Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Supporting Homeless Students and Families

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:

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Nurturing Teacher Leadership

One of a principal's most important roles is to nurture leadership skills among school staff by creating a school with a variety of leadership roles, opportunity for inquiry and reflection, and the chance to learn and develop new skills.

There are many ways to help others develop their leadership capacity. They include:
  • Inviting them to work on a project outside their area of expertise;
  • Asking them to help screen and interview new hires;
  • Encouraging them to attend district meetings with you;
  • Asking them to work with you to deal with a challenging parent or instruction issue;
  • Inviting them to lead a book study group;
  • Asking them to serve on the school leadership team;
  • Asking them to serve as a mentor for a new teacher;
  • Encouraging them to become a member of a professional organization;
  • Asking them to present information to the staff after attending a conference or other professional development activity;
  • Inviting them to maintain a journal and reflect on the "good," "bad," or "flawed" leaders they know and observe.
These ideas and others are discussed in Practical Suggestions for Developing Leadership Capacity (NASSP, 2009).

I'd enjoy hearing from you about how you work to expand the leadership capacity in your school. I'm always interested in practical ideas I can share with my students and other leaders with whom I work.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Understanding 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.
Research Brief that describes this term more fully is available at the Resources page on my website at http://ronwilliamson.com. I would enjoy hearing from you about your experience with decision fatigue and ideas you may have for avoiding the impact.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Effective Teacher Evaluation

In virtually every state changes have occurred in the teacher evaluation system. Some are very directive. Others provide options. But in nearly every case the focus is on improving accountability for student learning and providing more explicit criteria to measure teacher performance. But changes in teacher evaluation are not the only changes. Laws are also being adopted to change the evaluation system for principals and other school leaders.

I'm always looking for helpful resources that can inform the work of principals and recently found an article on eSchoolNews that identifies six steps to effective teacher development and evaluation. Three ideas stand out from the others.
  • include evidence of teaching and student learning from multiple sources
  • use information to provide constructive feedback to teachers, not shame them
  • adjust the system over time based on new evidence and feedback.
While principals legitimately struggle with the mandates around evaluation, it is critical that we recognize one of a principal's most important roles, to hire, nurture and retain high quality teachers. Sound evaluation systems support these efforts and include a way to recognize the incredible contributions that most teachers make to student learning.

I'd enjoy hearing from you about how you're dealing with the changing expectations about teacher evaluation.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Confronting Myths About Rigor

When Barbara Blackburn and I wrote Rigorous Schools and Classrooms we spent a lot of time talking about the challenges principals face as they work to improve the rigor of their schools. We began to talk about the myths that are associated with the concept of rigor and identified four of them that we think impact the way parents, teachers and administrators think about rigor.
  • Myth #1: Lots of Homework is a Sign of Rigor - For many people this is the most prevalent indicator. Many teachers are proud of the amount of homework they expect of their students. It is often built on the idea that "more is better." Unfortunately the evidence is that "more" often means doing more low-level activities, often repetition of things done earlier. Because students learn differently it is important to vary the instruction with the student and to use homework as an opportunity to deepen understanding of what has been learned.
  • Myth #2: Rigor Means Doing More - There is also a belief that students need to do more than they are currently doing. Tony Wagner of Harvard found that classrooms are often characterized by low-level, rote activity. Howard Johnston and I asked parents about rigor and found that they believe rigor is doing less but doing it more in-depth. That is often difficult for principals to reconcile when talking with teachers and other school personnel. True rigor is expecting every student to learn and perform at high levels and requires that students delve deeply into their learning, engage in critical thinking and problem solving, and be curious and imaginative.
  • Myth #3: Rigor is Not For Everyone - There is a belief that if everyone is engaging in rigorous activity, it somehow lowers standards and lessens the value. There is growing recognition that all students must be provided an opportunity for a rigorous educational experience that is more than just a set of courses. It is anchored in the belief that every student can be successful if given adequate time and sufficient support.
  • Myth #4: Providing Support Means Lessening Rigor - Rugged individualism characterizes the fourth myth. There is a belief that if students are provided, and accept support, it is a sign of weakness. We've found that providing support is an essential component of a rigorous school. Students are motivated to do well when they value what they are doing and when they believe they have a chance for success. When Howard and I talked with teachers and parents about their own rigorous experiences they invariably described the support they were provided.
I'd like to hear your reaction to these four myths and about your experience increasing the rigor of your school and classrooms. I look forward to hearing from you.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Working with Gen Y Teachers

A significant transformation is underway in American schools. As Baby Boomer teachers retire they're often replaced by members of Generation Y (born between 1977 and 1995). There is evidence that these teachers come from a far different set of experiences, experiences that motivate them differently than prior generations. Their expectations about the workplace vary as well.

Characteristics of Gen Y Employees

• 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 are not afraid of accountability;

Members of Gen Y share several characteristics. They tend to be highly educated and concerned with the quality of education. As a result they value education and “attribute their success to their educational opportunities” (Wong & Wong, 2007). They are also very comfortable using technology and avoid disconnected or technologically inferior workplaces. “They were the first generation to grow up in a society saturated with electronic technology” (Rebore & Walmsley, 2010). They tend to be creative, innovative and very self-confident and enjoy working in small groups. Significantly, they are committed to making a difference and contributing to positive social change (Carter & Carter, 2001; Shaffer, 2008; Yuva, 2007). In a study conducted for the Educational Research Service, Marx (2006) found that Gen Y teachers are committed to addressing long-standing social issues including diversity and greater inclusiveness in the workplace.

These characteristics are different from previous generations of teachers, including many administrators who come from prior generations. It is important that school leaders acknowledge the powerful motivation for change, recognize their unique learning and working style and find ways to authentically engage and involve them in school leadership. I'd enjoy hearing from you about your experience as a member of Generation Y or working with a Generation Y employee.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Time as a Resource: The School Schedule

It's the time of year when I begin to get calls from principals interested in revising their school's schedules. Lots of things drive interest in a new schedule---declining enrollment or resources, curricular changes, organizational shifts and school improvement plans. Regardless of the motivation it is critical to remember that time is a resource, albeit a finite one, and time can be used in ways that either inhibit or promote your school's instructional program.

Principals are always looking for ideal schedule. Hundreds, indeed thousands, of good schedules exist, but there is no single perfect schedule. Each schedule reflects the uniqueness of a school community, the philosophy of its teachers and administration and the priorities of its community.

So where do you begin? You start by clarifying your school's values and priorities. Virtually anything can be scheduled, but everything cannot be built into the same schedule. It's about choices. That's where priorities are so important. Take time to work with teachers and other stakeholders to clearly identify what you want to achieve with your schedule. Most importantly value collaboration. Participation in planning a schedule builds support and serves as a form of professional development. While planning make sure you have a balanced review of the options. Investigate all options and have a thorough discussion of advantages and disadvantages.

But no factor is more important than the vision that teachers and administrators hold for your school. Without a vision, and without clearly identified priorities, the schedule is nothing but a tool for organizing students and teachers. With a clear vision you can create a schedule that positively impacts students and their learning.

Here are four basic principles about scheduling.

  • Schedules reflect a school's values and priorities.
  • Most effective schedules are anchored in a shared vision.
  • A quality schedule emerges when teachers and administrators work together in its design.
  • With clear goals the schedule becomes a powerful tool to positively affect teaching and learning.

I'd enjoy hearing from you about your school's schedule and how you use it to improve the educational experience of your students.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Digital Badges Document Professional Learning

Badges are used by many organizations like the military or scouts to recognize accomplishments by their members. Physical badges are hundreds of years old but digital badges are a recent development. A new phenomenon, digital badges, is emerging as one way for educators to document their learning and qualifications. A digital badge is received after completing a learning module with established performance requirements. Upon completion individuals are awarded a "badge" that allows them to showcase their accomplishment. Proponents of badges identify four benefits.

  • Badges promote active, engaged learning because virtually all badge programs are collaborative.
  • Participating in a badges program allows you to connect with other professionals concerned with the same issues and interested in the same learning.
  • Badges are becoming another form of credentialing, of sharing the things you've learned.
  • Badges are a way to recognize people for the knowledge they have, the skills they've developed and the interests they hold.

Sites, such as Open Badges, are now available where you can aggregate your badges. This article from Purdue University describes their use of badges. Education Week recently showed how K-12 students might use badges to illustrate their skills. 2012 Digital Principal of the Year Eric Sheninger's website includes a page of the badges he's accumulated.

Digital badges are an emerging trend and an alternative to traditional professional development. I'd enjoy hearing your thoughts about "badges" and the use by educators.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Journaling - A Tool for Reflection

Ever since I became a principal I've kept a journal. I find it useful to take notes at meeting, to remind me of things I need to do and projects I need to finish. But most importantly I find that journaling is a way for me to quietly reflect about my life and my work. I'm often struck by the insights that emerge when I put pen to paper. Occasionally I'll share something that I've written but most of the time I value the privacy that the journal provides.

I recently came across some suggestions about journaling developed by Kathleen Coudle-King, a senior lecturer at the University of North Dakota and an active journaler for more than twenty years. These tips resonated with me and I hope you'll find them helpful.

  • Find a quiet, comfortable space where you can write in private.
  • Pick a certain amount of time and focus on you writing rather than worrying about wasting time.
  • Don't stick to words. Doodle, sketch or create a collage, if you prefer. Feel free to express yourself in various ways.
  • Pick a topic and focus on that. If you're having trouble thinking of something, pick a quote or something you worked on that day.
  • Don't force it. Not everyone needs to journal, and not every day. If you have other outlets for expressing yourself, use those instead of, or in addition, to journaling.
  • Use whatever tools make you comfortable. Use a journal that fits you and helps you reflect.

I've used an inexpensive composition book for my journaling. I've got a whole collection in a closet near by home office and surprise myself with how often I pick one up, read the entries, and recall the way my life has unfolded.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Blogs for School Leaders

There are incredible resources available on some of the blogs designed for principals. Here are some of my favorites.

Get Organized!
Devoted to making life easier through organization and time management this blog is written by Frank Buck author of
Get Organized! Time Management for School Leaders.

A Principal’s Reflections
NASSP Digital Principal of the Year and Principal of New Milford (NJ) High School shares his ideas about using technology to improve student learning.

Connected Principals
This site provides a forum for principals to ask questions, share ideas. Each principal has a different experience but the goal is to share best practices and engage in professional learning

Education Week Blogs
Education Week has a whole collection of blogs including leadership, technology, parents and community, charters and school choice, and rural education. They’re updated regularly and are great resources for staying up-to-date.

Even after several years of using the Internet I continue to be amazed at the rich array of resources available online. I hope you find these resources helpful and invite you to share useful resources you’ve found online.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Twitter and the School Leader

I've had a Twitter account for a couple of years but don't ever tweet. That's because I use my account almost exclusively to stay up-to-date on information that improves my work. I'm linked to some of my favorite professional organizations and favorite authors and presenters like Barbara Blackburn and Todd Whitaker. Recently, Todd (@Todd Whitaker), a well known speaker, said "Every school leader should be on Twitter. it is the very best free professional development you'll ever find." He's right. Twitter links me to some of the best ideas available for school leaders and allows me, if I choose, to share ideas and get feedback.

On Twitter you can follow other principals, check in on the latest news from groups like ASCD, eSchoolNews, NASSP, NAESP and others. Through Twitter you can link to their posts and lots of useful information.

Besides your own professional learning Twitter can be used to share information about your school. Separate from your personal account, your school can have a corporate Twitter account. That allows you greater control over the message and the image. Almost every day I learn about how school leaders use Twitter for communication. Here are some examples.

  • Share educational news and articles about your school
  • Tweet photos and brief biographies about new teachers
  • Share information about school closings due to weather
  • Post short videos of school concerts or drama presentations
  • Announce school events and meetings
  • Share the lunch menu
  • Post school sports scores and results

I found that the most difficult decision was to establish my account. After a few days I found that I returned regularly to check out what my favorites were sharing. I'd enjoy hearing from you about how you use Twitter and other forms of social media for your own professional learning or for communication.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Successful Meetings: Standards and Norms

During my career I've attended lots of meetings, some successful and some less successful. I've been fascinated by the difference in outcomes and the way some meetings engage participants and others don't. From my observations I've come to appreciate the way "norms" can shape the work, the way participants interact and ultimately the outcomes.

  • A crucial part of an effective meeting is being clear about outcomes (results) and the process you will use to achieve your outcomes. 
  • It includes basic decision like seating arrangements. If you want open discussion, try and arrange for participants to face one another, perhaps around a table or in a semi-circle. 
  • Set a firm start and end time and stick to them. That shows respect for participant's time. 
  • If the meeting is lengthy, take a break, but again, set a time and adhere to that. 
  • Ask yourself how the group will maintain a "group memory" about decisions. Plan for recording decisions on chart paper or in some other way. 
  • Use a "Parking Lot" to capture ideas that emerge but could be distracting. It allows participants to identify questions and discussion items that can be returned to later.

Perhaps my favorite tool is to have "Norms of Collaboration" that assure the use of open-edned questions, and provide everyone with an opportunity to speak. Garmston & Wellman (1999) wrote about seven norms of collaboration to help facilitate discussion. They include pausing, paraphrasing, probing gently, putting ideas on the table, presuming positive intentions, paying attention to your own needs and those of others, and pursuing a balance between advocacy and inquiry.  More information about these norms is available from the Center for Adaptive Schools.

Ultimately, successful meetings are interactive and provide for balanced participation. They don't just happen but instead are thoughtfully planned. I'd enjoy hearing from you about your ideas for conducting successful meetings.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Courage to Suspend Entire Football Team

After hearing about cyberbullying by members of the high school football team coach Matt Labrum at Union High School in Roosevelt, Utah chose to suspend the entire team and have them turn in their jerseys. They could earn back their jersey and back onto the team through community service among other things. This story from a Salt Lake City television station shares the details. The coach's letter to the team describes the plan. It's an amazing story about a coach, supported by his principal, who had the courage to take a stand against bullying. It's sent a very powerful message to the players, the rest of the student body and through the media to schools across the country.

I'd like to hear what you think about this coach and his choice to suspend the entire team and focus on building character in a positive way.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Rethinking the Structure of Your School

The structure of the school day can either support your learning program or be an impediment to its success. Too often we think of the school schedule, and other organizational arrangements, as merely a "fact of life." We take them for granted. But, in reality, they are useful tools for helping a school leader make their school a powerful place for learning. Here are a few things to consider.

  • A common way to promote collaboration in elementary school is to locate classrooms of the same grade together. Teachers can work with one another, share materials and support the work. But in one elementary school I visited each wing contained a classroom from each grade level. This arrangement provided for interaction among the grades and eased grouping and regrouping for instruction.
  • Many middle schools, and some high schools, organize teachers into instructional teams, a group of teachers who share students and have common planning time. Teams do not magically achieve results but when teachers use the majority of their common plan to work on curricular and instructional issues it can have a positive impact on student learning and school climate.
  • Some large schools organize into schools-within-a-school. Teachers often have common planning and time to work on instructional improvement. There's real evidence that small schools can positively impact student learning and sustain positive relationships among students and with adults.
  • One high school I visited in suburban Chicago reorganized departmental offices. Math and science teachers shared an office and their classrooms were adjacent. Similarly, language arts and social studies teachers shared an office and adjacent classrooms. The principal found that proximity created opportunities for teachers to learn from one another and to build relationships, relationships that led to interdisciplinary activities across content areas.

Too often the focus of a school's schedule is on the logistics of the day. More important is to take time to create a shared vision of what your schedule might achieve. Clarity about vision and purpose means that you can design a schedule to achieve that vision. Otherwise your schedule is merely a plan for the organization of students and teachers.

I'd enjoy hearing from you about the structure of your school and how you use structure to positively impact student learning.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Dealing with Rumors Spawned by Social Media

Social media is a powerful communication tool but one of its detriment is the ability to spawn rumors. Rumors spread quickly via texts, Twitter or Facebook and can quickly overwhelm a school's ability to respond. Often they take on a life of their own and, accurate or not, require some sort of response. Many school leaders are uncertain about how to respond or how to use communication tools to put the rumors to rest. The National School Public Relations Association asked that question to a group of principals and found some interesting approaches.

  • It is important to get timely and accurate information to key audiences quickly. Always make a cognitive, rather than emotional, response to rumors. Just the facts.
  • Assure students, families and communities that you are aware of the rumor, are investigating, and will deal with it so that you maintain a safe school environment.
  • Ask for specific details about any rumors that people may have heard. This will help with your assessment and response.
  • Communicate quickly when a situation happens and notify parents and community rapidly. Don't let the message, and associated rumors, get spread by neighbors of the school, by students or others.
  • Create a "Fact Check" site on your school's website and let people know that is where they can either go for information or to post a rumor and get a response.
  • Recognize the importance of redundant dissemination of information. Everyone doesn't get their information from the same source and today social media is one of the primary sources of information for many people.

I'd enjoy hearing from you about how you deal with rumors and how you respond to the ideas from the National School Public Relations Association.

Monday, September 30, 2013

College Readiness Resources

In a recent study from ACT more than 80% of students said they planned on attending college or some form of post-secondary education. But many students and their families don't do the planning necessary to realize that goal.

Several studies have identified the components of a comprehensive college readiness program. They agree on four major activities:
  • Take the Right Courses - Assure that students are taking the right courses to gain college admission. This includes taking high-level courses in middle school so that they have access to advanced courses in high school.
  • Develop Cognitive and Metacognitive Skills - While taking rigorous courses is important, students also need to develop the cognitive and metacognitive skills that will be needed to succeed in college. These include things like intellectual openness, inquisitiveness, reasoning, argumentation and proof, precision and accuracy and problem solving (Conley, 2007). Such skills are embedded in nearly all college courses.
  • Surround Students with Support for College Attendance - Assure that every student is expected to develop a postsecondary plan. Surround them with caring adults who provide the mentoring and support necessary to achieve the plan and build support for their college aspirations.
  • Plan for College Costs - While most families believe college education is important many are uncertain about the costs or how to manage the costs. Developing a plan to pay for college is a critical part of planning.
There are three helpful resources that provide greater detail on this issues. I hope you find them useful.

Pathways to College: What High Schools Can Do to Prepare Students for College Admission and Success in Higher Education

College Readiness Begins in Middle School (2005)

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Vision Letters - Setting the Course for the School Year

A friend and colleague, Barbara Blackburn, works with lots of teachers on ways to strengthen their instruction and assure that each student has a rigorous academic experience. One of her favorite tools is the Vision Letter. A Vision Letter is a way for a teacher, or principal, to think about the outcomes they want to achieve that school year. Barbara asks teachers to imagine it is the last day of school and that the year turned out to be their best ever. She then asks participants to draft an e-mail addressed to a colleague described everything that students accomplished, and ways the teacher supported student learning. Finally, she encourages people to share their letters with a colleague and to identify ways they can support one another so that this vision becomes a reality. At one school she had teachers put their letters into an envelope to be opened at the end of the school year.

You can learn more about Vision Letters in two books that Barbara and I wrote - Rigor in Your School: A Toolkit for Leaders and Rigorous Schools and Classrooms: Leading the WayBoth books have a whole collection of tools that principals can use with to build shared vision and promote collaboration.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Use a Data Night to Set Priorities for School Improvement

Recently I was working with a school near Chicago on their school improvement plan. A task force of parents, teachers and administrators revised the school's vision and then selected twenty different types of data that could be used to help identify action steps. Every member received a notebook full of data and a wiki was created so that members could share their observations and thoughts about the data.

The group held several "data nights" where they met, worked together to examine the data, discuss its implications, and assess the school's current success on each indicator. Small work groups met to continue the analysis and suggest next steps.

The data nights were helpful because they assured that everyone had the same data, had an opportunity to talk about its meaning, and to contribute to the analysis. These "data nights" helped the group move forward to develop a plan for their school's continued improvement.

A protocol for planning and conducting a data night are included in my recent book, Rigor in Your School: A Toolkit for Leaders available from Routledge/Eye on Education (www.eyeoneducation.com).

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Elevator Talk - An Advocacy Tool

There are times when you only have a brief opportunity to make a personal contact with someone, perhaps a key decision maker in your community or school district. There's an old adage that says "you only have one chance to make a good first impression." In those cases, you want to be prepared to share a personal story about your school or about an issue you care about.

These short, often no more than 30 seconds, stories are called "elevator talks" because they occur quickly, on the spur of the moment and don't last long. People tire quickly of tedious talk but they can be motivated to action by a short, engaging story about some event, some success, some person at your school. When I was a principal I quickly learned the importance of having a whole set of "elevator talks" that I could use when casually meeting parents or community members. The encounters were often in the aisles of a grocery store, in the parking lot after church, on the sidelines of a soccer game, in the stands at a basketball game or many other places. And it often started with a questions such as "how  are things going?" Each encounter provided a unique opportunity to share about my school.

Advocating for their school, for their students and staff, and for assuring that every child has an engaging academic experience is one of a principal's most important roles. And one of the most compelling ways to advocate is through the use of stories or short "elevator talks." I'd encourage you to develop your repertoire of stories and would enjoy hearing from you about your success advocating for your school.

Monday, September 16, 2013

A Force Field Analysis

I'm always looking for tools that can help teachers and principals think more deeply about an issue. My favorite tools are those that provide for solid analysis and provide an opportunity for people to work together during the analysis.

A Force Field Analysis is just such a tool and it allows a group to identify the factors working for an issue as well as those working again the issue (opposing forces). One of the benefits of the discussion is that it can help you plan for, or reduce, the impact of the opposing forces, and strengthen or reinforce the supporting forces.

Conducting a Force Field Analysis is pretty straightforward.

  • First, state the problem or the desired state in clear, concrete terms. 
  • Discuss and list the factors working for, and those working against, the desired state. 
  • Review and clarify the items to make sure there isn't repetition and overlap. 
  • Once there is agreement on the factors assign a score to each force from 1 (weak) to 5 (strong) or high, medium and low. 
  • Finally, discuss the factors and their scores. This helps to identify next steps. 

The factors working against a plan often become the focus of a plan of action. This level of analysis can  help you, as a leader, set priorities and goals. Additional information about a Force Field Analysis is available here.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Principal's Blog - Brag About Your School

One of a principal's most important roles is to advocate for their school. That includes sharing information with staff, students, families and community. Communication occurs in many ways but increasingly various forms of social media technology are used to spread the "good news" about your school.  One tool is a blog, basically a website that functions as an online journal. What's good about a blog is that you can control the content and make it what you want.

Partrick Larkin, 2012 NASSP Digital Principal, identified reasons for beginning a blog. Principals are generally pretty proud of their school. They want to share newsworthy things about students and co-curricular activities. They have great teachers who are doing great things in their classroom. And they want to improve communication with both families and community.  Once you begin your blog you can add a link from your school's website and you can share it with teachers and other staff. Here's a link to Larkin's article about how to get started. And here are some other examples of blogs maintained by school leaders.
I'd enjoy learning from you about how you communicate with families and community and what you think about starting a principal's blog.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Importance of Shared Vision

As another school year gets underway I'm 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.
I'd enjoy learning about your personal vision for your school and how you work with your community to nurture and sustain that vision.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Increasing Parent Engagement

When families are engaged with their children's school there is a positive impact on student learning, attendance and student aspirations for their future. There's a powerful connection that's been found again and again. While virtually all teachers and principals recognize the value of having parents and families engaged with their school they often struggle to figure out how to promote engagement particularly among families of limited means and those who are recent immigrants.

There's lots of evidence for building productive partnerships with parents and families. There's also a lot of really good resources available for teachers and principals to consider when developing plans to improve engagement. I recently wrote a Research Into Practice brief for principals in the Oregon GEAR UP program and after a review of the literature on family engagement identified six things to consider. The complete brief is available here and on the Oregon GEAR UP website.

Here are the six strategies that can be used to improve engagement of parents and families at your school.

1. Check Assumptions and Stereotypes – Be careful about assumptions and stereotypes about families. Most teachers and employees share a middle class background and view the role of parents through their own experience. Recognize that a diverse parent community reflects a variety of values, beliefs about the role of parents and their relationship to school, and comfort in interacting with school personnel. Often Latino and poor families feel unwanted and unwelcome in their child’s school. Be cautious about relying on training, books and other resources that makes generalizations about poor families or families of diverse cultures. Do not organize your parent engagement program around majority, middle-class norms and values. A single approach to parent engagement will not succeed with all parents.
2. Build Trusting Relationships – Personal relationships are important when working with families. Many parents are more comfortable interacting with school personnel in smaller, more intimate settings where it may be possible to share information and ask questions. Latino parents are often concerned about being dismissed due to language or cultural barriers. They are aware of the stereotypes present among school employees and other parents and may resist participating in parent activities where those stereotypes may be displayed. Identify ways to meet and talk with families at churches or community centers off campus. Your outreach must be culturally sensitive and specific to each cultural group. Similarly, parents of limited means share these concerns and resist participating in programs where involvement is measured by the economic resources you can contribute to the school.

3. Value Robust Two-Way Communication – All parents want to be active partners in their children’s education. An important part of parent engagement is their sense of efficacy, believing that they can contribute to their child’s education. The literature repeatedly discusses the importance of both learning from families about their children as well as sharing information about their children’s schooling with them. Too often school communication occurs just one way, school to family and just about problems rather than successes. Parents, particularly parents of limited means, but also parents from diverse cultures, perceive that the school may not value their knowledge about their own child. They may resist sharing information that re-enforces assumptions they believe school employees hold about their family and their child. Schools often create structures for parents to share information but those systems are built on middle-class norms about when and how to interact with the school.

4. Identify Authentic Opportunities to Learn From Families – Just as two-way communication is essential, so is creating opportunities for families of diverse backgrounds to share their knowledge and skills. Parents enjoy the opportunity to contribute their knowledge to the school’s program. Don’t rely on a parental engagement program based solely on fund-raising or other resource-based programs. Many parents are eager for an opportunity to provide leadership. Seek opportunities for Latino parents and parents of limited means to participate in decision-making groups. That may require working with community leaders to identify parents comfortable with that role.

5. Train Teachers and Other Staff – It’s important to work with teachers and other staff to become knowledgeable about the diversity present in your school community. The most effective learning occurs when members of these diverse communities are part of the training. Their involvement makes the training more authentic and signals the community that you are committed to learning about and respecting the diversity present in your school. As stated earlier, do not rely on a single book or training session to form generalizations about poor or Latino families. Those materials may only re-enforce negative assumptions and stereotypes.

6. Develop and Implement a Plan – Improving parent engagement requires an intentional plan of action. Good intentions are noble but a systematic, sustained commitment requires planning and resource allocation. The best plans are developed with parents and community. Current governance structures like the School Improvement Team or the PTO may not adequately reflect the diversity of point of view central to a successful plan. Assure that your planning team is diverse and involves each group that will be part of the plan.