Reflections of a Missing "Bit"

Reflections of a Missing "Bit"

Adjusting our tie, or combing a rogue hair that we see out of place while we look in the mirror is an innate reflexive behavior. Reflection enables improvement.  View this week's VLOG and hear how installing an air desk lead to reflections in leadership and classroom practice.

School Violence: Who Should We Blame? ~In Memory of Innocence Lost

The horrible tragedy at Howard HS, in Wilmington, DE this past week hit my professional and personal communities hard.  Just now coming up for air, after many difficult and powerful conversations with children as they attempt to cope and understand many of the issues evoking from the sad, senseless, loss of another child in their presumed safe place, school. Conversations about violence, social media dangers, revenge, mental illness, death, grief, compassion, forgiveness... Howard HS is less than a 15 minute walk from my HS,  we have many varied close personal connections with students in my school to Amy (16 year old Howard HS student who died after allegedly being assaulted by at least two other female students in the school bathroom), her family as well as the other Howard HS students involved and impacted. My work life bleeds into my personal life so this irrational tragedy was even the first topic of conversation at our late dinner that evening Amy died, and every other meal we have eaten together since then.  Our children read my emotional state like a book and therefore, I really have no choice sometimes in choosing whether to share the events of my school day. I am heart broken; heart broken that it takes losing a young life to outrage so many about these issues I, and so many of us, deal with every day. My heartfelt condolences go out to all the families impacted, there are no words to describe the sadness and anger I feel, and the hope I have for their hearts to be healed and comforted over time.

There are countless issues, concerns and what-ifs that we could use to rally behind this tragic event. We could blame parents, schools, video games, the kids, poverty, lack of religion, music lyrics, internet, politicians, drugs, stages of the moon, or you name it. Anything and everything to help us make sense out of a violent attack (at the very least a violent fight), an act of violence that had Amy not lost her life, would have never elicited any attention to the needs, given us the opportunity to blame soo many, let alone nation-wide media attention to young violence and the even more prevalent underlying issues. More than likely, even less than a half mile away, my school would have never heard of the incident had it remained just a fight. Even with our connections to the students involved. Incidents like these happen every day, every where. As a system, as a society, we are completely desensitized to much of what occurs to our youth and families.

Ultimately in my opinion, the reality is our children and families need support. The planned fight by itself at Howard HS, as a means of conflict resolution of any kind (Note: this is not an attempt to explain the events of the day) demonstrates the need for intervention, the need for support, and not just for the children, for the community. Our children and families need supports and services ranging from mental health to financial services and every kind of support in-between. The commonality with any and all of the supports we have available, however, is accessibility. It can be nearly impossible to connect and/or navigate the established systems to complete the process and secure said services.

As educators with over 40 years of experience combined in urban education leadership, with a doctorate in Ed Leadership, masters in Ed Leadership, many certifications and a letter of superintendent eligibility, my wife and I have barely been successful in navigating our way through garnering the support systems available EVEN when we needed them for our personal children. One of our children literally had to wait months before being able to receive the treatment that multiple medical doctors suggest he receive, and then, only after an insurance company mess up, were we able to garner those services by default, through the grievance process.

We are one of the many professionals trained and able to recognize the indicators that initiate student referrals for additional services. But how, when, where do we learn the ins and outs of navigating the systems for the services that we connect families with to meet the social, and emotional  needs of their children. We are one of many who tend to blame parents and families when children are not receiving the services they need, often assuming that the family must not want assistance, they must be negligent. After all, if families wanted the support, they would follow through to get it,  correct?  Many of the services can be on a sliding scale for families or have no direct charge, we gave the parent a name and the contact at an agency, all they had to do was follow up and take the time to secure the service, right? We blame out of ignorance and frustration. We believe the child or family would benefit from the service and that is why we make the referral. Even after we complete our part, the parents may be unable to make their part happen. We begin to assume that the parents must not have tried hard enough, or waited too long. From our perspective we know the student is struggling, supporting the student's needs is not within our capacity, yet "we," as a support system, do not fully appreciate the entire process. We haven't a clue about how to guide families in navigating through the system once they leave our schools. It is messy and far more complicated than it needs to be so we must do better. Get better at understanding it, navigating it or fixing it!


I am ashamed to say that there have been occasions, as a parent, I have failed to get one of my children all the support they deserve, unable to complete the process of navigating this system or that system. I am ashamed to say that there have been far more times, when I have laid my head in my hands in frustration, unable to connect a family with the services they needed or to convince them that long process they were knee deep in was worth their continued effort. Trust me, by personal experience, each process, each agency for emotional, social, judicial, health, financial, housing support is different, but each requires persistence, time, and patience. Most also require technology (ie. internet, fax, email, word, scanner), documents, conference calls, financial forms, notarized forms,...endless forms to be filled out- and if your documents are not correct, incomplete or missing documentation... the process can not continue.


How many of our school-aged parents have the resources (time and abilities) to persist through a lengthy process? How many of our school leaders know how to support and guide our parents all the way through a grievance process in hopes to get a child and family the much needed resources, the help they so urgently need? How many school leaders understand the process of obtaining and securing resources they recommend for children and families? How many school leaders even know what questions to ask families to discern how they could be of service in the process of connecting supports they are referring for the child?


We MUST do better, we have far more resources then ever available but connecting to services is often complicated, not inclusive, inconsiderate of times, work, school, transportation and support. "I understand you and your son can not read, but I need you to fill out these forms, in triplicate, bring them back, with a10 dollar money order made out to the name on the front of this form with a notarized narrative from you of why you believe he is acting out, and in need of these service. Oh and we also will need another official copy of the referral from his school, mailed directly to us. We will take care of the rest, okay? See you tomorrow, our schedule is on the back along with our contact information.” Are you kidding me?

Personally I should be grateful, finding better ways to support schools, leaders and parents/families in support of ALL of our children and their success has fueled my passion for our business. It is why we work hard in support of leaders and families, it is why I go to work each and every day, but mostly after weeks like this past week, it just makes me sad, tired and frustrated…

The Pope As Building Principal?

by: Sherry and Kristina Macbury We were tickled to read a recent article written by William Vanderbloemen on the 5 Leadership Lessons From Pope Francis.

 

What can you learn and reflect on from Pope Francis' Transformational Leadership Style as an educational leader?

  1. Be Accessible

The Pope emulates this as evidenced by his actions taken on his first day – he switched up tradition and invited people to bless HIM as opposed to the long practice of blessing the people. Later, he made the choice to ride in a bus as opposed to a bulletproof limousine – he can even been seen riding around touring the U.S. in a Fiat.

 

And we see this being applicable to your schools and building leadership in two main ways: Customer service and Engaging ALL of your constituents.

 

Nothing replaces good customer service in a school than when your community can see that you can take care of the "little" things like answering and returning calls and emails, personalizing experiences for staff and students, and handling a busy main office with smiles and knowledge, it gives them the confidence that you can "handle" the big things like respecting and inspiring staff and students and for families, the education of their loved ones in a safe and inclusive environment.

 

How are you emulating being accessible to your “customers” in the principalship?

 

  1. Don't Ignore Social Media

Did you know the Pope has 7.3 million English account followers on Twitter?

 

Social media is a great way to leverage relationships and engage our families and communicate. Remember the most important information families want to hear about is their children, not about what you are doing for their school.

 

The main take away from this message is to exercise humility and inclusiveness via social media, just as the Pope does with his tweets.

 

  1. Flatten Your Organization

One of the first orders of business for the Pope after evaluating his organizational structure was to change his own title. He changed it from “Supreme Pontiff” to the “Bishop of Rome”. Again, he switched up tradition and rearranged his team, to be less hierarchical in nature.

 

Does your leadership team and building know your vision? Do they know their roles as it relates to the implementation of your school plan? Have you designed your leadership team and responsibilities in a way that allows you to remain the visionary and chief monitor of your vision – and ultimately built upon SUSTAINABILITY? If not, you need to consider stepping back and taking the time to make sure efforts are all going toward common goals and are vision and mission aligned. Otherwise, you likely will not reach your goals for your school and most importantly, your students.

 

  1. Take Risks

This one, for us at educate4hope, really resonated. You see, Pope Francis, has taken some BIG risks early met with controversy but, without sacrificing his faith in the Catholic Doctrine. From reaching out to atheists and agnostics, to embracing and engaging women who have had abortions, the Pope’s leadership in the area of taking risks is grounded in inclusiveness. How many people might say, before Pope Francis, that they have felt shut out?

 

So, as an educational leader – what risks do you or have you taken to be inclusive of ALL staff, students and community?

 

  1. Value Input From Subordinates

Pope Francis has impacted his reach and influence by valuing all people. What does that look like in his world? Well, he switched up tradition again as he washed the feet of prisoners, women and Muslims as opposed to the tradition of only priests. He also transformed the Synod of Bishops into a decision-making body as opposed to a ceremonial body.

 

As you know, every human being in your building is value added. It is your job to embrace, engage and leverage everyone's worth and authentically value it. Many may say we have lost our way as educational leaders in valuing input from our constituents. Don’t fall victim to this practice!

 

 

For leadership case studies, infused with much more humor, written from the school and district trenches of Philadelphia and Delaware…please be sure to click below to get your free copy of the Principal Pro (while supplies last). The Principal Pro is written by best-selling author, mother of 11, and educator, Kristina Diviny-MacBury.

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Common Core, Standardized Tests, and Great Leaders … Oh My!

RE-POSTED FROM GUEST POST @ Hopestreetgroup.org
http://hopestreetgroup.org/blog/common-core-standardized-tests-and-great-leaders-oh-my/
 
Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

Pennsylvania’s own Punxsutawney Phil may have seen his shadow postponing spring weather this past February, but his shadow has no impact on the timing and schedule of the national standardized testing window for schools across the United States. The debate over which exam to use to measure student growth, drive instruction, and ensure that students are prepared for life after high school has 11 states, plus Washington D.C., using PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers), 18 states using Smarter Balanced, and several states using ASPIRE (produced by ACT) as their anti-drill-and-kill standardized test to measure our nationwide Common Core.

The Common Core movement has strong and boisterous advocates on both sides of the fence in all arenas of this politically-charged education battle. Miscommunication about the Common Core initiatives, ulterior motives and agendas of political outliers, the “uncommonness” of assessments to monitor the Common Core implementation (the names, how long they take, the cut scores that will determine achievement, etc.), technology glitches with testing administration, and the time to administer the various assessments themselves have only muddied the waters of this battle. This leaves many parents (non-formally trained as educators, as I believe all parents are educators) and community members struggling to accept and trust how the Common Core and these standardized tests can deliver what they send their children to school approximately 8 hours a day, 5 days a week to receive: a world class education, period.

And so, this Common Core battle ensues with all stakeholders weighing in thoughts, perceptions, and opinions and our schools operating every day, nearly 5 days a week, four weeks a month, 10 months a year. During those school days and within the walls of school buildings is where we can witness “great leaders” who demonstrate intentional influence, which is what separates them from complacent, compliant, or even good leaders. Great leadership is difficult to identify in any organization AT A GLANCE, especially in a school building. Peruse a school building during this standardized testing window across the nation, and it will become glaringly clear where our great principal leaders are, at the very least, the leaders who leverage the quality of intentional influence, greatly. What do I mean? I promise to be clear. For now, please read on …

Here are some common themes I have experienced as we continue to live and experience this new era:

–      As a parent, I may not understand all of the Common Core Mathematic strategies (personally, I see Facebook posts/jokes all the time from my friends about the “new Common Core math where Red + Horse = 7 Framed Kites” or some other indication that they too are frustrated that they are unable to figure out their 1st graders’ Mathematics homework).

–      As a teacher, I may be nervous about the implications of accountability and job security relative to my students performance, as well as the calibration of the accountability tools to take into consideration factors outside of my purview.

–      As a building leader, ultimate accountability, standardized assessment and overall school performance may not be new to me. However, in the era of Common Core, continuing with the status quo is no longer acceptable, tolerated, or enabled. During this painful growth-spurt in our nation’s educational development, great building principals will shine bright. Great leaders are needed in their communities to create authentic value, support, and genuine buy-in for what happens day after day in their classrooms and will happen this spring.

–      School boards, districts and State Departments of Education continue to agonize or embrace the Common Core (which assessment, no assessment, navigating the opt-out movement, etc.)

The decision on which assessment will be implemented and the political propagandizing does not take place inside our school buildings. Allowing that to permeate beyond our school doors and distract our efforts has many unintended consequences for each and every one of our students—not just some. Regardless of how you perceive the Common Core and the alleged aligned assessments, no one can deny that the shifts are motivated by the desire to prepare all students to think more critically, analytically, and problem solve. It is my belief that, both sides (and all in between) want the same outcome—for all students to be BETTER than well positioned to compete in our ever-changing world. The vehicle for that change is in the spirit of the Common Core.

Ok, remember when I promised I would be clear and requested that you please continue to read? Here is the connection I am making with building leadership and our Common Core era: A great building leader with intentional influence can and will embrace, engage, and inspire their community during this time. For example, when you step into my building, speak to my parents, or attend a community event, you know what our school vision is, and how our performance demonstrates our ability to problem solve, think critically, and be analytical (all tenants of the Common Core). You will feel and know the how and what behind what drives us to realize our mission and vision. In my building, how the school, students, or staff are being evaluated or monitored (while important) is not as important as valuing and appreciating the importance of demonstrating growth in all that we do.

Great leaders do this by developing a strategic and deliberate plan to buffer out the “noise” (or distractions, if you will) while, most importantly, creating value for the school community in wanting to embrace the “why” of the collaborative school plan. They use intentional influence in creating value for components of the plan, including implementation of the Common Core or standardized test. Great leaders leverage their influence, not to manipulate, but to inspire, focus, embrace, harness and direct their efforts toward the common goal or good for maximum impact for all of their students. Great leaders don’t just check the box as they do this; they live this in their schools. It is genuine, transparent and with this intentional influence comes the strength and trust to learn from mistakes and change direction when needed; knowing that this great leader will have the support and confidence of their entire school community to change the course if needed because they believe collectively, and completely in the “why” of their school plan.

There is no shortage of articles, books, and blogs written on the qualities of great and effective leadership: courage, humility, communication, humor, passion, charisma, accountability, relationship building, professional will, problem solving, and the list goes on. All are deservingly on the list, but the leaders who leverage intentional influence are no doubt going to separate themselves from the pack this spring. As you can expect, I couldn’t agree more with Michael McKinney as I do now, when he said, “Leadership is intentional influence,” Of course, in the end, another great quality of a great leader is …. knowing when to walk away. If you are a leader where you find yourself politically or philosophically opposed or misaligned with the core values of the upcoming standardized assessment, the Common Core agenda, or any other agenda you feel is being “imposed” upon your domain by your state, district, or school, and you cannot create value to benefit your school community with intentional influence, without genuine belief, then this is not completely authentic and to continue would be self-defeating. Such a leader needs to disengage and lead an organization that is aligned to their core values; there is room on the battlefield for everyone.

Good luck, to all the districts, schools, staff, and students who are participating in the Spring 2015 Standardized Assessments. We look forward to celebrating your accomplishments, and to leveraging the great leadership that emerges from the 2015 Common Core Standardized Assessment in moving our country’s future. After all, it is the great leaders that understand that their intentional influence and effort is not only in the best interest of their school community, but will ultimately be responsible for providing the reliable data to allow us to make informed decisions on the other side of this nationwide Common Core education battlefield!

How implementing an Alternative Dispute Resolutions process in your School can save relationships, money and improve the education of special needs students

How implementing an Alternative Dispute Resolutions process in your School can save relationships, money and improve the education of special needs students

by: Darin Knicely

For too many school administrators, the Special Education program in their school, is a thorn that they just cannot seem to shake.  In my administrative roles, I have worked feverously to change the perception of professional's views on the ability of students with special needs to increase the opportunities available.  When I entered administration, I was naïve to the fact to which my impact as a special education leader was influenced by central office administrators, state policies, and our district's litigation stance. While I will not be able to capture the full spectrum of special education litigation issues, I will make the case that you need to have an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) process at your school. Let me explain to you what I mean by ADR and why you should institute this practice in your school.

Alternative Dispute Resolutions (ADRs) are not unique to special education, but rarely used.  It is a process that various entities use to avoid hefty legal bills for issues that could be resolved without legal action. And don’t we all want that?  While I wish I could say that school law is for the lawyers, that just is not the case nor is it realistic.  As a teacher and administrator, I was consistently involved in due process complaints, settlement agreements, and legal proceedings.  This was partially because my career work focused on troubled schools which usually housed troubled special education departments with lack-luster processes and delivery.  The reality will be, as a leader, you will at some point be faced with legal action taken by a family who believes their student should be serviced differently.  On the simplest level, ADR is a policy that gives parents and advocates an avenue to bring concerns forward to be addressed at the school level, resulting in a more efficient and effective manner than the legal process.  Every parent that you can engage in the ADR process saves your organization money that can then continue to be allocated to student success.  And, in my experience, you will find that trust and relationships with your special needs parents will increase.

Getting back to money, would you be surprised to know that Federal funding for Special Education is an $11.5 billion investment? That is an increase from $7.5 billion in 2002. That increase and the funding allocation takes into account the several factors that create barriers in the education of students with disabilities. Every dollar that is appropriated from the Federal budget was designed to level the playing field for students with disabilities.  However, when the process of identifying and servicing goes awry it forces the special education instructional program to be placed at a financial and litigious disadvantage. For example, Minnesota's Department of Education reported that Special Education litigation tallied $466,532 in FY2014.  However, the report cited reflects only 19 of the 328 schools districts in Minnesota, raising further questions of the true cost of defending the special education process.  Taking into account the small sample size,  the dollar figure only calculates expenses for legal representation.  The settlement agreements that follow a litigation process listing compensatory services is not tracked because those expenses fall back into the overall special education budget.  The trouble with not tracking or accounting for compensatory services is that they are being pulled from the general special education budget. Most agreements asking for compensatory service usually seek restitution above what would be an expected cost to educate the student in question thus taxing a budget further than reasonably funded.  Now, let’s put this into terms that affects your building: 19 Minnesota school divisions spent the equivalent of 10 teacher salaries in defending a process that is well documented and should be outlaid with clear steps in procedure.  How can I make the assertion that those dollars wouldn't come out of federal special education funding? Because Federal Special Education dollars are earmarked for specific strategies that ensure the opportunity for education to students with disabilities, not the associated legal fees.  The most common account drawn  for litigation is the per pupil allocation school districts receive.  The expense to the general school budget places general education and at-risk students at a greater disadvantage due to inefficiencies in the special education process.

I hope at this point you have made the connection that each misstep made in the special education process costs you financially and costs your students opportunities. In my experience there are three typical trends found for litigating:

1) The school/district has not complied with IDEA in identification of a student with a disability and their level of need

2) The school and parent/guardian are in disagreement of what constitutes appropriate services or identification

3) The school failed to implement the IEP

However, Procedural safeguards give the parent/guardian of a student with a disability the right to seek a due process complaint if they believe any of these items have taken place. A due process complaint begins a process that may differ slightly per state, but generally follow the path found in this graphic.

Each has a specific process for resolution and if an ADR process was in place, you could save kids, relationships and use funding in a prudent manner.

This process is sound and every parent/guardian has the right to this process.  The financial concerns rise as each step through this process costs legal fees in the form of legal representation.  What I am suggesting here is to have a policy that is a step prior to a due process complaint.

This is where you may say, "Wait! I am an accessible school leader, families know they can reach out to me anytime for support." I am an accessible leader too but that did not stop parents who felt unheard by a staff member in some of my experiences from jumping over me to a legal advocate, particularly in places where an ADR process was non-existent.  Instituting an ADR process at the school level is an effort to say WE, not just me, are here to make a great learning environment for your child and we do not need a legal team to direct that passion.

With every initiative, success is achieved in the planning, communication, implementation, and monitoring, not the intention.

So, let’s get to ADR, what EXACTLY it is and the best practices associated with implementation.

First, PLAN:

Adopt and communicate a policy: Here is a school district's communication posted on the district website.

To understand the different paths of ADR visit this slide show

How do I communicate the policy? Frequently and in as many mediums as possible.  Staff presentations, Student/Parent handbook, Special Education procedure manual and the school website.

What needs to be understood by your staff:

Who takes the request for ADR? Everyone! Every staff member needs to understand that parents can bring issues and we want them to, especially early in their concern.

What documentation is needed? A log of ADRs, your responses and agreed (signed) resolutions are critical to success.

Follow through in implementation:

Who serves on the review of the ADR? You need your parent champion in special education to be involved.  Someone who understands how to listen more than they talk and can process the steps needed to be taken to resolve the concern.  If your special education department is in dire dysfunction you may want to create a stand-alone position that functions as the reviewer.  The cost savings will be far greater than the cost of the position.

Will ADR solve all of my special education department problems? No, sorry to be honest, but no.  Effective special education departments have clear policies and procedures that are implemented with fidelity.  Even greater is the sound implementation of a response to intervention framework that constantly collects, analyzes and acts on data to serve struggling students.  Add in strong instruction and a high expectation environment will put you in a great position to not need ADR on a frequent basis.

In summary, common sense is not always common practice.  Start with your purpose, you want to educate your students and parents want you to educate their children.  Common ground exists for this collaboration to be successful.  Understand that the parent/guardian has the right to trump you and take legal action. Your job is to show families that they do not need to and do not want to involve outside folks because no one cares more about their child's education than you and your staff.  Now that you are equipped with a process that can save children, relationships and appropriately….let’s get it done!

 

Common Core, Standardized Tests, and Great Leaders … Oh My!

Pennsylvania’s own Punxsutawney Phil may have seen his shadow postponing spring weather this past February, but his shadow has no impact on the timing and schedule of the national standardized testing window for schools across the United States. The debate over which exam to use to measure student growth, drive instruction, and ensure that students are prepared for life after high school has 11 states, plus Washington D.C., using PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers), 18 states using Smarter Balanced, and several states using ASPIRE (produced by ACT) as their anti-drill-and-kill standardized test to measure our nationwide Common Core. The Common Core movement has strong and boisterous advocates on both sides of the fence in all arenas of this politically-charged education battle. Miscommunication about the Common Core initiatives, ulterior motives and agendas of political outliers, the “uncommonness” of assessments to monitor the Common Core implementation (the names, how long they take, the cut scores that will determine achievement, etc.), technology glitches with testing administration, and the time to administer the various assessments themselves have only muddied the waters of this battle. This leaves many parents (non-formally trained as educators, as I believe all parents are educators) and community members struggling to accept and trust how the Common Core and these standardized tests can deliver what they send their children to school approximately 8 hours a day, 5 days a week to receive: a world class education, period.

And so, this Common Core battle ensues with all stakeholders weighing in thoughts, perceptions, and opinions and our schools operating every day, nearly 5 days a week, four weeks a month, 10 months a year. During those school days and within the walls of school buildings is where we can witness “great leaders” who demonstrate intentional influence, which is what separates them from complacent, compliant, or even good leaders. Great leadership is difficult to identify in any organization AT A GLANCE, especially in a school building. Peruse a school building during this standardized testing window across the nation, and it will become glaringly clear where our great principal leaders are, at the very least, the leaders who leverage the quality of intentional influence, greatly. What do I mean? I promise to be clear. For now, please read on …

Here are some common themes I have experienced as we continue to live and experience this new era:

  • As a parent, I may not understand all of the Common Core Mathematic strategies (personally, I see Facebook posts/jokes all the time from my friends about the “new Common Core math where Red + Horse = 7 Framed Kites” or some other indication that they too are frustrated that they are unable to figure out their 1st graders’ Mathematics homework).
  • As a teacher, I may be nervous about the implications of accountability and job security relative to my students performance, as well as the calibration of the accountability tools to take into consideration factors outside of my purview.
  • As a building leader, ultimate accountability, standardized assessment and overall school performance may not be new to me. However, in the era of Common Core, continuing with the status quo is no longer acceptable, tolerated, or enabled. During this painful growth-spurt in our nation’s educational development, great building principals will shine bright. Great leaders are needed in their communities to create authentic value, support, and genuine buy-in for what happens day after day in their classrooms and will happen this spring.
  • School boards, districts and State Departments of Education continue to agonize or embrace the Common Core (which assessment, no assessment, navigating the opt-out movement, etc.)

The decision on which assessment will be implemented and the political propagandizing does not take place inside our school buildings. Allowing that to permeate beyond our school doors and distract our efforts has many unintended consequences for each and every one of our students—not just some. Regardless of how you perceive the Common Core and the alleged aligned assessments, no one can deny that the shifts are motivated by the desire to prepare all students to think more critically, analytically, and problem solve. It is my belief that, both sides (and all in between) want the same outcome—for all students to be BETTER than well positioned to compete in our ever-changing world. The vehicle for that change is in the spirit of the Common Core.

Ok, remember when I promised I would be clear and requested that you please continue to read? Here is the connection I am making with building leadership and our Common Core era: A great building leader with intentional influence can and will embrace, engage, and inspire their community during this time. For example, when you step into my building, speak to my parents, or attend a community event, you know what our school vision is, and how our performance demonstrates our ability to problem solve, think critically, and be analytical (all tenants of the Common Core). You will feel and know the how and what behind what drives us to realize our mission and vision. In my building, how the school, students, or staff are being evaluated or monitored (while important) is not as important as valuing and appreciating the importance of demonstrating growth in all that we do.

Great leaders do this by developing a strategic and deliberate plan to buffer out the “noise” (or distractions, if you will) while, most importantly, creating value for the school community in wanting to embrace the “why” of the collaborative school plan. They use intentional influence in creating value for components of the plan, including implementation of the Common Core or standardized test. Great leaders leverage their influence, not to manipulate, but to inspire, focus, embrace, harness and direct their efforts toward the common goal or good for maximum impact for all of their students. Great leaders don’t just check the box as they do this; they live this in their schools. It is genuine, transparent and with this intentional influence comes the strength and trust to learn from mistakes and change direction when needed; knowing that this great leader will have the support and confidence of their entire school community to change the course if needed because they believe collectively, and completely in the “why” of their school plan.

There is no shortage of articles, books, and blogs written on the qualities of great and effective leadership: courage, humility, communication, humor, passion, charisma, accountability, relationship building, professional will, problem solving, and the list goes on. All are deservingly on the list, but the leaders who leverage intentional influence are no doubt going to separate themselves from the pack this spring. As you can expect, I couldn’t agree more with Michael McKinney as I do now, when he said, “Leadership is intentional influence,” Of course, in the end, another great quality of a great leader is …. knowing when to walk away. If you are a leader where you find yourself politically or philosophically opposed or misaligned with the core values of the upcoming standardized assessment, the Common Core agenda, or any other agenda you feel is being “imposed” upon your domain by your state, district, or school, and you cannot create value to benefit your school community with intentional influence, without genuine belief, then this is not completely authentic and to continue would be self-defeating. Such a leader needs to disengage and lead an organization that is aligned to their core values; there is room on the battlefield for everyone.

Good luck, to all the districts, schools, staff, and students who are participating in the Spring 2015 Standardized Assessments. We look forward to celebrating your accomplishments, and to leveraging the great leadership that emerges from the 2015 Common Core Standardized Assessment in moving our country’s future. After all, it is the great leaders that understand that their intentional influence and effort is not only in the best interest of their school community, but will ultimately be responsible for providing the reliable data to allow us to make informed decisions on the other side of this nationwide Common Core education battlefield!

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This week only, our very own Kristina MacBury is sharing her new book Principal Pro: An Authentic Leadership Playbook For Managing Crisis, Building Teams and Maximizing Resources FOR FREE! That's right, just one way Kristina can lift as she climbs and give back.

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https://www.facebook.com/educate4hope/posts/938675689506673

March 16- March 20, 2015 only... Don't miss this opportunity to build your toolkit for your school and students ... They deserve the best Principal you can be!

How to stay focused on what is important, when you’re waist high in sand!

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  At first, the image of being surrounded by sand might be appealing. Personally, being on any beach with loved ones is one of my favorite places to be, but that is not the imagery I am going for in this post. Additionally, in the era of high stakes testing, and the burden of ultimate accountability for a school’s success or failure resting squarely on the shoulders of the building leadership - not “sweating the small stuff” is a message that can be hard to swallow. Nonetheless, if you are an urban educator you do not want to feel like you live in a sauna (no matter how difficult it is to stay out of the sand some days, weeks or longer). So, let this serve as a reminder about staying focused on what is truly important, what is going to maximize the capacity and the number of blocks you can fit in your proverbial bowl, jar or bucket. Let me also state, there are many days I find it difficult to get “off the beach.”

 

Regardless of where we were in our school improvement process, I found it important to take my staff through a personal and professional goal setting activity at the beginning of every school year called everything from “Filling our Bucket” and “What’s in our Jar” to “Not Living in the Sand.” In essence this activity served to frame, present, and remind my staff of my core values and to specifically state our instructional priorities - setting the tone for the upcoming school year. As we approach the common educator fatigue months that late Fall/Winter brings (especially exasperated with daylight savings when you leave in the dark and come home in the dark), it serves as a great activity to regain traction and focus (or finally take control of the focus).

 

You can find many different interpretations and presentations of this demonstration of priorities, most of which are about time management. The following is how I adapted it to fit my leadership style. I would dramatically start with an empty glass bowl of some sort - a round fish bowl, a glass vase, or a mason jar and I would ask my staff to identify 3-5 of the most important components of their personal life, critical to their life’s fulfillment and happiness (i.e., Family, Health, Faith). I would then take 3-5 blocks to represent these critical components and fill the glass bowl to capacity. I would then say to my staff, “These blocks represent those 3- 5 priorities in your life and if all else were missing from your life, and only these blocks remained, your life would still be meaningful and fulfilled.” I would verbally share my “blocks” with my staff: Family, Health, Service/Value-Added, Integrity.

 

From there, I would add into the glass bowl marbles that would fill in the space between the large blocks, until the bowl was full of blocks and marbles; and then, finally adding in sand that would fill in the space between the marbles and blocks. With the addition of each new item, I would ask my team to consider the things in life that were important to them but not essential to life’s fulfillment. I provided examples like: work, school, and participating in sports, traveling or a hobby of some sort. These priorities were represented by the marbles in our “bowls” and then the things that were of convenience to them or materialistic (the small stuff) well…that was represented by the sand in our bowl. I then acknowledged to my staff, “If we were to fill our bowls with marbles or sand first, we would have no room for our big blocks, our priorities, the things that really mattered.” I’d like to think that I always speak from the heart, and I told my staff I cared about their Big Blocks as well and they needed to make sure their “Big Blocks” always came first, and to let me help them make sure that they made that a reality by providing support and modeling it.

 

Next, we talked about our school wide priorities for the year, our school’s Big Blocks. What was it that we were going to fill our school jar with that if we did not get any other material in our students’ glass bowls, they would be instructionally, socially and emotionally fulfilled? Then we continued with the process of identifying our marbles (the priorities, skills and achievements we would like for our students to leave with, but at the end of the day came secondary to our blocks). Then, there was our sand representing the minutia, all the things that if we put in our student’s bowls first, we would never fit in our school-wide priorities. I found this was a mighty powerful way to keep my staff motivated and on point, and a great way to keep us laser focused on our priorities throughout the school year. It also allowed great opportunities to say, “no more sand,” “not living at the beach today,” “not sweating the sand today,” “focused on my blocks,” or “are you thinking about your blocks?” These phrases often came out of my mouth when adults would attempt to engage me in discussions, requests or complaints about the need or desire to impose misaligned consequences on students or make decisions based on adult convenience over student’s needs or best interests.

 

 

Some years I would display our bowl all year long in a common place like our Main Office where staff signed in each morning to serve as constant reminder of the need to focus on and take care of our Big Blocks. I would also bring the bowl back out during our School Improvement Plan/ Action Plan monitoring sessions, a constant reminder why we set the priorities. I would like to add that there is one additional item for the traditional Prioritization Jar activity where you add a glass of water to the seemingly full bowl…my staff would often joke that should be the final component to our bowl - to demonstrate there is always room for a drink after work. Point well taken - be sure to celebrate growth and accomplishment and take some time for team building. Make sure that celebration of growth and accomplishments is minimally a marble in your glass bowl (or you can bet your message will fade by winter). Not everyone’s personal glass bowl will be the same, but everyone’s school blocks need to be identical. Take care of your blocks and stay out of the sand! May your daily acts be focused and aligned with your personal and school-wide priorities.

#settingpriorities

#EducationalLeadership

Reflective Leadership - it's not just for the health profession

Sara Horton-Deutsch writes about the necessity for effective reflective practices in health related leadership positions. The focal point is regarding the power of reflection in an era of "rapid rate of change" and the need for a "new framework" all while maximizing personal professional development and relationships. How do you connect this to educational leadership? http://www.americannursetoday.com/thinking-it-through-the-path-to-reflective-leadership/

What is Educate4Hope

Educate4hope was founded by our fundamental desire and beliefs that effective leadership coaching is the singular most effective strategy that positively influences and supports efforts of building and sustaining a legacy of academic achievement and positive school culture. The reality is, in many of our nation's school districts, eaders are not supported and professionally developed in a manner that leverages skills sets nor is it done in a collaborative, trusting fashion. Whether it is a capacity, skill set, political, or resource issue - it just doesn't happen in some systems. As a result, our systems, schools and students continue to be impacted by losing potentially GREAT people and leaders. We understand Urban Educators better than anyone and consequently, empathize with the sense of urgency in quickly realizing positive, sustainable outcomes and the challenges of working in very complex environments. Fortunately, we have learned from our challenges and been blessed with awesome experiences and professional development and we want to GIVE BACK. Thus, we have a very purposeful and intentional approach to our work and are committed to the following:

Mistakes are not welcomed here!

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Today in edutopiaDr. Richard Curwin speaks to the lack of inherent worth we as educators place on mistakes and most importantly the process of remedying mistakes. In his article It’s a Mistake Not to Use Mistakes as Part of the Learning Process, he reflects on how he has learned more from his own mistakes than successes. I whole heartedly agree as personally, not only have I learned more from my own failures (when I have had to pick up the pieces and identify specifically what, when or where I went wrong) but, from others and their behaviors or practices.  As an administrator and coach, I have learned so much from observing poor practices (please do not misunderstand, I see awesome practices as well, often).  Most importantly, I take these learnings, internalize them and share with others...so we can all benefit! We are preparing our students for jobs that have yet to be created, and for careers yet to be imagined. Carol Dweck has long identified the "growth mindset" as one that allows our children to rely on effort and grit, not natural talent for success. Understanding that working hard through the process of learning is more valuable than having the right answers will take us much farther. Our students need to have the confidence to take risks, learn from their mistakes, and not fear failure. The only way to create that mindset is to encourage risks, and a mentality that to fail is the first attempt in learning.