Thursday, November 1, 2012

Small "Houses" Make a Difference for Students

I've always been fascinated by the way schools are organized. That's because the structure of schools can create enormous possibilities for positive relationships between students and between students and teachers, can open up opportunities for powerful learning and can take large schools and create a more personalized environment. Recently I read a story about the "small house" system at Danville (IL) High School. Danville High is a school with many students from low-income families. Mobility is high. They also failed to make adequate yearly progress. So, Danville High School needed to rethink how they served students.

This story from The News-Gazette, a local newspaper serving Danville, describes the four small houses including the Freshman House designed to help 9th graders make a smooth transition from middle school. It's an interesting approach and one that has already had a positive impact on students and their experience in high school. Achievement is up. Attendance has improved. The graduation rate is the highest ever and both dropouts and suspensions have declined.

I'd enjoy hearing from you about your experience with small houses or other structures that positively impact student learning. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Students Who Challenge Us

This week ASCD has been sharing information about tools and strategies that both teachers and principals can use to work with students who challenge us. Two ASCD Smart Briefs examined the issue. Part I looked at the difficulties faced by students with "learning and behavior challenges." Part II provides resources for reaching students "struggling with far more than learning the three R's."  It's a really informative set of reports because it provides links to other resources and tools.

Here are the links to the two SmartBriefs.
     Part I -
     Part II -

ASCD's SmartBriefs are a really concise way to stay up-to-date on current educational issues. You can sign up here and will then receive a daily e-mail newsletter.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Power of Social Media to Transform Work of Principals

My friend and colleague Dr. J. Howard Johnston from the University of South Florida was recently interviewed by School Leadership Briefing, an audio journal for school administrators, about the power of social media to transform the work of a school leader. Howard and I are the author of the School Leader's Guide to Social Media recently published by Eye on Education

Here's the link to the interview. This discussion focuses on how social media provides  school leaders with new tools that can enhance communication with their school community, improve instruction and student learning, and increase productivity. Most importantly, it describes why school leaders neglect social media at their own peril. As Howard says, "the conversation about your school is going on right now. You can choose to be part of the conversation or not. But you're not going to stop the discussion."

I think you'll find the discussion fascinating and would welcome your thoughts about the benefits and challenges of social media at your school. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Importance of Vision

A couple weeks ago I was visiting Oregon GEAR UP schools and I was reminded of how important the principal's vision is in setting the direction for their school. Often a vision is thought of as just words on paper, but a vision is a dynamic roadmap for strengthening a school. I often refer to it as a compass. A compass provides direction but can also help you to get back on track when events pull you away from your vision. A compass is always on target, pointing toward "true" north.

Here are four of my favorite resources on the importance of the principal's vision and how a principal can work with their faculty and community to create a shared vision.
  • Southwest Educational Development Lab (SEDL) on the importance of vision
  • Maryland Department of Education’s website on the importance of vision.  Read the material on the “Principal’s Role in Creating a Vision.” You may find the two exercises on identifying core beliefs and creating a shared vision useful as you develop your vision for your school. 
  • Marzano Center - Setting the Direction for a School-Wide Vision 
  • Association for Middle Level Education - Read an article that discusses Peter Senge's discussion of learning communities and building shared vision.
We'd enjoy learning about your personal vision for your school and how you work with your community to nurture and sustain that vision.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Resources for New Principals.

NASSP (National Association of Secondary School Principals) recently launched an initiative to support new K-12 principals. The Center for New Principals provides a comprehensive set of tools and other resources for new principals. Click on "Special Topics of Interest for New Principals" to access a list of topics. NASSP is a member organization but many of the resources are public domain and available at this site.

One link is to a set of survival skills that discusses time management, dealing with difficult people, crisis management and seeking balance between professional and personal responsibilities.

Another link takes you to resources on school improvement. Topics include collaboration and vision, change, and data-driven decision-making.

I'm always looking for great tools and other resources for new as well as experienced principals. I'd enjoy hearing from you about resources you find helpful.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Tips for Starting the New School Year

As both a teacher and principal I recognized the importance of starting the school year on a positive note. These beginnings say a lot about your school's culture and the relationships you want to build with students, families and staff. I'm always looking for good ideas that I can use or that I can share with my teachers. This week I received an online post from Edutopia (from the George Lucas Educational Foundation) that describes 9 tips for starting the new school year. They emphasize collaborative with families, with personnel in your school and with your own Personal Learning Network (PLN). I thought I'd pass them along and hope you find them helpful.

As always I'd enjoy hearing from you about other tips you have for starting the new school year on a positive note.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Tips for New (and Experienced) Principals

The start of another school year is rapidly approaching. When I was a principal I began every year with lots of anticipation and a little bit of anxiety. I always focused on assuring that my school was a welcoming place for students, families and staff. And I was always looking for new ideas for how to get the year off to a good start.

This week I found this blog post from The Connected Principal. It provides 15 great ideas for new principals but as I read them I found them to be helpful for experienced principals as well. So, I want to share them and hope you find them helpful.

As always I would welcome your feedback and thoughts about other tips you have for the beginning of the school year.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Principal as Advocate

Whether you recognize it or not, you are an advocate, always advocating for your school and the resources you need to improve the educational experience of your students. Advocacy is often compared to public relations but is actually quite different. When a leader advocates for their school they are committed to providing information to stakeholder groups that will build support for their vision of a high performing school. It is a recognition of the importance of building networks and alliances to support their efforts.

One helpful tool is to build a "Key Communicator Network." The network, developed by the National School Public Relations Association includes several key steps.
  • Bring together a small group of trusted people who know the community. Talk with them about those whom others listen to. They may not be in formal leadership roles but communicate regularly with lots of people (barber, cab driver, supermarket checkout clerk).
  • Be sure and represent all segments of the community.
  • Invite these people to join your communication group and then ask them to meet regularly with you to provide honest, objective, information about your school.
  • Encourage them to keep their ears open for any questions or concerns community members may have about the school. It's always good to learn about issues early.
  • Establish a way to maintain communication with the group consistently throughout the year.
The most effective leaders need, and build, a network of people who provide them with accurate, timely information about their school. These same individuals can also share information with the larger community about your school's successes and your vision for your school's success. The Key Communicator Network is one way to establish two-way communication with your community. I'd enjoy learning about other ways you've found to advocate for your school and its students.

Monday, April 2, 2012

School Leader's Guide to Social Media

The explosion in use of social media has impacted schools. While many focus on some of the negatives associated with its use, there is growing evidence that social media is transforming the way students learn and interact with others in the educational environment. Like all innovations, social media technology comes with challenges. But my co-author and I have learned from principals that social media has transformed the way students interact with one another and with the world around them. These changes have a profound impact on what schools can and must do to provide an effective education for twenty-first century students.

Because social media has tremendous potential to change the way we communicate, learn and teach, we believe there is a moral and ethical obligations to teach students how to use this technology effectively, ethically, and for the greater good.

In response to this belief J. Howard Johnston and I wrote a book for school leaders that provides a useful introduction to the world of social media in schools and offers useful strategies and tools that they can immediately use in their schools. It is available from Eye on Education ( and is available in e-book format as well as in a soft cover edition.

We'd enjoy hearing from you about social media and how it has impacted your school.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A "Wiki" - Useful Planning and Meeting Tool

I must admit that I am a relative novice with social media but I'm an energetic learner and am always looking for tools that can help with some of the management tasks required of principals. Recently I've begun to use a "Wiki" for some of my classes and when I work with groups. Wiki is most often associated with Wikipedia but that is just one form of a wiki. A wiki is a website where any member can edit contributes, like projects that several people share, or for suggesting agenda items for a meeting. Some teachers use wikis in classrooms. While there are many uses, some use a wiki as a tool to have students share their work and gather feedback from others.

I created my classroom wikis at, a site that allows you to create free wikis. They are easy to create and a useful place for a committee or other group to maintain their agendas, minutes and any documents related to the work. You can limit access to the site so that only members can contribute.

I've found wikis to be useful and would enjoy hearing from you about your experience with wikis or other social media tools used by principals.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Welcoming Homeless Students

The number of homeless children in US schools continues to grow. Much of the increase is driven by the uncertain economy. Families are dealing with joblessness, less access to medical care, increased hunger and greater instability in the family unit. The nation's official poverty rate is 15.1% (2010), the highest since 1997.

Often associated with urban areas, homelessness and poverty is prevalent in rural areas as well. Rural families headed by women have a significantly higher poverty rate, generally 10% higher than other families.

Homeless children have legal protection under the McKinney-Vento Homelessness Assistance Act (1987). The law requires that state and local educational agencies assure access to school, despite one's housing circumstances. Homeless children can remain in their school of origin, even if they move into housing in another district. Schools must provide transportation to their original school and homeless students can enroll immediately even without the documents normally required of new students.

The National Center for Homeless Education offers some tips on creating a welcoming school for homeless children.
  • Welcome the student like any other new student.
  • Talk with your teachers about how to create welcoming classrooms.
  • Identify the important information that parents/families will need.
  • Maintain a supply of materials at school that are available for students who may not have them.
  • Understand your obligation about accepting the student and providing transportation if needed.
  • Talk with the family about what the student studied at their previous school.
  • Establish a place that students can complete homework either before or after school since they may not have a place where they are living.
  • Be sensitive to word choice when talking about homeless students, and their families, with others in the school and in your community.
  • Model welcoming and respectful behavior.
Additional resources for creating a welcoming environment for homeless students are available from:

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Working with Generation Y Teachers

As Baby Boomer teachers retire and are replaced by members of Generation Y (born between 1977 and 1995) we have come to appreciate that Gen Y employees have a very different set of characteristics shaped by a far different set of life experiences.

They are . . .
  • Highly educated, value education and attribute their success to education;
  • Very comfortable using technology and expect it to be available in the workplace;
  • Tend to be creative, innovative and self-confident;
  • Committed to making a difference and contributing to positive social change;
  • Want to be connected, updated and included and involved in their work;
  • Desire relationships with co-workers and supervisors;
  • Looking for opportunities for growth, challenging work and assignments and flexibility in work schedules;
  • Possess collaborative skills, are committed to team-building and expect to be held accountable.
So, what are some strategies for working with Gen Y teachers? A report from the National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality ( identified ten strategies. They include recognizing their unique qualities and how they differ from teachers born in prior generations. They also suggest:
  • establishing a shared vision and goals with Gen Y teachers
  • encouraging shared leadership
  • creating a positive, supportive and welcoming school culture
  • involve Gen Y teachers in decisions and welcome their feedback
  • value the gathering and use of data about student learning and instructional practices
  • providing open, honest and personalized support and mentoring.
I hope you find the ideas thought-provoking. While the tools are not new, the application to Gen Y teachers is different than it would be for Baby Boomers. Just as Baby Boomers changed American society, so will Gen Y. They hold tremendous potential for making a difference in the lives of American students. I'd enjoy hearing from you about your experience with Generation Y teachers.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Decision Fatigue

Recently there has been a lot of discussion about whether the time of day you make a decision impacts the quality of that decision. Well, the evidence is clear that there may be an impact. It is called decision fatigue and it describes a phenomena where the quality of one's decisions made later in the day deteriorates.

The research shows that during the day one's mental energy is depleted, particularly if you focused on complex tasks and decisions. Decision fatigue can cloud a person's judgment and explains undesirable behaviors such as losing focus during meetings, getting angry with colleagues, becoming impulsive or making decisions without consideration of the consequences.

There are things you can do to minimize the effect. They include:
  • recognizing the problem and monitoring your behavior during the day;
  • planning your day so that you schedule important meetings and decisions early in the day;
  • avoiding back-to-back meetings so that you have time to recharge your 'mental energy' between meetings;
  • taking short mental breaks;
  • sleeping on decisions and avoiding making complex decision late in the day; and
  • being clear about your goals so that you minimize the drain of energy associated with sorting through complex issues.
A Research Brief that describes this term more fully is available at the Resources page on my website at I would enjoy hearing from you about your experience with decision fatigue and ideas you may have for avoiding the impact.