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 theschoolhouse302.com 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.

3 Books You Need to Read to Build Habits and Mindframes for Excellence in Life and Work — #readthisseries

3 Books You Need to Read to Build Habits and Mindframes for Excellence in Life and Work — #readthisseries

Don’t miss this vblog on books you need to read to lead better and grow faster. We recommend three titles that are must reads on the topic of hacking excellence for educators

The Mindful School Leader by Valerie Brown and Kirsten Olson

10 Mindframes for Leaders by John Hattie and Raymond Smith

Atomic Habits by James Clear

Let us know what you’re reading by contacting us at contact@theschoolhouse302.com

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. 

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. 

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 theschoolhouse302.com 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.

3 Books You Need to Read to Lead Change During a Crisis — #readthisseries

3 Books You Need to Read to Lead Change During a Crisis — #readthisseries

Don’t miss this vblog on books you need to read to lead better and grow faster. We recommend three titles that are must reads on leading change and lesson learned while leading during a crisis

School Leadership That Works by Marzano, Waters, & McNulty 

From Leading to Succeeding by Douglas Reeves

Leading Change in Your School by Douglas Reeves

Let us know what you’re reading by contacting us at contact@theschoolhouse302.com

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. 

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. 

Educators Strike Back: How Lessons Learned During Covid-19 will Change Education — #SH302

Educators Strike Back: How Lessons Learned During Covid-19 will Change Education — #SH302

Covid-19 Strikes First 

Early in March, 2020, the conversation around the Novel Coronavirus started to gain momentum as it spread, but concerns remain limited. Then, like a wave crashing without warning, COVID-19 hijacked our communities and the educational system with it, changing how we think about schooling for young people into the far future. No one predicted that the virus would consume us and dictate how we were going to live or fundamentally alter education. At first strike, talks were about finding temporary solutions, leading us to a time now when we must consider the nature of this vast and very long-term problem. 

At the time it hit, many of us were gearing up to head to California and learn at ASCD’s Empower20 conference, and the next moment, the unthinkable occurred–schools across the U.S. and the world were shutting down. Suddenly, we were communicating to families about schools being closed for two weeks, possibly cancelling Spring Break, and how we would make the shift to remote learning. As we now know, the rapid spread of the virus, and the serious nature of its health concerns, resulted in nothing less than a scramble to figure out everything from meal programs to offering instruction online. Since then, schools around the country have been working around the clock to respond to this ever-changing pandemic. 

The good news is that we’ve learned a ton in the past 8 months. It’s been a pressure-cooker for learning, growth, and transformation. The takeaways are endless–both personal and professional–but we’ve curated a number of them so that we can all benefit as teachers and leaders as we press forward. The concept of “going back to the way things were” is gone. The code to our success in schools is not cracked by what we used to do but by creating something new that we can live with for the foreseeable future. Our hope is that each of the 5 Key Takeaways in this post will help you to do that very thing. 

Hope In Sight

Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness. ~ Desmond Tutu

It wasn’t just that we didn’t anticipate ending the school year remotely, we didn’t predict that we would begin the 2020-2021 school year in a modified instructional setting with words like remote and hybrid and synchronous and asynchronous becoming everyday eduspeak. Most of us held out hope that the news reports would indicate that the virus was weakening or a vaccine would soon be discovered. Our longing to offer students in-person instruction and to engage them in all of the wonderful advantages of the brick-and-mortar classroom increased day-by-day, despite the ever-looming awareness that COVID-19 was redefining how we would educate our students and live safely within our communities. 

Fast forward several months later and although we’ve adjusted to many aspects of “normal” life, it’s hard to quantify the human cost of the virus. It’s an ongoing concern for educators who know that despite all of our efforts to engage students and connect with them, virtually or behind masks, this virus has taken an educational, emotional, and psychological toll on all of us. Fundamental activities associated with schools were dropped from calendars completely or significantly altered to respond to social distancing. Proms were postponed, then cancelled, graduations went virtual, and moving-up grade-level celebrations resorted to Zoom. Quarantining and face coverings are new norms of our daily lives.

That said, hope is the key to a successful future, living with or without this pandemic or into the next. Hope is an attitude. It’s a skill. As leaders, we must strive to be more hopeful and to spread hope for others. We’ve learned to lead in new ways, through hope and grace, by communicating better, by thinking with new methods, and by pivoting in a moment’s notice. It’s our ability to learn and grow through tough times that defines who we are on the other end. Regardless of the pandemic, or even in the use of it to become a stronger leader, the need for leaders is clear and those who have stepped up to lead better and grow faster are out in front. 

You can’t predict pandemics or always anticipate major crises. However, you can develop critical skills–like adaptability, communication, self-control, divergent thinking, grace, and even hope–that will help you to lead better and grow faster when put in unpredictable circumstances.

Surveying the Situation

The real man smiles in trouble, gathers strength from distress, and grows brave by reflection. ~ Thomas Pain

Once the reality set in that social distancing was a new fundamental expectation, educators moved forward to plan effectively. One way to evaluate the educational situation created by COVID-19 is through a simple and straightforward two-by-two matrix, developed by Paul Bolton. Many lessons were learning in the Spring, the goal is to identify them and use the new found knowledge to plan ahead.

Source: Paul Bolton of Johns Hopkins University

This tool guides us to evaluate and review certain issues and ideas through four quadrants. Each quadrant requires us to analyze situations and outcomes to fully gain a thorough understanding of what occurred, aiding us in our ability to make the most informed decision possible as we move forward. Quadrants A and C require us to reflect on what we anticipated, both positive and negative; Quadrants B and D require us to think about what we did not anticipate, also through a positive and negative lens. 

Teachers and school leaders can use the matrix to evaluate each of the instructional models that we’ve used since March, giving us a clearer picture of what’s working and what needs to be improved for the next round of modifications. 

Allocate and schedule specific time to evaluate situations through the Bolton Matrix to understand the impact of various issues and outcomes. Reflecting on what we anticipated, for better or worse, along with what we didn’t see coming, helps to make clearer decisions for the future.

Impact on Instruction

In times of rapid change, experience could be your worst enemy. ~ J. Paul Getty

One thing that is certain through this pandemic is that instruction has changed and will continue to do so. In a recent Ed Week article, the author identified the need for teachers to offer “targeted support” for students and model “explicit instruction” by creating avenues for independent learning through the use of videos. The argument is that these are anticipated positive effects that occurred due to the crisis, which will have a lasting impact on lesson delivery, Quadrant A. Our own experiences revealed several challenges and benefits in this domain as well. 

The monumental task of moving beyond the initial focus regarding access to technology and internet connectivity to providing sophisticated online lesson delivery has given us much upon which to reflect. Despite many schools using learning management systems prior to the outbreak, these platforms were not necessarily designed to be used as full-blown cyber schools. Adjustments were made overnight. Systems that were used to house assignments were altered to offer fully remote instruction. The speed of our efforts to provide blended learning experiences for students were drastically escalated.

Teachers across the country have learned to embrace new online models for learning and have even created virtual classrooms. Schools worked tirelessly to discover how online options can be viable for lesson delivery. Conversations shifted from how to get learning online to what does virtual school look like from home. Additionally, as social distancing restrictions became clearer for schools and we received news that we could open our doors in some capacity, another question was raised, how do we offer both in-person instruction and remote learning simultaneously? 

Despite federal and state guidance, not every household was in favor of the same model of instruction. Schools adjusted to reconcile the very real fears that families and communities faced. These issues continue and concerns range from students receiving a quality education to social and emotional support to contracting the virus at school. But one thing is true for educators, as much as we’ve learned to adapt to the online and hybrid versions of school, we need to focus on what works and get better at a simple set of critical strategies, methods, and platforms. The tools are infinite but our capacity for using them is limited by our expertise. Everyone is a brand new teacher this year, and that requires us to be humble learners and to focus on a set of best practices. 

Of course there are a host of online tools to use, but inundating ourselves can create tech-overwhelm. The key is to pick 3-5 tools to get good at using before moving on. Below is our list of Powerful Online Learning Tools and Powerful Virtual Formatives that we’ve curated as a place to start. 

Powerful Online Learning Tools

  • Screencasts
  • Padlet
    • Padlet is amazing. Essentially a digital canvas that can be used very creatively in the classroom. 
  • Flipgrid
    • Flipgrid, although similar to a screencast, effectively allows for digital conversations. 
  • Seesaw
    • Seesaw is a powerful way for students to demonstrate their learning.

Powerful Virtual Formatives

  • 3-2-1
    • Students post 3 new things they learned, 2 things they still have questions about, and 1 aspect of the lesson that helped them the most. 
  • I used to think, but now I know…
    • Students write one sentence about the content–what they thought at the beginning of the lesson and what they learned by the end of it.
  • Muddiest Point
    • Students have to identify one thing that is a little unclear from what was learned to date or something that they fully understand but didn’t before.
Identify 3-5 key strategies or tools to be learned by all staff. Avoid tech-overwhelm and settle on a simple list of key tools and methods that will enable teachers to achieve their goals.

Social Interactions 

Human beings are social creatures. We are social not just in the trivial sense that we like company, and not just in the obvious sense that we each depend on others. We are social in a more elemental way: simply to exist as a normal human being requires interaction with other people. ~ Atul Gawande 

Our current learning environments, whether in-person or remote or a blend of the two, have unveiled another major issue with which administrators and teachers continue to wrestle–providing meaningful engagement for all students with the ability to connect, communicate, and collaborate with one another. With the goal of offering rigorous learning opportunities for each and every child, schools have always worked creatively to build networks of support and develop activities that strive to face the needs of all learners. We’ve come so far in the ways that we prompt students to think and respond, using their network and collaborative structures inside and outside of the classroom. COVID-19 seemingly swept away our ability to connect kids to one another, but we moved past that quickly to get them together in new and improved ways, often at a distance but still learning with and from each other. 

When done well, our new blended approach to learning has at its core the essence of our fundamental human need to connect with other people. Using virtual break-out groups, the continuous use of low-stakes formative assessments, and deliberately orchestrated time during a session to build the classroom community, teachers are creatively finding ways to support collaboration online and in-person. The chart below illustrates a social interaction structure specifically used to help students forge relationships, especially when some of them are online (either all at once together or spread between the classroom and their homes). 

Day of the WeekEngagement ActivityAdditional Notes
MondayWeekend HighlightsStudents share out one highlight from the weekend and build relationships with other students.
TuesdayTerrific TuesdayStudents have to identify one thing they would love to happen to have a Terrific Tuesday!
WednesdayWednesday WowOne thing that they learned so far that “wowed” them.
ThursdayThankful ThursdayDone in lighting round fashion not to take up too much instructional time, students identify one thing they are thankful for.
FridayFavorite Part of the WeekStudents identify one thing that they really enjoyed this week. This does not have to be related to school but can be done as a formative assessment as well. 
Just because we’re distanced, doesn’t mean that we don’t need to interact with one another. Communication and collaboration are still the most important aspects of learning. Humans are social by nature so the need for interactions is even greater when we’re not together very often. 

Moving Forward By Learning and Growing

We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths. ~ Walt Disney

One last takeaway is that leaders should never think in the temporary. Every temporary–”we’ll do this until we can return”–strategy has only required an eventual rebuild. Let’s just move forward by learning and growing, building what the future of schools should and can be (and maybe should have been anyway). Although this crisis has created some limitations for how students engage as learners presently, it has the potential to bring about unforeseen opportunities for how we learn to do schooling differently in the future. 

Educators have learned so much so fast during these times that the educational system has already evolved immensely and only stands to be better during each iteration. The focus for leaders should be on growth and the leaps and bounds that can be made with, for the most part, a blank canvas. It’s important to promote teachers and the supports they need, including professional experiences like an EdCamp, Google Certifications, and other wonderful learning opportunities. Technology, the internet, and other digital skills all became critical for teaching and learning, and moving forward we will all have new techniques and faster ways to acquire them as long as we explicitly acknowledge what we’ve learned and how we’ve grown. 

Capitalize on unprecedented growth experiences. Don’t leave learning to chance. Make sure that everyone is growing in ways that support the professional and praise the people around you for taking risks and trying new things. 

We hope that these 5 Key Takeaways from what we’ve learned and practiced during COVID-19 will help you to lead better and grow faster. These unsettling times are less than ideal, but they have provided new ground for educators to tread upon and a future for students that has potential to transform the way we think about school forever. 

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 theschoolhouse302.com 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.

3 Books You Need to Read to Build Better Trust on Your Team — #readthisseries

3 Books You Need to Read to Build Better Trust on Your Team — #readthisseries

Don’t miss this vblog on books you need to read to lead better and grow faster. We recommend three titles that are must reads on the topic of trust

The Speed of Trust by Stephen M.R. Covey

Motion Leadership by Michael Fullen

10% Happier by Dan Harris

Let us know what you’re reading by contacting us at contact@theschoolhouse302.com

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. 

And, let us know if you want to join our next MasterClass on Candid and Compassionate Feedback. Proven, effective, strategies for transforming the culture of your school. Just email us at contact@theschoolhouse302.com and we’ll add you to the growing list of leaders who picked themselves to get better. 

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

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

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

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