‘Tis The Season

Getting the Right People on the Ship

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Interviewing season! While it can be overwhelming with all of the other events happening at the end of the school year, Shelley and I feel that it is the prime opportunity for adding the right people to our crew. A frustration we both have always had with the typical interview process is the canned questions and cookie-cutter approach that most take when hiring new staff. Why do we do this? More often than not it is because that is the way it has always been done. Our next #LeadLAP challenge for you is to take time to reflect upon your current hiring process and find ways to transform practices to best meet the current needs of your building. Already PIRATEing up your hiring? Share your great ideas on the #LeadLAP hashtag so we can all learn from you.

A risk I took this year came when selecting a new assistant principal.  It was important to me that all staff had the opportunity to give feedback in selecting this new person, so I created a Google Form asking for the top three traits our school needed from our next co-captain. (sample form here: https://goo.gl/forms/JItjkvYilwRnnKOG3) Our interview committee consisted of a representative from all staff including all subject and grade levels, veteran and new staff and support staff positions. It has always been important to me to include staff as part of the interview process. When current members of the crew feel ownership in helping to make hiring decisions, they also take ownership in the success of this person when they become part of the team. This committee was given the responses to the form and asked to craft 2-3 interview questions specific to feedback given and his or her role in the building. These were shared on a Google Doc and then we took time as a committee to select our line up. The interview process was like no other. The passion was evident in each question and the answers from the candidates were real. It truly helped us to find the right fit for our school. We also revamped our interview process for our staff openings. These have become much more of a conversation instead of just a Q & A session. Each interview committee member asks questions that they are passionate about relating to the needs of our school. There is not a script, there are no canned questions, just time to get to the heart of what we need to continue to strive for greatness for our students and staff. My favorite opening question that I ask is for the candidate to share a lesson that they taught that had kids running to get in the class, or as Dave Burgess says, “A lesson you could sell tickets to.”  I always love to hear these responses! Anyone can give a definition of student engagement. I want to hear about a living example of how this worked with students. Another favorite is to ask the prospective crew member to share what they have read recently that has affected them as an educator. It is so important to our staff that we add people who are truly learning leaders to continue to propel us forward. We will continue to tweak and adjust our interviewing processes at our school. Next year, a goal is to add students to our committee and a teaching element for the prospective teacher.

What are ideas you have? Please take a moment to help us all grow and share your thoughts on the #LeadLAP hashtag. Shelley and I look forward to reading your thoughts!

Resources to help as you take this #LeadLAP Challenge:

5 Steps to Help Your Crew Embrace Change

My friend George Couros reminds us in his book The Innovator’s Mindset  that “Change is an opportunity to do something amazing.”. I wholeheartedly agree.

In my experience, it can be a long journey for some people on the team to see the upside of the change.  Unfortunately, the reality is they often get overwhelmed by it.  As an educational leader who admittedly asked a lot of people, I often found myself in my office or in a classroom where someone on my team would confess that they were overwhelmed and didn’t think they could “do it”.  As a leader who genuinely cares about people and believes wholeheartedly in supporting my team, this was always challenging for me.

So it got me thinking… How could I respond in a way that conveys my genuine compassion for the person without letting her “off the hook”?

Over time, and after a few bumpy conversations, I found that there were five components to a successful conversation with a person who was feeling overwhelmed by the work we were trying to do:

  1. Acknowledge change can be hard. Don’t dismiss their feelings of being overwhelmed or the feelings of “I can’t do this”. They are real… treat them as such. Express understanding, demonstrate empathy and let them know you care.
  2. Remind them of the why. Revisit the reasons for the change, the best hopes for the change, the “data” that helped us decide this change was critical for our school community.  If you followed the Lead Like a PIRATE practice of involving the people impacted by the decision in the decision making process, reconnect them with the reasons they decided to support it in the first place. Be genuine, be specific, be thorough.
  3. Remind them of their value. Let them know you believe in them, that they are an essential member of the team and that we can’t do it without them. Share the confidence you have in them to do this.
  4. Offer support.  Ask “How can I help?” “What do you need from me?” “Is there something we can take off your plate?”  If they share something that you can do… Do it! Commit! Follow through and make sure they have the support they need.
  5. Thank them.  Express your gratitude for their commitment, for their perseverance, for their willingness to push through the challenges to make school AMAZING for kids.

While not foolproof, I (and leaders I have coached) have used this process many times with great success. Change IS an opportunity to do something amazing, but we also have to be wiling to coach and support our crew on the roller coaster ride that change can bring for them.

Busy is Not a Badge

Beth and I just finished hosting #satchatwc on Twitter. The chat today focused on strategies to help us prioritize our time. This tweet exchange with Robert Abney and Sandy King resonated…

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As educators, the reality is our work is never done. There is no finish line. We add more to the “to do” list than we cross off.

We will always have more on our plates than we can tackle each day, so the real challenge is this:

How do we take control of our time?

 

Great leaders master this. They spend the majority of their time doing the work that matters most. They create systems to get the essential components of the “job” done and free up their time to do the meaningful “work”.

Like all leaders, great leaders are busy all day long, but at the end of the day…

Busy is not their badge… Making an IMPACT is!

 

From the Bottom of Our Hearts – Thank You!

A couple of weeks ago, @BethHouf and I were thrilled (and just a bit nervous) to release our book Lead Like a PIRATE: Make School Amazing for Your Students and Staff. What an incredible, soul-searching journey this has been.  We have worked on and wrestled with this book for about eighteen months and had moments of both loving it and hating it.  We had times where we were excited to push forward and times where we thought about giving up. We grappled with what to keep in and what to leave out.

While we have had incredible conversations for years about our collective philosophies and leadership practices, there is something about taking those thoughts and putting them on paper that makes us vulnerable and is honestly a bit scary.  We are both passionate educators who love what we do, and we are both continuous learners, so sometimes what we believe today can shift and change as we learn and grow over time.  There is something so permanent and final, though, about putting our best thinking today on the pages of a book. Through the power of friendship, our love for this incredible work of being educators, and some continuous nudging from Dave, we finished our book. And then…

…we turned it over to you. We put it out into the world with our fingers and toes all crossed in anticipation of the reception it would receive. We  hoped people would connect with what we had to say and find relevance in the stories we wanted to share. And while we were hoping for the best, we were also gearing ourselves up to be prepared if people’s reactions went the other way.

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What has happened over the past couple of weeks has been nothing short of awesome. We can’t truly express the depth of our gratitude for all of you who have been sharing your thoughts, reflections and take-aways from Lead Like PIRATE on Twitter, Facebook,  Instagram, Amazon and so many other places, including an awesome live #IMMOOC chat with George Couros (@gcouros) and Katie Martin (@KatieMTLC) and the follow up chat w/co-host Tara Martin (@Tara MartinEDU).  Your support, your kind words, and your positive energy have far exceeded any expectations we had.

From the bottoms of our hearts – Thank you!

We hope you will continue to share and connect with us using the #LeadLAP hashtag.

And… if you are interested, Nancy Alvarez (@techwnancy) and Todd Schmidt (tsschmidty) are moderating a Voxer book study starting April, 9th. We would love to have you join us!

 

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Leading Together

by Beth Houf #LeadLAP

I had the pleasure of leading #SatchatWC (the west coast version of #Satchat) this past week. The topic was transforming the traditional interview and induction practices in our schools. So many innovative ideas were shared by the close to 150 participants that joined. One big take away for me was that I want to figure out how I can involve students in the interview process. I loved reading how other schools were making this happen. (You can check out the transcript here: https://www.participate.com/transcripts/satchatwc/cac280b5-02d9-47f1-ac15-404582251065)

 

When we do interviews in our school, we work as a team. Our leadership team is always invited, as they represent the greater staff body. We also invite specific content area staff or others that may work closely with the candidate. These include veteran staff and new staff members. As I wrote the questions for the chat, my intended audience was truly anyone…teachers, support staff, admin, etc. Once the chat started, I quickly realized that we had a problem. Several participants in the chat immediately thought that if they did not carry the title of admin in some capacity, that they couldn’t have an answer or opinion. This was a little bit of a gut punch to me.  As building leaders, we must ensure that the voices of our staff are heard. When it comes to attracting and retaining the best educators, who better to glean ideas from than our current staff? On the flip side, we must also not assume that it takes a leadership title to lead.  It takes you, it takes me, it takes we! Don’t ever forget your influence on building the positive culture in your school. It takes us all to make school amazing!

 

Last week, we found out our assistant principal will be moving into a building principal role in another district next year. I am so proud of his accomplishments and know that he will do such an amazing job in his new role, but I will miss my co-captain tremendously. We have been through so much together and at first, I was overwhelmed by the idea of his absence. This was another reminder that, more than ever, it is the time for our staff to realize it’s about WE. The rest of us that will continue our journey at FMS must guarantee that we will drive positive school culture. At times, I feel as though people look to a single person to drive culture. While the building leader can never underestimate his/her influence on culture, it’s so much more than a person. If you are not helping to build a positive school culture, you are hurting it. You can’t wait until culture is negative to improve. Again…it takes us all to make school amazing!

 

#LeadLAP Challenge:
Join me in the challenges below. Tweet out your ideas to the #LeadLAP (Lead Like a PIRATE) hashtag so that we grow together as a PLN. Thank you in advance for your ideas!

 

Part 1:
Teachers and Staff: How are you making sure that your ideas are heard? How do you lead from your positions? How do you do your part to add to the positive culture of your school? What holds you back from leading?

 

Administrators: How are you ensuring that your staff feels as though they are leaders? What specific ways are you getting feedback and involving all stakeholders to empower everyone? How could this be more effective? How are you making sure that everyone in the building (admin, staff & students) are a part of building positive school culture?

 

Part 2:
Transforming the Interview and Induction Process

 

Think about your current practices for interviewing new editions to your team and the induction program after staff is hired? What is effective in your current practice? Why? What isn’t effective? What might you do instead? Take a moment to check out the chat transcripts and try something new.

#LeadLAP Challenge

Being mindful of the words and phrases we use

It has been awhile since we have posted a #LeadLAP challenge, but I posted the blog below on my website yesterday, and it’s sparked a lot of conversation, so Beth and I decided to turn it into this week’s #LeadLAP Challenge… We hope you’ll join us!

Full disclosure before you read on… I know that what I’m about to say might rub some people the wrong way, but I hope you’ll read on and I’d love to hear your thoughts!

I don’t particularly like the phrase, I’m going to do “what’s best for kids”.  I think we need to be really mindful when we throw it around in our profession.  While I understand the positive intent of the phrase and I agree whole-heartedly that meeting the needs of students should absolutely be the primary focus of what we do in our schools and districts… I think tossing the “what’s best for kids” phrase around can be harmful to our school and district cultures.  Here’s why:

  1. If I use the phrase “I’m going to do what’s best for kids”, it is incredibly easy for the person who I am talking to to reach the conclusion that I believe that they, in fact, do not have the best interest of students in mind.  While I can acknowledge that there are times when people make decisions based solely on their own best interests, I actually think that in our profession it’s pretty rare. In my experience most educators I have worked with typically make decisions based on their belief that they are doing what’s best for kids.
  2. “I’m going to do what’s best for kids” has a finality to it that makes it hard for someone to respectfully disagree with me. It’s a “last word” phrase as opposed to a phrase that invites discussion and dialogue. After all, in our business, who can argue against doing what’s best for kids?
  3. Where does that argument stop?  Let’s say that I believe we should have a 30 minute after school reading program for struggling readers because it’s “best for kids”.  If 30 minutes is good, what about an hour… is that better? What about two hours? If a couple of hours after school in a reading program is good… wouldn’t a half day Saturday program every week be better? What about a full day?  Maybe it would be best to add four weeks… six weeks… 12 weeks to the school year for all of our struggling readers.
  4. We don’t all have the same beliefs about “what’s best for kids”, and the research can be contradictory.  I could make a case for that after school reading program being what’s “best” while one of my teachers could easily make the case that it’s “best” to have small group reading interventions during the school day so that after school, kids have time to play sports, take music lessons, or to just play and be kids.
  5. What’s best for one kid isn’t always what’s best for another.  Each child is unique in their gifts, their talents, their motivations, their quirks, their needs… A “one size fits all approach” to what’s best runs the risk of merely being average for all kids as opposed to what’s best for any one of them.

So… the challenge is this: let’s just presume that all of the educators we work with have the best interests of kids at heart.  We may disagree from time to time on what those are, but not too many committed educators show up to work each day making decisions they think will be bad for kids, so why would we want to use a phrase that might convey that we are the only ones who know best?

As an educational leader, I really do want to do what’s best for kids, but presuming that only I know what’s best is a quick way to dissolve relationships, create mistrust and erode culture.  Sometimes our ability to do what’s best for kids simply lies within our ability to inspire, influence and support the adults on our team.

This week’s challenge:

Pay close attention to the words and phrases you use when you are talking to, or with, your staff.  If you are really daring, record a conversation or two or even the staff meeting or a PLC you are leading.  Maybe even enlist the help of a trusted colleague to provide you with some feedback.  Are their certain words and phrases you find yourself using often?   Write them down and reflect:

  • How and when am I using the phrases?
  • Are the phrases I’m using being received in the way I intend them to be?
  • Do the words have impact or are they becoming cliche?
  • Are the words and phrases I’m using inviting dialogue or shutting it down?
  • Are there alternative/more powerful ways to convey my message?
  • Share some of your reflections with us in a blog of your own and/or in the #LeadLAP hashtag this week

Beth and I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Staying True to Your Roots

When we make the move from the classroom to other leadership positions in schools, the transition can be awkward at times. PIRATE leaders stay connected to the heartbeat of the classroom,  with the realization that roles have shifted. We understand that we need to continue to model effective teaching practices, but also know that we simply cannot teach classes each day. Modeling strategies during adult learning helps, but it still is not the same as teaching a class of students. In order to keep our credibility as leaders, we must find opportunities to “walk the talk” of instructional leadership.

The challenge then becomes, how do you find ways to do this, when you already have a to-do list that is overflowing? And if you neglect those other important leadership tasks and spend all day teaching, that can also have some very negative impacts as well. The balance is delicate, but Shelley and I believe that asking the right questions can help to tease out those opportunities to make this a reality. What do you do when you are short on subs? Do you divide kids and make other classes bigger? Do you pull other staff to cover? How often do you roll your sleeves up and cover classes to ensure that learning is still the number one focus? It is one thing to say we value serving leadership, it is another to make it happen. How could you set up a rotation so that once a month you get a chance to teach a different class? How could you offer to model specific strategies that your school is focusing on for staff? If you are in central office role, how could you answer these questions to ensure you are able to get back into classrooms?

These are just a few questions to trigger ideas on staying true to your roots as a leader. We look forward to hearing your ideas and hope you can take our #LeadLAP challenge for the week. Please share your thoughts (and pictures if you have them) on the hashtag. 

The Stay True to Your Roots #LeadLAP Challenge:

  • How can you find time to get in the classroom without neglecting your daily leadership tasks? How could you commit to being the “mystery teacher” one period a week (or a month, start somewhere) to allow the classroom teacher to collaborate with colleagues or observe others (or observe you)?
  • Create a monthly or quarterly drawing where the winner gets to spend the day developing lessons and materials while you teach their class. Part of the day, the winner gets to observe you and give feedback.

Thank you for all you do as leaders! Shelley and I look forward to learning and leading with you this week!

#CultureMatters

Culture First, Culture Next, Culture Always!

I just had thcwgzssbvqagokgue wonderful opportunity to co-host an inspiring #satchatwc with the theme #CultureMatters with my good friend Jay Billy (@jaybilly2). It was evident throughout the chat that culture trumps everything else in a building. No matter what terrific structures you have in place, systems you have established, facilities, resources, etc. the school culture drives everything. Period. Our #LeadLAP (Lead Like a PIRATE) challenge for this week is for each of you to reflect on how you are adding to the culture of your organization. These are some of the questions that emerged this morning that I invite each of you to reflect on this week:
  • Am I presuming positive intentions of our students, staff and families?
  • Am I being solution-oriented instead of complaint-driven?
  • Am I truly following our norms in our team meetings?
  • Am I bringing my coworkers down by my body language, complaining or gossip?
  • Am I taking time to think out engaging lessons for students that will minimize behaviors and actually get our students enjoying school? As an administrator, am I doing the same for staff?
  • Am I pushing myself to take risks to add to the culture of growth mindset?
  • What practices do I have set up to celebrate students, staff and families?
  • How am I confronting behaviors that toxify the school culture?
  • Is what I am projecting worth spreading to the whole school?
  • What can I do the very first thing on Monday morning to make a positive difference in our school culture?
What is one thing you will intentionally do this week to make the culture better at your school? Also, this is a great topic to take to our students. How might you offer a similar challenge to them? Please share your ideas to the #LeadLAP hashtag so we can all learn and grow together. Have an amazing week! #CultureMatters

Resources on Culture:

If you have a favorite to add, please tweet to #LeadLAP or @BethHouf

Transcript of Today’s Chat

.participate.com/chats/satchatwc

BAM! Interview with Rosa Isiah and Ken Williams

http://www.bamradionetwork.com/tweeted/4122-school-culture-myths-compliance-commitment-and-buy-in

Blogs by Rich Czyz on Culture

http://fouroclockfaculty.com/2016/10/strategies-for-a-solutions-based-culture/

http://fouroclockfaculty.com/2016/04/negative-energy/

Cybraryman’s Culture Page

http://cybraryman.com/cultureschool.html

Powerful Reminder from Matt Miller

http://ditchthattextbook.com/2014/09/25/turning-into-the-teacher-i-dont-want-to-be/

Resources from ASCD

http://www.ascd.org/research-a-topic/school-culture-and-climate-resources.aspx

School Culture Rewired–>Book Spotlight

http://www.ascd.org/Publications/Books/Overview/School-Culture-Rewired.aspx

http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/classroom_qa_with_larry_ferlazzo/2015/07/school_culture_rewired_an_interview_with_steve_gruenert_todd_whitaker.html

Transforming School Culture–>Book Spotlight

http://newfrontier21.com/store/transforming-school-culture/

Setting the Foundation

z1apwwvn-1At Fulton Middle School, we just completed our first full week of school and it seems like we have been back for months already…in a good way! Students and staff have worked hard to build a positive school and classroom culture. Routines are well established and the buzz of learning is palpable when you walk through the doors. We have worked hard to develop relationships with our students and families through positive contacts as well as virtually knocking down the walls of our building through the use of social media to showcase our story. Our staff have stepped up to lead the mission of our school and the energy is spreading like wildfire! It’s been a great start to what looks to be the #BestYearYet as an educator. I can tell our staff feels this way as well.

But I have work to do as an administrator. This is also the time that our staff begin to feel overwhelmed by maintaining this energy. I begin to ask myself, how can I best support our staff? To me, it starts with appreciation. Something that I was inspired to do from the book Kids Deserve It by Adam Welcome and Todd Nesloney is to put together a form to get to know staff better. This form (HERE)includes a place to get contact information for the families of my staff so that I can showcase their amazingness to the people that matter most to them. I am also dedicating this week to not only be in each room, but drop an {anchor of appreciation} to each staff member. To take this to another level, I’m also going to send anchors of appreciation to the other building leaders in our district. Never underestimate the power of appreciation.

One thing that I’ve also started doing this year, that I should have done years ago, is work to secure subs for our mentor teachers and new teachers to observe, model and give and get feedback from each other from the start. We can’t rely on already busy teachers to use their already full plan time. Something else is that at our school, we encourage ALL staff to support our new teachers by checking in on them during plan, lunch and before and after school. We are all in this together. Just because you aren’t new doesn’t mean you don’t need support though. Our school has Team Tuesdays each week. This is a time when all of the teachers of a grade level, the principal and assistant principal, counselors, and special education teachers come together for professional development and data teaming during team plan. A rolling agenda item and focus is “What support do you need?” We are shifting the culture to one of support and collaboration vs isolation, blame and shame. We shouldn’t be nervous or worried if our colleagues are in our rooms asking how they can help, we should be nervous if they are not.

The next #leadlap challenge is to reflect on how you can take time to support and appreciate those you serve from the beginning. Don’t forget others in the district that could use appreciation..other building leaders, district leaders, etc. If you haven’t started school yet, how can you reach out before the first day? If you are in full swing, how can you be sure you build these practices from the beginning. Please share your ideas, thoughts and reflection to the #leadlap hashtag. Shelley and I can’t wait to see all of you ideas! Have an amazing week!

Back to School… Like a Pirate!

imageUpdate: I wrote this post on the eve of becoming our district’s new middle school principal in the summer of 2015. Our building wanted to do something big on those first days of school to show our change in our mission to create a school that our students, staff and parents are beating the doors to get IN, not out. We wanted to get our kids so excited about learning on day one, that they couldn’t wait to come back the next day.  What I can say, without a doubt, is the first day of our first year together at Fulton Middle School was one of my favorite, most memorable days of my career. I watched our staff pour their hearts into teaching and showcase their passions for the subjects they teach. I experienced our students enjoying learning, from the first minutes of class. I experienced all of us trying new things, some successfully, some not, which laid the beginnings of a foundation of growth mindset. These first few days set the tone for our year, which truly was amazing! The original blog is as follows and then I’ve added some BONUS material to the end. Thank you so much for reading and making this year the #BestYearEver for your students, staff, parents and YOU!

Original Post:

Sometimes an article finds us at exactly the right moment. Moving to a new position next fall, I have been in back-to-school mode all summer. First impressions are the most important, so I’ve been constantly thinking and brainstorming about how to start the year for students AND staff with a bang. My personal mission is to collaboratively create a school that our students, staff and parents are running to get IN rather than out. I knew the traditional first day of rules and rules and more rules would not work.  Then I stumbled upon this treasure:

http://inservice.ascd.org/how-do-you-motivate-middle-school-students-by-inspiring-teachers-to-think-outside-the-box-on-the-first-day-of-school/?crlt_pid=camp.onBhIriAFhHN

image-1I immediately shared it with my leadership team on our Voxer group as well as a few PLN members for feedback. As Dave Burgess says, the snowball began to roll. I had immediate feedback on a Friday night from everyone. An overwhelming WE MUST DO THIS came back to me loud and clear. (on a Friday night in July, I might add!) I shared the article, as well as the amazing quote by my friend Don Wettrick, author of Pure Genius to my PLN and I found there are several others ready to make this happen as well! Then I found a blog by Don on this very topic as well. http://theinnovationteacher.com/create-culture-first/ YES!! Create culture FIRST! When the right culture is cultivated, it’s amazing how the need for specific rules diminishes.I had a conversation with my PIRATE principal pal Jay Billy about how awesome it would be get our colleagues to take this Back to School…Like a PIRATE challenge with us, not just teachers, but school leaders as well. This challenge is to not only make the first few days of school an EXPERIENCE for our students, but to extend this thinking to our staff learning. How can we minimize the mundane and maximize the excitement for our profession; for our passions in education?

image-2Our theme for our school year at Fulton Middle School is Together, We CAN! This works perfectly for our challenge as well. Jay and I created this Google Doc to collect ideas to KICK up those first days of school. We would LOVE it if you would add your amazing ideas as well. Imagine the possibilities of a year that starts in such a positive way. That snowball will continue to roll into the BEST YEAR EVER! Together, We CAN change the way things always have been those first few days of school. The challenge is ON! Let’s make it happen!

Google Doc for sharing:
https://docs.google.com/document/d/1qXQJWagnbwj7CYeajg24FKmDtRDiQHa2NYosU69Zjjc/edit?usp=sharing

Update: 
Last fall, I had the opportunity to partner with the outstanding educator, Shelley Burgess to begin Lead Like a PIRATE. We hosted weekly challenges through our #LeadLAP hashtag to help us become intentional about our leadership practices and build support within our PLN. Our first challenge for the 2016-2017 school year is from the blog above. How can you TRANSFORM back to school to lay the foundation for an unbelievable school year? Please share out your ideas on the doc above and the #leadlap hashtag. When we share, we help make everyone better! Shelley and I can’t wait to see the amazing things happening in your school. Here’s to the #BestYearEver!