school leadership

Take Your Place at the Forefront of Change at the National Principals Conference

Having attended National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) annual conferences nearly every year since 1979, I can easily attest to the adaptive nature of our national organization to provide quality sessions that present innovative approaches, inspiring speakers, and valuable opportunities to network with diverse colleagues facing similar and different challenges. (more…)

Lining It Up: Using Principal Areas of Influence to Improve Student Performance

Guest post by Kevin Grawer

A school leader must know the answer to the following question: “What do I as the principal actually have control over?” Throughout my time as principal, I have had complete or partial “authority” over the following:

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Great Teachers Need Great Leaders: Why Congress Should Fully Fund ESSA Title II to Improve School Leadership

Guest post by Edward Fuller and Michelle D. Young

The research is abundantly clear—great teachers have a very positive impact on students. Less known is that school leaders are the second most important school factor influencing a variety of student outcomes. School leaders influence student outcomes both directly, through interactions with students, and indirectly, by ensuring students have access to great teachers. (more…)

Fostering an Environment for Teacher Growth

Guest post by Michele Paine

An area of passion for me as a school leader involves facilitating teacher growth. One way I work on this is by hosting several professional book studies during the school year.

Our district pays teachers for two days of flexible professional development time each contract year. Teachers can choose from a variety of options, including conferences, regional training, and state-led events. With all of these choices, however, I feel it is important to foster collegial discussion and professional reading. (more…)

Advocacy Update: Tracking ESSA

Inside the Beltway

What’s going on in Washington?

A potential government shutdown continues to loom on the horizon as it appears that Senate talks for a short-term continuing resolution have broken down. Early last week, all signs pointed to a budget bill that would fund the federal government until early to mid-December. However, by the end of the week Senate Republicans released their own funding proposal that Democratic Senators and Representatives refuse to support. The Senate plans to continue negotiations this week. (more…)

If I Knew Then What I Know Now: Today’s Principalship

Guest post by Frederick Brown, director of strategy and development for Learning Forward, and a former senior program officer for the Wallace Foundation

It has been almost 20 years since I began my principalship, and it’s incredible to me how much has changed in what we expect from our school leaders.

I was trained as a building manager, and my success was often measured by keeping operations and procedures running smoothly. Someone once told me, “Just make sure your school isn’t on the front page of the newspaper because of something negative, and you’ll be seen as a good principal.” Yes, I was expected to know instruction and support teachers, but my main work was focused on things like budgets and making sure the central office received their completed reports on time. Indeed, so much has changed! (more…)

The Role of School Leaders in the NCAA Eligibility Process

Guest post by Nicholas Sproull:

There are over 400,000 NCAA student-athletes and almost all of them will go pro in something other than sports…” Sure, the tagline of the NCAA public service announcement is designed to be catchy, but the message is clear: College graduation matters. NCAA data show that the best predictor of college graduation is first-year success. So what is the best predictor of first-year success? And more to the point, what does this have to do with secondary school principals?

Since 1994, the NCAA has collected data for nearly 2 million prospective student-athletes, including individual course titles, course grades, course credits and SAT/ACT scores. Since 2003, the NCAA has collected college-level academic data from over 100,000 Division I student-athletes per year. Combined, this national sample provides the NCAA Research staff with a warehouse of data to follow the trajectories of students’ academic performance from the ninth grade through departure from a Division I or Division II college or university.

The NCAA academic initial-eligibility requirements for Divisions I and II exist to help ensure that prospective student-athletes are academically prepared for the rigors they will face when they become NCAA student-athletes.

The NCAA Eligibility Center is the division of the NCAA national office responsible for working with the nation’s 40,000 high schools to ensure that the annual academic certification process is as efficient and effective as possible for the nearly 100,000 students who will become Division I or Division II student-athletes. (Until November 2007, this process was managed by the NCAA Clearinghouse, run by ACT Inc.)

Additionally, the Eligibility Center staff is actively engaged in education and outreach efforts related to increased academic initial-eligibility requirements for Division I coming in 2016. Now more than ever, ninth grade academic performance is of paramount importance.

Because these changes will impact current high school sophomores and beyond, it is vitally important for school leaders to be equipped with an understanding of these new rules and have a plan in place for spreading the word. With the support of school leaders, the NCAA’s aim is to ensure that prospective student-athletes’ desire to participate in intercollegiate athletics is not imperiled by insufficient or inaccurate information.

Nick Sproull (@nsproull) serves as Associate Director of High School Review/Policy for the NCAA. He will be presenting NCAA Eligibility Center: Overview and Updates at Ignite ‘14 on Saturday February 8.

Creating an Environment for Innovation Though Evaluation and Feedback: 8 Tips and Warnings

Guest post by Anthony Scannella and Sharon McCarthy:

Which do you think helps individuals and systems flourish during these transformational times: a bit of risk, a bit of failure and a good deal of feedback–or safely doing what has always been done? If you favor risk, failure and feedback, please read on. If you choose safety in complacency, save yourself some time and make a different decision.

We define effective feedback as a tool that supports professional growth in your school or system. But before we talk about what makes feedback effective, it is essential to consider the much celebrated belief that “there is no such thing as failure—only feedback.” In theory, this is supposed to help our egos cope with our mistakes. In reality, most of us secretly hope to be told how amazing our teaching or leading is, and hearing otherwise makes us both uncomfortable and defensive. Keep that very real human tendency in mind when sharing feedback.

Below are 8 suggestions for leaders whose focus is growth, in folks and in systems:

  1. Ask others how they prefer to receive the feedback. This is the baseline for respect.
  2. Know that while sharing feedback will help you and your colleagues improve, it will also cause most folks to squirm a bit—that is OK.
  3. Differentiate feedback based on the rating of the performance. (Please see: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-03-15/the-ideal-praise-to-criticism-ratio.html)
  4. Provide feedback in a way that caters to the receiver’s value system. People pay attention more to things they find important.
  5. Follow feedback basics: Feedback should be timely, specific, actionable, and connected to goals and practice.
  6. Create a structure for feedback—one that consistently communicates how things are going.
  7. Keep in mind that people generally change their behavior when provided with an environment that encourages change and specific cognitive maps that outline a “plan” in their heads. Therefore, the onus is on the leader/evaluator to ensure that the environment and maps, which Art Costa refers to as “mental rehearsals,” are clearly communicated in a culture of high expectations. (Costa, Arthur & Garmston, R. Cognitive Coaching. Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon Publishers, 1994.)
  8. Remain keenly aware of the fact that the meaning of your communication is the response that it elicits, regardless of your intentions. As many have experienced, the intended message is not always the received message.

How educational leaders model the practice of effective feedback for teachers not only helps teachers in improving their own performance but also provides mental models of effective practices for teachers to use with their own students. Feedback matters in every relationship in the schoolhouse! Synthesizing more than 900 educational meta-analyses, researcher John Hattie has found that effective feedback is among the most powerful influences on how people learn. (John Hattie, Know Thy Impact. Educational Leadership, Feedback for Learning, September 2012, Vol. 70, No. 1.)

Please join us at Ignite’14 to share thoughts and practices regarding this most fundamental of educational practices for positive transformation.

Anthony Scannella (@edufea, scannella.anthony@gmail.com) and Sharon McCarthy (@ienvision, ienvision@mac.com) will present Sustainable Results for Great Schools on Saturday, February 8 at Ignite ’14. For more information visit www.nasspconference.org.

Read their article “Teacher Evaluation: Adversity or Opportunity?” online in the January 2014 issue of Principal Leadership.

New Family Tours: Do They Get What They Expect?

Jimmy Casas

Guest post by Jimmy Casas:

I still remember the day I received the phone call offering me the principal position at my current school.  That was twelve years ago!  I can honestly say, like many of you, I have invested my life into our school community in many ways.  Growing up, my parents demanded hard work. They expected it, they modeled it, and they lived it.  They convinced me that hard work was the key to success.  They took immense pride in the fact that what they lacked in education, they made up for it in terms of work ethic.  My father would often holler at me, “You get out of it what you put into it!”

Ironic how the things our parents said to us when we were children often return full circle, not only in our expectations, but in how we behave.  They even get passed down from generation to generation at the expense of our own children sometimes, which I am sure my kids would attest to. His words have hung with me all of my life, sometimes to a fault. Sometimes though, his words move me in a way that makes me proud to be his son because his words make up a part of who I am.

Last week I had the distinct privilege of touring three new families who were trying to decide which school to enroll their children in.  Like the hiring process (of someone wanting to teach in our school), the idea of a family possibly wanting to enroll their student in our school gets me jacked up! It is something I look forward to so much that at times I literally cannot sleep the night before because I cannot wait to get to school the next day and share our school community with them.  I do not apologize for my energy, my passion, or the excitement I share with the families when they visit. I am proud! I am proud of what our school has to offer our students, our staff, our families, and our community.  I once had a visiting superintendent tell me that although the school was a large school, it had a small school feel to it. That was the biggest compliment anyone could have given us because to me it meant that it felt like a caring community. I have never forgotten that comment and to this day aspire to maintain that same feeling in our school.

I am always honored when I am able to take time and showcase our school community.  Here are a few examples of our best and next practices in touring new families:

  1. Schedule the building tours with the principal – In many high schools, this practice is often delegated to a school counselor or other building administrator.   I have always wondered why any principal would not take advantage of the opportunity to be the first person to welcome a new visiting family or more importantly, to spend time getting to know a potential new student.  Think about the message you are sending when you won’t give a new family and student 90 minutes of your time.  Mindset:  Models to student and family they are the most important people walking through our doors every day.
  2. Office secretaries can make or break the deal before a new family ever walks in the door – Don’t ever underestimate the importance of the impact your office secretaries can have on a new family regarding their choice for a new school when they are calling to inquire about a visit/tour.  A positive first impression goes a long way with parents and a negative first impression will quickly decrease the chance of a new family selecting your school ten-fold.  Trust me. I have had many families tell me they crossed off school XYZ because of the way they were treated by the Principal’s secretary.  Mindset:  No student or family who calls or enters the main office is an inconvenience. In fact, they are the purpose of why we are here.  Never forget that.
  3. Tours should be scheduled during the school day – If at all possible, I would encourage you to schedule all visits during the school day.  It is critical for the visiting student and his/her parents to get a feel of the climate in our school and what #BettPride is all about.  This is nearly impossible to simulate without students in the building. I want them to experience first-hand how welcoming our students & staff are to new students.  I want them to see how our school community cares for one another and values the teaching and learning that transpires throughout the building on a daily basis.  Mindset:  Be proud of the school community in which you spend most of your waking hours and deliver your message with passion, purpose and with a humbled spirit.
  4. Spend time getting to know the student – I will often spend the first 15-20 minutes talking to potential new students one on one in my office before a tour in order to learn as much as I can about their talents, strengths and areas of interest.  Two questions I ask new students are, “What part of school do you value most and why?” and “How do you want to be remembered when you leave your high school?”  Mindset:  Want to show students that this is an environment of great expectations that will challenge their inner core and expect them to leave a positive footprint on their school community long after graduation.
  5. Always be yourself – Be sure when giving a tour you conduct yourself in the same manner you would if you were walking the building on a normal day.  In other words, be you.  This is not the time to try and portray a side of you that is not genuine.  By doing so, you will quickly lose the trust of your new family and send the wrong message to your current students and staff. Mindset:  Rather than be disingenuous, use these opportunities to recognize areas for potential growth in your own leadership style and then establish a plan to make a needed change.
  6. Encourage them to visit other schools – Believe it or not, I always encourage new families to visit the surrounding school districts. I emphasize to new parents that there are many good schools in our area to choose from and that it is important for them to contact other schools to schedule visits.  Honestly, I tell them they need to walk into different schools and determine for themselves, which school community “feels right.”  I want a new student (and their parents) to feel good about his/her choice in a new school knowing full well I may lose them, but in the long run it is the best measure of success.  If they do not select us, then it wasn’t the right fit.  Mindset:  I believe the most critical factor in determining the success of any student is the culture and climate of a school.  My attitude going into any meeting with a new family has to be one of quiet confidence and trust that we have cultivated the right culture for kids to be successful and that new families will feel that this is a special place.
  7. Let them ask questions of the students and staff – I always encourage our new families to ask students and staff questions as we tour.  In fact, I will often purposefully distance myself so our students and staff can have an open and honest discussion with new families free from my presence.  In addition, I tell families before we begin the tour that they are welcome to enter any classroom they choose and that our students and staff do not know they will be visiting. Mindset:   I never want to give the impression that I am somehow trying to influence the responses or comments from my students and staff.  I want them to know that what they see is what they get; this is who we are every day.
  8. Show new families where to find your school/district data – At the conclusion of the tour, I always return to the main office to give the student and family time to digest what they have just observed and to provide an opportunity for any follow up questions.  This is also the time I provide families our school profile data information or walk them through on how to access the information from our district/building website.  Mindset:  I want to be transparent with our school data, although I find most families have already accessed it long before ever setting up a visit.
  9. Share your personal information with them – Parents always appreciate when I hand them a business card and take time to inscribe my personal cell phone number on the card and encourage them to contact me day, night or weekend.  I share with them that I recognize that choosing a school can be very stressful on not only their student, but the entire family as well. Mindset:  I want parents to know I care about them and their student and am accessible 24/7 should a need arise sooner than later.  The message I want to send is that being a school principal is not a job, but my life.
  10. Invite them to a school function – One of most positive steps we take to encourage new families to select our school is to invite them to attend an evening event as our special guest.  This is especially true if the event they attend is an event in which the student has a personal interest. This is one area that we added on as part of our practice this year after seeing tremendous results of families selecting our school after attending one of our events.  Giving a new student an opportunity to see and feel what it would be like to be part of a club, group, or team is a powerful way to let them experience the pride and spirit of our school community. Mindset:  Allows students and families to see up front the value we place on our co-curricular activities. We want our students to not only feel connected, but be connected beyond the bell schedule.

I approach every student/family visit with the intention of giving of my time and more importantly, of myself.  I have tremendously high expectations of myself and of my staff when it comes to cultivating a culture that places a significant value on giving of our time to others in a positive and caring way. My mindset is simple; in the words of my father, we as a school community will get out of it what we put into it.

As leaders, we are responsible for raising the bar to exceptionally high levels when it comes to how we want both new and existing families to feel about their school community.  I am honored to be a part of this wonderful community we call Bettendorf and I am extremely proud because I know that although I have invested my life in our school community, I am just a guest like everyone else until the next principal comes along.

So I challenge you to reflect…do your new families get what they expect?

Or do they walk out of your school receiving so much more than they ever expected?

This entry is a cross-post from Jimmy Casas‘s blog. (@casas_jimmy) Principal of Bettendorf High School, will present Building Community Through Social Media on Friday, February 7, 2014 at Ignite ’14 in Dallas.  For more information and to register visit www.nasspconference.org.

A is for Autism: Strategies for Success

Guest post by LaChan V Hannon:

If most educators are anything like me, we experience a range of emotions on any given day. Sometimes, we are confident. Sometimes, we need the collaboration of our peers to make sure we are on track, and sometimes, our efficacy leaves much to be desired. And when we pause long enough to exit our own minds, we remember… our students. They are the reason why we fret. They are the reason why we learn. They are the reason why we grow. We want to make every student feel the way we do about learning. That simple thought is inspiring. It rejuvenates us, confirms our purpose, and drives our goals.

Each of our approaches to learning is different. Maybe you can remember the exact moment you realized a teacher was teaching just for you. Maybe you can remember the moment you realized your learning difference was no different at all. Or maybe you can remember a moment when all was right in the world because your teacher knew and understood something about you that others often misunderstood.

That moment of realization and understanding reshapes the experience our students on the autism spectrum have when they encounter a teacher that is flexible in his/her approach, strength-based in his/her perspective, student-centered in his/her practices, and supported by his/her team. Someone once told me, “when you meet one student with autism, you’ve met ONE student with autism.” Their complexities, idiosyncrasies, learning styles, and personalities are as varied as the myriad colors of human faces.

But how do I, as a regular education teacher, best support my the student with autism or Asperger’s—the one that tests too high for pull-out replacement, yet struggles with the inferential skills needed for text complexity and the nuances of language? The one whose parents insist he can be successful if the teacher would just… (fill in the blank)? The one whose disruptive behaviors require more attention than the school day allows?

Here’s how:
I must first remember that I am not alone in my classroom; my classroom is full of students; that all students have needs; that all their needs are different; that different needs represent diverse levels of understanding; that diverse levels of understanding require multiple strategies of instruction; and that mastering understanding demands various demonstrations of learning.

What learning—the process and the outcomes—looks like differs from one student to the next. And so might our expectations. I would argue that if a regular education teacher is able to meet the needs of a student with autism in his/her classroom, he/she is prepared to meet the needs of all the students in the regular ed classroom. From where I sit, both traditional and vocational institutions could benefit from learning about and from our awesome students on the autism spectrum.

LaChan Hannon (@LaChanHannon) and Rose Mary Pirozzi will come together on Friday, February 7 to present Strategies for Success: Supporting Teachers of Students with Autism in Inclusive Classrooms at Ignite ’14 in Dallas. For more information and to register, visit www.nasspconference.org.

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