Sunday, February 28, 2010

Rigorous Schools and Classrooms: Leading the Way

Suggesting that schools can become more rigorous often provokes a variety of reactions from defensiveness to outright hostility. But I believe that schools must continually strive to improve their curriculum and the quality of instruction and assessment. In my new book. Rigorous Schools and Classrooms: Leading the Way (, co-authored with Barbara Blackburn we provide a three-part definition for rigor.

Rigor is creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels, each student is supported so he or she can learn at high levels, and each student demonstrates learning at high levels.

Together these three elements provide the basis for nurturing and sustaining rigor in schools. Our focus in the book is straightforward: to provide principals and teachers with a practical guide to help make your school more rigorous. We introduce the COMPASS model, a set of 7 tools that leaders can immediately use to transform their school. They include culture, ownership and shared vision, managing data, professional development, advocacy, shared accountability, and organizational structures.

Barbara and I hope that the ideas in the book are helpful to you as you work with your community to improve your schools. Additional resources are available at or at my website ( We'd enjoy hearing from you about the book.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Creating Your Personal Vision

Having a clear sense of vision or purpose for your school is important. Besides having your own personal vision you must work collaboratively with teachers, families, staff and students to develop a clear and compelling vision for your school.

It all begins with your personal vision. That vision consists of the most fundamental beliefs about life, about your work, and about relationships with people. I suggest you use a four-step process to develop your vision statement.

Step 1: Think about your personal and professional life. Describe what you would like to achieve and the contributions you would like to make. Think of it as something already accomplished. Describe what it looks like and feels like. For example, imagine hovering in a hot air balloon over your life. Imagine your life as successful as it might be---what would you see? what would you feel? what would you hear?

Step 2: Consider your self-image, relationships, personal interests, and community based on the things you wrote in step 1. Examine each item in your draft statement to be sure it still fits.

Step 3: Develop a list of values and identify those that are most important in your life. Once this is done, review the list and rank them from most to least important. Remove the least important. Re-rank if appropriate. Check for relevance with your earlier statement. Eliminate any item that is not relevant.

Step 4: Use the items from the first three steps to develop a statement about who you are. Review and edit the statement as often as needed until you believe it accurately reflects your vision.

Final Note: The job of a principal begins with vision. If you don't have a vision, or haven't revisited it recently, you won't have a clear direction when pressures mount. I suggest that you take the time to develop your own vision and to build shared vision for your school community.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Make a Mental Adjustment

The principalship is a complex job requiring a person to juggle an incredible array of responsibilities. Principals often tell me that the weeks during the middle of the school year are particularly difficult. I've found that your attitude toward your work greatly influences your success. When I was a principal I liked to focus on positive things, rather than negative, to build momentum for success.

The following examples illustrate how you can adjust your attitude about some of the things you do every day. If you want to make a change start with the way you think about what you are doing. Focus on the positive progress you make each day, whether it is delegating a task or taking the time to mentor a potential leader. Think about your personal vision on a regular basis. Write it on an index card where you can see it regularly.

Negative Thoughts

Positive Thoughts

I’ll never have an empty inbox.

I’m cleaning out my inbox everyday.

I’ll never get caught up.

Today, I choose to make progress on my task list.

100% of our students can’t meet standards.

I’ll make a positive impact on at least one child today.

It’s impossible to keep everyone happy.

Every interaction I have with people will be sincere regarding their behavior.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Working with Families and Community

I recently completed a project at Hadley Junior High School in Glen Ellyn, IL during which the staff and parents examined their program to find ways to strengthen and enhance their services to students. Several major commitments emerged during the project. First, the planning group worked diligently to keep parents and community informed. They held a series of Town Hall Meetings where they shared information with the community and heard about their concerns. Second, they published a series of newsletters in both paper and electronic format. They are also working to create a series of videos or podcasts of critical school events (6th grade orientation) that will be available for parents. They are also committed to making these resources available to parents and families where English is not the primary language. The commitment of the Hadley community to assure that everyone (families, community, teachers, students) are informed and have an opportunity to share their ideas about their school is significant. The commitment transformed their school.