unit, the pitfall-predicting master will start with a pre-assessment so that they can tailor the lessons that follow to address the actual needs of the students. This is a perfect example of predicting and overcoming a potential pitfall with planning. 

Pro Tip: Seek Counsel. It is impossible to predict every pitfall and issue that you are going to encounter. One great tip is to have a small team of individuals with whom you work and who you fully trust to call out a pitfall in your plan. This is a great component of any high-functioning PLC. Think about this team as similar to the blind spot technology on the side mirror of a car. The true power in this technology isn’t that it alerts you to something in your blind spot, but rather that it prevents you from needing to take your eyes off the road so that you can continue to face forward.  

  1. Set Clear Priorities: 

Every day there are countless things that are competing for your time. As you manage yourself throughout your day, you will need to have a clear understanding of your personal priorities. Priorities are different from goals. Priorities have to be in real-time all the time. While you might set aside time each day, dedicated to a goal that has more of a long term objective, like earning your Level 2 Google Certified Educator, your priorities are minute-to-minute decisions about things that matter most. As an administrator or teacher, you can ask yourself what do I have to do each day that will lead to the greatest impact on student achievement? The answer is going to be something about visiting classrooms, which might not align as directly to your goals as it does to what you need to be doing with your time. That’s why having clear priorities is a hack for daily excellence. 

ProTip: Use the past tense in your morning journal. Hugh Jackman, in a powerful and enlightening podcast with Tim Ferriss, describes how he writes out something as if it already happened. In the morning, he’ll write something like this: “Today, my son and I had the best time together…”  Essentially, Hugh is describing a priority that he wants to manifest on that particular day and actually texts it to his wife but in the past tense. The power is threefold: First, he knows exactly what he wants to happen (sets a clear priority). Second, he shares it with someone who can ask him about it later (holding him accountable). Third, he wills it into the universe for energy and enthusiasm (believing in himself and the world he creates).    

Bonus Hack:

  1. Power Play:

Although we don’t believe in tricks or silver bullets, there are a few power plays that great leaders learn to use over time. All of these suggestions are actually more of a way of thinking than they are actions. When you think in ways that couple things together, kill two birds with one stone, or habit stacking, you are taking advantage of what we refer to as a power play. 

In the world of sports, a Power Play refers to a time when one team has an advantage over the other since an individual may be out of play, in the penalty box or off on the sidelines. Throughout our day, we have the ability to seamlessly work and complete things that give us an advantage by saving us time and making us more effective and efficient. This may sound like a silly example, but, every morning, a great time to pack lunch is while the Keurig brews each pod of coffee. It’s a simple thing to do while the Keurig warms up and then each pod brews. Because we often make our significant others a morning cup as well, we even have more time to make a healthy lunch. While some folks will stand there, waiting for their morning mug, efficiency and effectiveness hackers use that time to couple two tasks in one. 

Pursuing excellence is a journey. The above mentioned hacks are easily doable and will transform the way you work as a teacher or leader. Just one of the hacks can change your efforts from slow and monotonous to quick and impactful. The key to excellence is knowing how to be efficient and effective at the same time so that one or the other doesn’t get in the way of your success. Let us know which hack you use this week. 

Stay tuned for more nuggets of wisdom, podcasts, books to read, reflection sessions, and the best resources for leading better and growing faster in schools. Follow us at to join thousands of leaders who get our content each month. Send this to a friend. 

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, & SoundCould. 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.

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. 

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