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Mentoring Matters for Middle Level and Secondary Principals: November 2017

Leadership-life Fit: Stop and Smell the Roses

Five simple strategies for taking time to re-center, re-group, and refresh each day so that you can always play your “A” game. 

Leadership 101: The 10 Pitfalls of Successful School Leadership

As you close out these first few months of school, take a moment to view your leadership from the balcony. Are you steering clear of those things that can undermine your success? A former Florida principal of the year, Dr. Allan Bonilla, shares insights gained from his many years of experience (Corwin Connect).

1.     Low visibility.

2.     Office fixation.

3.     Lack of delegation. (This checklist can help you determine areas where you need to improve your delegation skills. More insight re: delegation here.)

4.     Programs over people.

5.     Dictatorial style.

6.     Lack of praise and acknowledgment.

7.     Criticizing and discouraging.

8.     Focusing on negatives.

9.     Failure to control mood.

10.   Failure to keep students first.

Read the full article

Managing Email: Fight the Flood

Do persistent pinging and flashing banners distract you from the task at hand? Do you intend just to answer a few messages but get sucked in by the 20 new ones that land in your box? Is your email owning you? Take control with these strategies.

October’s Principal Leadership offers a number of ideas for navigating the deluge of email messages and we’ve added a few more:

1. Know your email platform. What rules might you create to allow some messages to go directly to a file or folder? Can you schedule action on an email for a later date? What tools exist within the system that can help you organize?

2. Can you create a canned response? You likely receive multiple messages from different sources for which the reply is the same—consider creating and saving these replies in a Google Doc (or other) for cutting and pasting later.

3. Can you give your office assistant access to your email? Or, forward the canned response messages to him/her to respond?

4. Unsubscribe from things you don’t need.

5. Don’t enable notifications on either your phone or your computer. (I finally shut off my banner notifications on my computer and hid my dock to eliminate that distraction). Now, I have to be intentional about going to my email app.

6. Designate specific time or times during the day during which you’ll handle email—some principals choose to include a note in their signature line communicating the times during which they read and respond to email.

7. Delete without reading those messages you don’t need –you can tell by the title and author.

8. Don’t respond unless necessary – it’s not Facebook or Twitter, so don’t take the time to reply with an OK, Thanks, or other similar type response.

9.  When you work through your email, handle both the simple and the complex. The temptation is to quickly work through the “easy” ones and then to save the more time-consuming for a later date. Although you may not be able to address all of the complex messages in one sitting, you should be able to address some so that they don’t pile up.

10. Use newsletters, blogs, the school website to assist in your communication. Refer people (staff and stakeholders) to these resources to communicate the message that important information is available there and to help people develop the habit of going there first.

Tips for sending email—set the stage with staff that email should be managed and processed quickly.

1. Be as specific as possible about the content of the message in the subject line.

2. Organize the message around key points and be clear about any action needed and by whom.

3. Use CC and To with purpose and intent. If the name appears in the To line, it communicates information necessary to the recipient or action needed. A name in the CC line indicates an FYI. Perhaps, you don’t want to be included at all if it’s just FYI—you’ll have to decide what system works best for you.

4. One email = one topic. It’s not more efficient to lump multiple topics together in a single message. It makes filing difficult and may not pertain to everyone who is copied.

5. Hold discussions in person, not via email.

Leading Learning: Creating Career Academies

The National Career Academy coalition has identified 10 standards to support creating, refining, expanding, and achieving a path toward improved student-learning efficacy in high school. Are you ready to expand options and maximize capacity of learning?

You can access detailed descriptions of the standards here as well as additional resources. Meanwhile, here is the list from National Career Academy with an abbreviated description as appears in Principal Leadership, October 2017.

1. Defined Mission and Goals

The career academy has a written definition of its mission, goals, and benchmarks. These are developed by and available to the administrators, teachers, students, parents, advisory board, and others involved in the academy.

2. Academy Design

An academy has a well-defined design within the high school, reflecting its status as a small learning community.

3. Host Community and High School

Career academies exist in a variety of district and high school contexts, which are important determinants of an academy’s success.

4. Faculty and Staff

Appropriate staff selection, leadership, credentialing, and cooperation are critical to an academy’s success.

5. Professional Development and Continuous Learning

Since an academy places teachers and other adults into roles not normally included in their previous training, providing adequate professional development time, leadership, and support is critical.

6. Governance and Leadership

The academy has a governing structure that incorporates the explicit roles of all stakeholders and the leaders of the advisory board.

7. Teaching and Learning

The teaching and learning within an academy meets or exceeds external standards and college entrance requirements while differing from a comprehensive high school by focusing learning around a theme.

8. Employer, Post Secondary Education, and Community Involvement

A career academy links high school to its host community and involves members of the employer, postsecondary education, and civic community in certain aspects of its operation.

9. Student Assessment

Improvements in student performance are central to an academy’s mission. It is important to gather data that reflect whether students are showing improvement and to report these accurately and fairly to maintain the academy’s integrity.

10. Sustainability

No new academy functions perfectly. Even well established and highly functioning academies benefit from self-examination and refinement. Ensuring and improving the quality of a career academy requires engaging in a regular cycle of improvement.

Career academies can take a variety of forms—they can be singularly focused as in a health care academy, for example, or school-wide as in each student pursues an individual pathway that addresses the components of the standards (i.e., internships, exhibitions, and career-integrated curriculum in the core).

What is common among all academies is that they exist within a current comprehensive high school and function as a school within a school, and the 10 standards are readily evident.

Reference: Champeau, R. (2017). Creating career academies. Principal Leadership.

Leading Learning: Design Thinking 

Catch the buzz–Deepen your understanding of design thinking and learn how to approach everyday problems of practice in your school with design processes and strategies.

As Phi Delta Kappan reports this month, design thinking has become a buzzword in education, but many are unsure of what it is or how to apply it. The authors offer an overview and ways in which it supports problem-solving in education.

Design thinking is about taking a strategic approach to analyzing and finding solutions to authentic, relevant and complex problems. It involves shifting our perspective so that we start by considering what it’s like to walk in the students’ shoes, to understand their experience—just like designers consider the consumer experience as they determine how to address the challenges they face.

There are not concrete steps to be followed in linear fashion, and several models for design thinking exist (see IDEO example at the end of this segment). Design thinking is about an approach, a mindset, it’s about thinking through a challenge to arrive at one of potentially many solutions. That said, most models include several stages or phases (identified as a result of experimenting with a variety of ways to solve problems).

·  Empathize with those who are impacted: What’s it like to live the student’s experience? (or the teacher’s experience? or the parent’s experience? – depending on the problem you’re tackling)

·  Define the problem: What specifically is the challenge? What details help paint the most vivid picture? What perspectives are important to capture?

·  Ideate: What ideas do we have for potential solutions? Engage in unlimited brainstorming as you surface as many considerations as possible no matter how outlandish!

·  Prototype: Choose one of the ideas to field test or prototype. Develop it.

·  Test it: Try the solution with the intended audience – students/parents/teachers to understand what works, what doesn’t, what needs revisited, what needs adjusted.

This list is bulleted, not numbered, because the process is iterative not linear. Your team may hop in and out of phases as you seek to define a situation or problem more clearly or gain more insight to a particular perspective.

The key to successful design thinking application in education, according to the Kappan authors involves three concepts in particular:

1) a focus on empathy—teachers tend to view the world through their own experiences which can be a barrier to see the problem clearly.

2) an openness to uncertainty and failure—this feeds into the current focus on growth mindset in many districts. Educators need to surface many ideas and not let their thinking be limited by judgment on the potential success or failure of any one idea. Leaders need to affirm permission to fail, to be wrong, so that teachers take risks, and teachers need to rethink and regroup—persevere (self and collective efficacy!)

3) teacher’s view of him/herself as designer of student learning experiences (leader’s view of self as designer of teacher learning experience) rather than as doers and implementers.

Learn more about design thinking in education from experts at IDEO here and access a free toolkit.

Reference: Henriksen, D., & Richardson, C. (2017). Teachers are designers: Addressing problems of practice in education. Phi Delta Kappan. (subscription required).

Monthly Checklist:

These lists are intended as a guide—we encourage you to process in your mentor-mentee team to identify other items that may need your attention!