Sunday, July 31, 2011

Lead by Example

I have been continuing my learning over the weekend from the comfort of my home (and screaming children) "attending" the Reform Symposium or #RSCON3 online. Well, actually, I only got bits and pieces while chasing my kids, but I will be able to continue my learning when the archived sessions are posted online.

Fortunately, I was able to join in with Akevy Greenblatt's session: "Building A More Positive Relationship between Administrators and Teachers." This session reaffirmed what I know to be important when leading and also made me pause to reflect on my practice.

Here are some of the nuggets I took from Akevy's session:

Lead by example. If you want your teachers to use new technology, then you need to use technology. If you want your teachers to differentiate, then you need to differentiate.
I would think that my teachers would say that I do this, although I know there's always room for improvement. When we bought our first SMARTBoard 3 years ago (a portable at the time) I modeled the use of it in a staff meeting. I have read books with teachers in book studies, learning beside them. When teachers have gone to conferences, I've gone with them to continue learning with them and then ask them what they needed to implement what they learned. When we purchased a new reading assessment, I used it to assess 20 students myself. Since all of my classrooms will be implementing the Daily 5 literacy framework (and eventually Cafe)next year, I am currently teaching a summer school class and teaching with the Daily5/Cafe framework.

Put yourself on the hot seat. This again goes with the previous nugget. Akevy talked about sharing a video taped lesson of his own teaching with his staff. Now that's the hot seat! When I was an instructional coach I also shared a video-taped lesson with staff while they practiced using the new teacher evaluation tool to evaluate me. While it was the hot seat for me (who likes watching/listening to themself, let alone with staff watching too?!), but it was great practice for teachers to learn the new teaching rubric and to put myself out there and build trust with them. It is time for me to put myself on the hotspot as the I just need to figure out when/how. Have any other principals done this? How else have you put yourself on the hot seat?

Talk less, listen more. Show teachers that you value them, their concerns and what they have to say. I have always been a fast paced person and don't feel there's time for "chit chat." Over time, I have learned that this is a weakness and that as the leader, it is essential to take time to build relationships and spend time listening to staff. A couple of books that I have found to be great reads for professional growth in this area are: People First! The School Leader's Guide to Building and Cultivating Relationships with Teachers and Fierce Conversations.

Give teachers freedom, empower them, give them autonomy. Give them the freedom to take risks and try things on their own. This is an area that I hope my teachers would say I do. It is because of allowing a teacher to take a risk that we are now going school-wide with Daily 5 next year. I can't think of a time when I have ever said no to a teacher if they can tell me why their idea is good for student learning.

Ultimately, a teacher-failure is a teacher-failed by his/her principal. This is SO true. As a principal I have had to have some difficult conversations and despite how uncomfortable and hard those conversations are, the only regrets I have ever had is in how long I waited to finally have that conversation. In Fierce Conversations Scott says, "I have not yet witnessed a spontaneous recovery from incompetence." Another quote from Scott that has really struck a chord with me is, "What are you pretending not to know?" It is my job as the leader to provide teachers with the necessary feedback to impact learning.

Don't sugarcoat it! Give candid, evidence-based feedback to teachers and provide robust, follow-up support.
This just piggy backs the above thoughts. When I receive feedback, I don't want it to be sugarcoated, I want real feedback so that I can learn and improve. Susan Scott states, "most people want to hear the truth, even if it is unpalatable" and "There is something within us that responds deeply to people who level with us." We have been taught since we were children "if you don't have anything nice to say then don't say anything at all" so it's only normal to avoid giving someone real, honest feedback. Unfortunately, it does no good for anyone (teachers or students) if we do not give real feedback. In addition to evidence-based feedback, I feel it is necessary to also offer support.


  1. Jessica - I can't agree more with your post! What a great talk he gave. I missed the first half (chasing kids, etc...), but I enjoyed what I heard / saw. Our jobs are not easy ones, but we can sure make a huge positive difference in the learning of staff and, in turn, students if we do what needs to be done: take risks, trust, encourage, build relationships, be honest, be courageous to have those difficult conversations and to put ourselves on the hot seat! You are doing a fabulous job! I look forward to hearing more about your goals and how you are going to reach them.

  2. Terrific post! We expect our teachers to be good role models for their students, so we must be good role models for the staff - especially in how we treat people. If we expect staff members to treat children with respect, then they must feel the respect from us administrators.

    I am looking for something new and motivating to share or do with my staff during our "welcome back" faculty meeting. Something to start the year off on a good feeling. Do you or does anyone have any ideas to share?


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