Instructional Rounds & Inter-Rater Reliability

Radiologists are trained to look at very specific sources of data— MRIs, CT scans, and x-rays, among others—and provide accurate judgments about what they see.

As instructional leaders, we aspire to do the same in classroom observations. But can we?

If you show the same image to half a dozen radiologists, there should be substantial inter-rater reliability on the question of whether:

  • Everything is normal, or
  • Something is definitely wrong, or
  • More information is needed due to ambiguities

In radiology, measuring inter-rater reliability in radiology is both possible and essential. But achieving rock-solid inter-rater reliability isn’t always possible.

Is the same true in instructional leadership and supervision? The increasingly popular practice of “instructional rounds” provides some critical clues.

Rounds Isn’t Radiology

Can we achieve inter-rater reliability in teacher observations? This is an issue of growing importance, because many school districts are convening principals—as a form of professional development—for instructional rounds visits focused on calibrating observation ratings.

Other districts are using non-school-based observers to provide a second rating when a teacher receives an unfavorable review—much like a hospital showing an MRI to another radiologist for second opinion.

If we’re going to conduct high-stakes teacher evaluations, the thinking goes, they need to be valid and reliable, and inter-rater reliability is a strong indicator that an evaluator is being fair.

How is it working for our profession? Is the “rounds” model holding up? Does the “second opinion” add value?

First, we need to understand what medical rounds are. When conducting rounds, doctors discuss all of the available information about the patient, not just a single source of data like an MRI.

Second, while I’m no doctor, I suspect that if you asked a group of physicians how well their rounds achieve inter-rater reliability, you’d be met with a puzzled look. An accurate diagnosis leading to an effective course of treatment—not inter-rater reliability—is the goal of medical rounds.

And yet in the instructional rounds process, we’ve been stretching one-shot classroom observations beyond what they’re capable of telling us.

In short, we’ve been treating classroom observations like MRIs.

Inter-Rater Reliability and Instructional Leadership’s “MRI”

The “MRI” for teaching is the classroom observation. There’s no doubt—when leaders convene to hold instructional rounds, the “image” they’re looking at is a lesson or part of a lesson.

Typically, instructional rounds works like this: A group visits a classroom, observes for a while, then departs to discuss what they saw (with or without looping in the teacher they observed).

There are variations on the process, but at the core of rounds is a classroom observation by a group of outsiders, escorted by the teacher’s supervisor.

We’d like to believe that a single observation can yield precise insights about a teacher’s strengths and weaknesses, especially if we put our heads together. We’d like to believe that we’re radiologists looking at an MRI. Because we all have evidence, and we can compare notes, we think we’re like radiologists all looking at the same CT scan.

Does the instructional rounds process turn us into the educational equivalent of radiologists?

No—or if it does, only in a very narrow sense. Observing a lesson is simply the tip of the iceberg of teaching practice.

Missing Context

When we attempt the rounds process, we’re typically working with relatively little information—the information we can ascertain from observing a lesson.

For certain topics, this isn’t a problem. If you want to see how well the teacher uses a certain questioning strategy, or how he handles student behavior, and if the lesson gives you the opportunity to see what you came to see, rounds can be productive.

If you all observe the teacher using a questioning strategy, it’s reasonable to work toward some degree of consensus about the effectiveness of the practice you observed.

But it’s entirely unreasonable to expect to come to consensus about the teacher’s overall effectiveness. It’s simply too broad a question for the narrow data available. Bringing along more observers doesn’t help.

To make broader judgments, we need richer data. High-performance instructional leaders have more information, which isn’t readily available to a team of outsiders. They’re in classrooms daily, and in every classroom every two weeks. This provides enormously helpful context for what happens in an observed lesson, and makes the available evidence much more useful.

If you’re doing rounds, make sure you aren’t mining your observations for insights they can’t provide. And if you’re using outside observers, make sure they spend enough time in the classroom to have meaningful context for what they see during formal observations.

A Better Goal

Inter-rater reliability is only a useful construct when each of the raters have sufficient information. Otherwise, they’re achieving precision without accuracy—producing tightly clustered ratings that, while close to each other, miss the mark.

But what can be gained from having half a dozen or more observers discuss what they see in a lesson? Plenty.

Even with incomplete information, a rounds team can benefit from using the language of their shared instructional framework to discuss the teaching practice they observed.

The problem? The team won’t always get the information they hope to gather on a specific topic.

If no students misbehave (good!), they won’t see how the teacher responds to misbehavior. If the teacher doesn’t use the preferred questioning strategy during the observed lesson, there’s simply no evidence to discuss.

With those factors in mind, here are four recommendations for getting more out of instructional rounds—instead of trying to achieve inter-rater reliability.

Four Ways To Get More From Instructional Rounds

1. Go in with open eyes
Don’t expect to see a particular strategy at a particular time, unless it’s a strategy that should be used every single day in every single lesson.

Instead, stay attuned to what the teacher is trying to accomplish with the lesson. That’s a much fairer basis for judging the effectiveness of a lesson, and will lead to much more relevant discussions.

2. Record evidence in the language of your instructional framework
The more familiar you are with your framework, the more you’ll be able to capture salient points in your notes. Better evidence will make for a better discussion afterward.

3. Choose a focus with plenty of evidence
Don’t start your discussion with “warm” and “cool” feedback. Unless it was an unmitigated disaster, you probably have very little basis for drawing an overall conclusion. The effectiveness of a lesson depends on what happened before and after the lesson, which you don’t get to see in a brief visit.

Instead, start your discussion by looking closely at your instructional framework. What elements seems most salient, given what you observed? Where do you have the most—or the most interesting—evidence to discuss?

4. Look for descriptors of practice

This is where the “calibration” discussion can become productive. Once you’ve decided what you actually have enough evidence on, you can seek to align that evidence with your evaluation rubric or instructional framework.

In the better frameworks, like Danielson’s, you’ll find leveled descriptors of each practice, so you’ll have a reference point other than personal opinions.

Remember, you’re calibrating the way you match evidence to the rubric, not calibrating your judgments of the teacher’s overall performance. You didn’t see the teacher’s overall performance—this is radiology, not true medical rounds.

Toward Better Professional Development for Instructional Leaders

The rounds process can be powerful if we keep our focus on the right goals. It should be a part of every principal’s professional development.

But even more important is getting administrators into their own teachers’ classrooms more often. That’s why I created the 21-Day Instructional Leadership Challenge, which to date has helped more than 3,200 administrators in 50 countries develop the daily habit of providing evidence-rich feedback to their teachers.

If you’re interested in bringing the Challenge to your district, please get in touch. It’s a free program that anyone can join at any time, and if you’d like to bring me out to kick things off, contact me for rates and availability.

Key Practices of High-Performance Instructional Leaders

What does it mean to be an instructional leader?

Too many definitions contrast instructional leadership with “mere” management, as if the management work that administrators do isn’t related to teaching and learning. I believe that it’s all connected, and that an effective instructional leader is also an effective building manager who ensures that everyone has what they need to succeed in teaching and learning.

Instructional leadership is more than being a school leader who focuses on teaching and learning—though that’s certainly crucial. We’ve all known administrators who focused too sharply on instruction, and lacked the leadership perspective necessary for leading a healthy school culture. Effective leaders are balanced in their focus, but there’s more to consider.

As administrators, we’re not the only leaders in our schools—far from it.

Formal staff leaders, like teachers who serve on committees, are leaders, but so are teachers who strive to make things better, and who take initiative even if it’s not noticed.

Students, too, can be instructional leaders, setting goals, working toward standards, and contributing to a culture of excellence.

We need to define instructional leadership broadly enough to include all of its manifestations in our schools.

Even so, what do high-performance instructional leaders actually do?

Three Key Practices

High-performance instructional leaders—whether they’re formal leaders like administrators, informal teacher leaders, or students—engage in three key practices.

Think about what each of these practices might look like for administrators, teachers, other staff, and students:

  • Listening with the Language of Learning
  • Making Decisions in Dialogue
  • Building Systems for High Performance

Let’s take a closer look at each of these practices.

Listening with the Language of Learning

As administrators, we’re trained to tell—to give feedback, to set expectations, to delegate tasks, to communicate a vision—but we’re not conditioned to listen.

As anyone who’s ever been in a relationship can affirm, listening matters. It serves as a sign of caring, and as the saying goes:

Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.
—Attributed to Teddy Roosevelt

But listening also matters in a very practical sense, because it provides information. Leaders who insulate themselves from critical information quickly start to make bad decisions.

And yet it’s not enough to listen to whatever anyone has to say, because we’ll hear a great deal that could take us off-course.

High-performance instructional leaders listen with a particular set of ears, attuned to a specific, shared framework.

One such framework is your teacher evaluation and growth model, whether it’s based on Charlotte Danielson’s work, a state framework, or a model developed locally.

A shared instructional framework identifies effective practice and distinguishes it from ineffective practice, as clearly and specifically as possible.

When you have a shared vocabulary for professional practice, you can listen for and respond to that vocabulary in a way that advances practice.

This is very different from using jargon as a way of implying consensus. Phrases like “what’s best for kids” and “research-based practice” are often used to end discussions and silence disagreement, without offering any substance or doing anything to build instructional leadership capacity.

For students, listening with the language of learning involves knowing and working toward standards, whether those are state standards, content-area standards specific to a course, or other agreed-upon aims. When students know what they’re working toward, they’re able to take greater ownership of the learning process, and more able to contribute to the organization’s instructional leadership capacity.

Making Decisions In Dialogue

Leaders are called upon to make decisions all day, every day. And yet, the leader who makes decisions autocratically will soon burn through their staff’s goodwill and trust.

There is no single best type of decision-making that should be used in all circumstances. Some situations require speed and decisiveness—how to handle a safety crisis, for example—while others demand careful discussion, deliberation, and consensus-building.

Still other decisions fall somewhere in between on the spectrum from autocratic to inclusive. If there’s no single best approach, what should leaders do?

High-performance instructional leaders operate with an extraordinary degree of transparency about decision-making. They develop, with staff, a matrix delineating the method by which different types of decisions will be made, and specifying whether and how everyone will be involved, consulted, or informed.

Wise leaders also recognize that some situations that appear to call for a decision are in fact polarities, in which there exist healthy, dynamic tensions that need to be managed carefully. This, too, calls for dialogue and transparency in order to create clarity.

Then, once the situation has been grasped, managed, and communicated, high-performance instructional leaders keep solved problems solved by creating systems that ensure effectiveness, efficiency, and consistency.

Building Systems for High Performance

Sustained high performance involves three factors:

  • Strategy determines our effectiveness
  • Tools increase our efficiency
  • Habits create consistency and build the muscle we need for high performance

I call this the High Performance Triangle:
high-performance-triangle-1

While implementing sound strategy consistently is an obvious goal, we often ignore the question of efficiency. If we’re willing to work hard, why bother thinking about efficiency?

At its core, inefficiency is waste—wasted resources, and wasted opportunities.

If teachers are scoring formative assessments by hand instead of taking advantage of their BYOD program to allow technology to help, they’re missing crucial opportunities to obtain timely feedback about their teaching.

If a principal is taking handwritten notes on a legal pad, and not keeping organized, digital documentation of classroom visits, the observation and evaluation process will achieve less than it otherwise could.

But when sound strategies are articulated clearly, implemented efficiently with the right tools, and installed as personal or organizational habits, the capacity for high-performance instructional leadership emerges.

It’s a story that has played out in countless schools around the world. It’s a story that can unfold in your school or district.

If you’re interested in bringing this message to your instructional leaders through an onsite or virtual presentation, please contact me to discuss how we might work together.

Why Instructional Leaders Must Stop Propagating Fear of Accountability

Teachers are the backbone of the education profession, and we need talented, committed people to work with our students. So I was dismayed to hear Global Teacher Prize winner Nancie Atwell advising creative, smart young people to avoid the teaching profession.

From a CNN interview:

“Public school teachers are so constrained right now by the common core standards and the tests that are developed to monitor what teachers are doing with them,” she said. “If you’re a creative, smart young person, I don’t think this is the time to go into teaching unless an independent school would suit you.”

I believe strongly in teacher professionalism as the foundation of public education (and most other forms of education, for that matter).

So it pains me to hear that teachers are being pressured to teach in ways they know are bad for students, e.g. spending excessive time on test prep, teaching short passages instead of whole books (because that’s what is on the test), and committing all kinds of educational malpractice in the name of “achievement” (test scores).

Here’s the thing: I don’t blame the Common Core State Standards. I don’t blame PARCC or SBAC.

We’ve had standards and standardized tests for as long as I’ve been an educator, and the new standards and tests are the best we’ve ever had. They’re clearer, better-designed, and more rigorous. But the fact that they’re being used across the country is giving people a common focal point for their fear and discontent.

Because CCSS and the new tests are new and more rigorous, educators and parents are panicking about lower scores, and responding to this panic in ways that are deeply damaging to the profession—and, more to the point, harmful to students.

Since there’s no single organization responsible for educating the public about CCSS, PARCC, or SBAC, it’s understandable that the public would have a certain amount of trepidation about major changes in what students are taught and how they’re assessed.

But as instructional leaders, we don’t have the same excuse. We know the standards, we know the tests, and we know they’re better. We know the accountability measures in place aren’t as bad as they’re perceived to be.

And yet we’re still overreacting to perceived pressures, forcing teachers and students to pay the price for our ignorance and fear, and allowing the public to persist in false beliefs.

A Reality Check

What’s the legislative reality on accountability?

The money Race to the Top offered to states prompted a great deal of poorly designed state legislation on teacher and principal evaluations. We’re experiencing the consequences of that poor legislation now, with administrators and teachers being evaluated on student test scores that they—demonstrably—have little influence over.

The accountability regime in place in the US dates back to the original No Child Left Behind Act, which was the 2001 reauthorization of the 1965 Elementary & Secondary Education Act. It requires drastic intervention for the lowest-performing schools, and I think we can agree that sometimes that’s necessary.

Some of the most draconian and ill-conceived features of this accountability regime have been scaled back, and there is actually very little top-down punitive accountability in place today, at least at the state and federal levels.

But there’s fear. Oh, is there ever fear.

And as instructional leaders, it’s our job to stop propagating this fear.

No public school teacher has ever been fired for low standardized test scores. Seriously. If I’m wrong, post a comment with a link.

Only a handful of schools in the entire country—most of which had persistent management and staffing problems for years, if not decades—have been closed or reconstituted under NCLB.

Yet the fear of these possibilities is driving all kinds of educational malpractice:

  • Spending weeks and months on test prep
  • Avoiding high-quality, authentic learning activities—like reading great books—in favor of test-prep materials
  • Telling teachers what they should be doing, instead of asking our best teachers what best practice looks like, and making it the norm

It’s on this last point that I’m most convinced we need to make a shift as instructional leaders: we need to listen to our best teachers.

Turning Scaffolds Into Cages

We’re seeing so many ill-conceived responses to accountability precisely because administrators don’t know what to do. We don’t know how to teach students in ways that will help them meet dramatically more rigorous standards, so we force teachers to do things that we hope will work.

Most of the time, though, we pressure teachers into doing whatever turns bad instruction into mediocre instruction. We focus on our “scaffolding” strategies that we know are helpful for new teachers, to solve the most basic challenges.

If someone is completely overwhelmed as a teacher, we can give them some supports like lesson scripts that will keep them afloat.

But those same supports and strategies won’t take us from good to great—and they’ll take many teachers from great to mediocre.

Is a 20-year veteran who’s a master teacher going to do better with scripted lessons? I hope not. (If so, well, that’s a humbling reality check of its own.)

Let me share a better vision from my own experience as an instructional leader.

How “Scripted Curriculum” Is Supposed To Work

Some of the best teachers I’ve ever worked with were masters at Writing Workshop, following Lucy Calkins’ curriculum from Teachers College at Columbia University.

Lucy’s materials are highly scripted. They tell you exactly what to say, how long to make your lesson, what to look for in students’ work, and what to say to guide students to improve their writing.

And yet, teaching writing is an incredibly challenging professional skill. We can’t crank out minimum-wage teacher-bots and expect them to pull it off. Even for smart, well-educated teachers, teaching writing workshop hard.

Lucy and her team at Teachers College have figured it out. They’ve developed a system that works for all students, and they’ve shared it with tens of thousands of teachers around the globe.

But this system—this “scripted” curriculum—doesn’t replace teachers’ professional expertise or judgment. Like a scaffold, it supports them in developing their expertise, until they no longer need the scaffold.

Master teachers of Writing Workshop tend to say similar things. Their lessons look and sound similar. But they exercise tremendous autonomy and professional judgment; if kids need something that isn’t in the curriculum, they get it.

In Writing Workshop, teachers are quickly challenged to write their own units, once they’ve mastered the skill—which most do, thanks to the powerful scaffolding they receive.

The mistake we make as administrators is to turn the scaffold into a cage. Even worse, we don’t provide the scaffolds teachers need to develop new skills, and simply box them into cage after cage.

We make this mistake because we don’t listen to our best teachers.

Effective Instructional Leaders Listen to Teachers

If you want to be a more effective instructional leader—if you want to have a school where students learn, where teachers enjoy their work, and where great things are happening—listen to your best teachers.

And a strange thing will happen: they won’t suggest terrible ideas like teaching test-prep passages instead of whole books. They won’t turn scaffolds into cages. They won’t commit educational malpractice in the name of accountability pressure.

And if you think there’s something better out there, some new practice that will transform your school, don’t go buy it and tell your teachers to get on board. Send your best teachers to evaluate it, pilot it if they’re interested, and make the decision with you.

Your Story

If you’re a teacher, administrator, or other educator, I’d like to hear from you what’s happening in the field. I’d like to hear your story.

Where is accountability pressure leading us astray? How could we respond better?

Leave a comment below, with a pseudonym if you’d like (please use a real email address, which won’t be made public).

I’m convinced that we can do better, and we already know how. We just need to listen.

Dan Ariely’s Reddit AMA—My Favorite Quotes

Cognitive psychologist Dan Ariely is one of my favorite decision scientists, and he’s recently taken an interest in time management—one of the most challenging decision-making issues we all face each day.

So I was delighted to see that he did an “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) on the social network Reddit recently.

Here are my favorite quotes from his responses to the dozens of questions he received, mostly about time management but also venturing into statistics, decision-making, and behavior change:

# # #

Emotions are nature’s way of executing a command. Imagine you’re in the jungle and you see a tiger. What nature wants you to do is run as fast as possible without thinking. And emotions have evolved as a way of getting us to behave in specific ways, even if not perfect or rational. #

I think that looking constantly at other couples and other people and comparing yourself to them is certainly not a good way to find happiness. It is a way to maximize counterfactual thinking (thinking about what could have been). #

The world has a lot of “randomness”, and to make good decisions we have to understand the nature of Probability and Randomness. #

Your “productive hours” are very important. Think about when those are, and then practice maniacal devotion to work during those hours. Some people are night hawks, but most are not. #

Sometimes, putting yourself in the position of an external advisor and asking yourself what advice you’d give to someone else in the same situation can be a useful way to reason more calmly and make better decisions. #

One of the saddest mistakes in time management is the propensity of people to spend the two most productive hours of their day on things that don’t require high cognitive capacity (like social media). If we could salvage those precious hours, most of us would be much more successful in accomplishing what we truly want. #

[I]f we change the environment in which people operate, we can drive better behaviors. #

Lots of people think that they get an extra boost of focusing and productivity when they are close to the deadline — but it turns out that this is an illusion and in reality they are not getting any better. #

For lots of undesirable behaviors it helps to have a rule. Think about something like “no drinking,” “no dessert unless it is the weekend,” etc.
Rules help us figure out when we are doing the right thing and when we are not, and this way it helps us behave better. #

# # #

Dan Ariely is Professor of Behavioral Economics at Duke and Co-Founder and Chief Behavioral Officer at Timeful, a time and task management app for iOS. He is the author of Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions.

Look for New Articles at PrincipalCenter.com

I’ve decided to move the majority of my future writing to PrincipalCenter.com, which we’ve been updating this year and hope to have finished in the next month or so.

Most of this change has been behind-the-scenes since February (when we switched from Drupal to WordPress), but you’ll see more visible changes at The Principal Center when we finalize our new design.

If you’re signed up for email updates, don’t worry—you won’t miss a thing.

If you subscribe by RSS, please update your feed subscription to point to http://www.principalcenter.com or http://www.principalcenter.com/feed (either will work in Feedly).

Eduleadership.org will live on, but I’ll be using it more for personal updates such as speaking announcements, occasional op-ed pieces, technical notes, and other tangential articles. My articles on productivity and instructional leadership will be appearing at PrincipalCenter.com from now on.

Thanks for being a reader!

Dear Michael Hyatt: Lean In

Hyatt-mastermind

Last week, author and entrepreneur Michael Hyatt made a surprising announcement: he’s offering a high-end coaching “mastermind” program for a select group of 15 people.

That’s not the surprising part; many consultants and thought leaders offer these types of groups, usually for an annual fee in the low five figures, and including a combination of monthly online and quarterly in-person meetings.

The surprising part is who’s eligible: married men in their 30s and 40s who earn north of $250,000 per year.

Who’s not: women, at any stage in their career, regardless of income, past success, or other qualifications.

The Wrong Kind of Discrimination

I understand Hyatt’s desire to make this a high level group, which requires being discriminating. But it doesn’t require discrimination.

I understand the income requirement, because entrepreneurs at different stages of their business development face different challenges, and deserve to have their dilemmas considered by a peer group that is operating at the same level.

That’s a big part of what they are paying for, just as you’d expect your peers in college to have similar academic qualifications so your courses aren’t too focused on remediation. Plus, if the program is going to be expensive, it’s reasonable to impose an income restriction so that the participation fee isn’t too burdensome.

But what about the other requirements? I’ll ignore the age restriction; since everyone goes through their 30s and 40s at some point, this doesn’t permanently exclude any particular segment of the population.

But married men only? I understand the value of focusing on people in a particular life situation in a church-based mentoring group, or really in any personal pursuit.

But this is business. This is the professional world.

Sure, there may be benefits to a male-only group, but do they outweigh the harm of discrimination?

Hyatt’s Justification

In the business world, it’s pretty rare to see any kind of program limited to men. It seems like a throwback to the Mad Men days.

Hyatt’s explanation is that, since he is devoting personal time and attention to this group, he wants to focus on the people he can help the most, which he believes to be married men in their 30s and 40s above a certain income threshold, and he wants to provide mentoring that goes beyond business:

It won’t be for everyone. The group will be intensive and very limited. I’m going to be dedicating a lot of my time and energy, and I have to focus where I believe I can help members the most.

…this is not strictly a business mastermind. As I explained in the post, what makes this unique is that we will be dealing with issues outside of the work arena like personal health, marriage, family, etc. While there is definitely overlap between the genders on these issues, I want to be able to address these without that being a consideration.

If women want to offer similar groups for women, he reasons, they are certainly free to do so, and in fact Hyatt has provided tips for starting such groups on his website.

A Basic Civil Rights Issue

As I read Hyatt’s explanation of the requirements, and his defense of those requirements in the comments on his blog post, I had an eerie feeling, and thought, “I bet this sounds awfully familiar to African American people.”

In 1964, the United States outlawed discrimination based on “race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.” For 50 years, it has been illegal to discriminate based on race or gender in hiring decisions.

And it’s illegal to deny people access to “public accommodations,” such as restaurants and restrooms—even those that are privately owned.

In the rest of the private sector, though, one is free to choose one’s own customers and business associates, even if that means explicitly practicing racial or gender discrimination.

Hyatt seems comfortable with the latter, confident in the belief that women will fill the gap for other women.

The only problem is, it doesn’t work that way. As anyone who has read Sheryl Sandberg’s best-selling book Lean In knows, this type of discrimination has a negative effect not only on the women who are left out, but on society as a whole, which suffers from the inequality experienced by women and other groups.

The Harm Is In The Message

The symbolic power of Hyatt’s decision to exclude women is, of course, much more significant than its practical effect. He’s not just leaving out the handful of women who would otherwise have benefitted; he’s sending the message to women that “separate but equal” is good enough for them.

(The Supreme Court ruled that separate but equal schools were a myth—that’s why school segregation was ended.)

Even worse, he’s sending the message to men that it’s no big deal that the boys’ club is alive and well.

Leaning Out

Even seemingly benign efforts, like informal mentoring groups that meet over dinner, have a negative effect, whether they exclude women officially, or just in practice. To offer a men-only business program is incomprehensible in modern society.

Imagine, for a moment, that BMW released a sports car and announced that only men could purchase it.

Imagine that Harvard begin offering an MBA program available only to men.

Imagine a senior politician announcing that he would only except male interns.

The public outcry would be swift and furious.

Yet when a public figure of Michael Hyatt’s stature does exactly the same thing, he’s congratulated by dozens of his closest fans and business associates, many of whom have made tens of thousands of dollars from their association with his brand, and many more of whom hope to do so in the future.

Don’t get me wrong: Hyatt’s business is his own, and he is free to offer his services to whomever he sees fit.

But the excuse that, technically, the Civil Rights Act doesn’t apply—that’s pretty sad.

Even If Racial Discrimination Is Worse, Gender Discrimination Is Wrong Too

I challenge you to re-read Hyatt’s explanation, and substitute race for gender in his remarks.

The arguments ring pretty hollow when you make the substitution:

“In marketing, this is called niching. I am simply focusing on a market segment I feel the most qualified—and called—to serve. This does not make African Americans second-class citizens, any more than a African American professional organization somehow makes caucasians second-class citizens.”

Of course, he didn’t say that. His comment was about gender, not race.

Of course he’d never make such racially discriminatory business decisions or remarks. Why, then, the disregard for women?

Did the Civil Rights Act ban both gender- and race-based discrimination even though one them is OK? Of course not. They’re both wrong.

I have no doubt that most of Hyatt’s experience is working with white people, so it’s probably fair to say that he is better “qualified” to meet the needs of white people than other groups.

I have no doubt that an all-white mastermind group would have more in common than a racially diverse group.

It might be preferable for those involved, but would it be right?

Of course not.

And a business program that excludes women is wrong, too.

Visionaries with Blind Spots

It boggles the mind that a public figure of Michael’s intelligence and standing would make such a poorly considered decision. It’s tone-deaf at best, and offensive and harmful at worst.

And yes, of course it’s his business and he can do whatever he wants, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best course of action.

I am not questioning Michael’s intentions, but I do question the wisdom of this decision. I believe it comes from a lack of perspective, which is the result of being surrounded and insulated by excessively “like-minded” people—people who’d never patronize a business that discriminated against African Americans, yet don’t see any problem discriminating against women.

If your business meets the needs of one segment of the population better than others, that’s fine (and inevitable). That doesn’t give you the right to categorically exclude people from being your customers, simply because they’re a member of another group. That’s their decision, just as it’s your decision whether to subscribe to a women’s magazine.

Subtle Discrimination Is Still Discrimination

If anyone is offended by my comparison of racial and gender discrimination, I have to conclude that they’re pretty ignorant of what discrimination has come to look like over the past 50 years. It’s shifted from overt cruelty (though of course that still exists) to a subtle closing of doors.

It’s shifted from sin of commission to a sin of omission. Today, discrimination is often about leaving other people out because they are different, and not even noticing.

I don’t think Hyatt or anyone who has commented in his defense would ever commit an intentional act of racial discrimination. I don’t question anyone’s motives, intentions, or hearts.

But when a door is slammed in your face, it doesn’t matter all that much whether the person who slammed it had a good reason. Maybe they just didn’t see you standing there, but the effect is the same: You’re left out in the cold.

It concerns me that Hyatt is surrounded by such an echo chamber, and I hope that he is also seeking the counsel of wise people who do not have a financial interest in telling him what they think he wants to hear. To be blunt, if none of his trusted advisors told him this was a terrible idea, he has far too narrow a group of trusted advisors.

As far as I’m aware, there is no law prohibiting this kind of discrimination in private businesses like Hyatt’s.

But there shouldn’t need to be. It’s so obviously wrong that it’s embarrassing that Hyatt didn’t see the problem.

Do The Right Thing

Mike, do the right thing. Send the right message to your audience. And own this mistake while you can.

The First App To Buy After Upgrading to iOS 8

When the email came in, I actually did a little happy dance. Forgive me for being excited, but it’s a big moment for iPad and iPhone users.

Why? There are lots of great things about iOS 8, but one that can’t be overemphasized is support for custom 3rd-party keyboards, which means TextExpander Touch 3 now works in every app on your iPad.

What does that mean? It means you can set up custom abbreviations to cut your typing time by 90% or more. So instead of typing:
Sincerely,
Justin Baeder
Director, The Principal Center
1-800-861-5172

I can type “sjp” and TextExpander does the rest.

Instead of typing Let me know if I can be of assistance at any time I can type “lmka” and I’m done.

TextExpander Touch 3 gives you a custom 3rd-party keyboard that works just like the Emoji or foreign-language keyboards:
TextExpander Keyboard

I’ve been a huge fan of TextExpander for years; on the Mac, it saves me literally days of work every year (probably more days than I’ve been on vacation).

But on the iPad, TextExpander has been hamstrung by limitations in iOS—it hasn’t worked in any but a small handful of specially designed apps, like the mighty Drafts app.

No longer. TextExpander Touch 3 works in every app on your iPad and iPhone. Type an abbreviation you’ve set up in the app, and in any app, it’ll expand into the full phrase. You can even design fill-in forms (more on this soon).

To use TextExpander Touch 3, you’ll need iOS 8,which is now available for your iPhone (4S or newer) and iPad (2 or higher). After you free up enough space to download it, go to Settings » General » Software Update to install iOS 8 (it will take a while).

Then, go to the App Store and grab TextExpander 3 for $4.99.

Note that this is a new purchase—if you’ve used TextExpander Touch (versions 1 or 2) in the past, you’ll still have to buy the new version. You’ll earn your five bucks back by the end of the day in increased productivity, though.

Follow the directions in the app to activate it. Briefly:

  • After downloading and opening in the app, you’ll need to go to:
  • Settings » General » Keyboard » Keyboards » Add New Keyboard » 3rd-Party Keyboards » TextExpander Touch.
  • Add it, then select it and enable “allow full access.”

Start adding shortcuts in TextExpander, and you can use the you’re off and running.

Troubleshooting

If your keyboard appears in the middle of the screen, tap & hold the lower-right keyboard button, then select Dock.

If the keyboard appears blank, go back to Settings » General » Keyboard » Keyboards » TextExpander » Allow Full access

More tips from the developer

Why This Matters for High-Performance Instructional Leadership

When you can write an entire sentence with just a few taps, using TextExpander abbreviations, you can deal with more situations on the spot, so there’s less follow-up to handle later.

If you need to write something down to handle later, you can do so much more quickly, and get back to the task at hand.

When you have an idea, you can capture it quickly, instead of letting it slip away.

And most importantly, you can focus on the people around you more of the time, instead of spending that time tapping away on your iPad—while still being incredibly productive.

Additional Notes

UPDATE: After using TextExpander Touch 3 for a few days, I’ve noticed that it does what it’s supposed to do, but it’s not as self-correcting as the built-in iOS keyboard that we’re all used to. If you hit the wrong key, usually your iPad will know what you meant and adjust…even before Autocorrect gets involved. This is part of the design of the onscreen keyboard.

Unfortunately, TextExpander Touch 3 doesn’t have this, so it’s much harder to type on. I still recommend it, but you may want to use the default keyboard most of the time, then tap the globe icon to switch to the TextExpander keyboard when using a shortcut.

How To Use Your iPad Without Being Antisocial

Use Your iPad (but don’t be antisocial)

Do I want to be a productive weirdo, or actually pay attention to the people around me?

It’s not a fun dilemma, yet it’s probably one you face.

If you’re among the majority of school leaders who have iPads, you probably hoped the device would make a difference in your productivity throughout the day.

More often than not, though, you probably find yourself leaving your iPad in the office, under your arm, or even at home, because it’s just a little too awkward to use the iPad in the intensely interpersonal work of school leadership. It gets in the way during

  • Passing conversations in the hallway
  • Postconferences with teachers
  • Check-ins with the secretary
  • Meetings with concerned parents

In all of these settings, it may be that the iPad is better than a laptop or desktop computer. You can get work done (or at least write down tasks and notes) even if you aren’t at your desk, so you don’t have to rely on paper, trek back to the office, or—worst of all—try to remember later.

A leader’s work happens everywhere, and if the iPad supports that, terrific.

Yet it’s clunky to type with one hand or your thumbs while walking around, and it’s socially awkward to do so while talking to other people.

So too often, we fail to take advantage of our tools.

The Key

Here’s the key: Use your iPad after the conversation, when everything is still in your short-term memory.

Take a second to update your notes, record a to-do, schedule something on your calendar—whatever needs to be done—after the other person has walked away.

To speed this up, use one or both of these built-in features:

  • Text-expansion shortcuts, under Settings » General » Keyboard » Shortcuts, so you can type just a few letters (like “fuw”) and have that expanded into a longer phrase (“follow up with”)
  • Siri dictation, using the mic key next to the keyboard, if you’re on an iPad 3 or newer

There you have it—the work gets done, the social interaction isn’t harmed, and your iPad gets put to good use.

What tips do you have for using your iPad in ways that are effective, but less socially awkward?

Why Behavior Trumps Attitude

Why good behavior trumps a bad attitude

We’ve always known the importance of “getting the right people on the bus,” to borrow a phrase from Jim Collins.

As leaders, we each have in mind a picture of the “right” kind of person for our school—the right attitude, the right work ethic, the right interest in collaborating, the right coachable mindset, the right beliefs about kids.

Having such a clear portrait of the ideal educator is useful for hiring and coaching, but an “attitude profile” doesn’t do much good for our existing staff.

We all have people who—let’s be honest—we wouldn’t have let on the bus if we had a choice. They were on the bus before us, and may well be on the bus long after we’re gone, but their attitude and general approach to their work just aren’t the way we’d like them to be.

Let’s be clear: I’m not talking about people who are horrible, incompetent, or otherwise unfit to work with students (that’s a topic for another day). I’m talking about people who do a good job, but just don’t fit our image of the kind of people we’d like to work with.

It’s frustrating.

Have you ever tried to improve someone else’s attitude? Have you ever wanted to help someone want to approach their work differently? Ask this guy how well it works:

Pieces of Flair

Trying to improve someone’s attitude—wanting them to want to be the kind of person who doesn’t just wear the minimum number of pieces of flair—is a thankless task. It’s very difficult, and maybe even impossible, to hold someone accountable for their attitude.

Fortunately, though, we have another option.

Behavior Makes Culture

If we focus on behavior instead of attitude, we’ll be pleasantly surprised to learn that, as leaders, we actually can influence people’s behavior.

If I have a cranky staff member who’s always complaining in staff meetings, I may not be able to change her attitude…but I can ask that she put any concerns on the agenda rather than derail the meeting to gripe.

And I may not be able to make her less negative…but we can establish a norm that if you raise a concern, you also suggest a solution.

Behavior is the point at which we bend our individual differences to the collective mission.

I may not want to have team meetings after school if I’m a morning person, but if that’s what we do here, that’s what I’ll do.

More than anything else, behavior is where school culture is manifested and defined. If you want to know what kind of culture a school has, don’t look at individuals’ attitudes (which may change from day to day). Look at what people actually do.

And if you want to improve the culture in your school, don’t ask for people to change their attitudes or beliefs. Ask them to change their behavior.

Create a clear, powerful vision for how you do things in your school, and ask people to get on board by acting in accordance with that vision.

A Helpful Side Effect

Now, here’s the “but wait…there’s more!” bonus to focusing on behavior.

When people’s behavior changes, their attitudes follow.

When people’s behavior changes, their beliefs follow.

When people’s behavior changes, their professional identity adjusts.

Why? Because we believe what we do far more powerfully than we do what we believe. It’s a matter of good old-fashioned cognitive dissonance.

If I don’t believe all of my 2nd graders can learn to be proficient writers, yet I’m doing what I learned in our professional development and following our kick-butt writing curriculum, and my students are being fantastically successful…

That’s some serious cognitive dissonance, and the easiest way to resolve it is to change my beliefs. I probably won’t even tell anyone that my beliefs have changed, because I’m probably embarrassed that I ever believed my students couldn’t write.

When we experience cognitive dissonance because our behavior has broadcasted what we’re really about, it’s easier to adjust our attitude, beliefs, and feelings to match.

If you want to improve your school’s culture, look for ways to shape people’s behavior.

How do you strive to influence staff behavior? Leave a comment and let me know.

Go and See: Classroom Walkthroughs as Genchi Genbutsu

Go and see

As leaders, we need to spend our time where the work is done. We need to understand that work deeply, so we can provide the kind of leadership the organization needs.

As instructional leaders, that means we need to be in classrooms.

At Toyota, this concept is called Genchi Genbutsu, which conveys the idea of going to the gemba, or the place where the actual work is done. Leaders who don’t spend time in the gemba won’t have the information they need to make decisions, solve problems, and support employees effectively.

I recently read two of Jeff Liker’s many books about Toyota, The Toyota Way: 14 Management Principles from the World’s Greatest Manufacturer and The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership: Achieving and Sustaining Excellence through Leadership Development. If you’re interested, I recommend the latter, as it’s more applicable to the work of leaders and leadership development, but both are fascinating.

While you might think there are few parallels between Toyota and schools, Toyota’s culture is the envy of organizations everywhere. I suspect that there are welders and painters on Toyota’s assembly lines who work in higher-functioning “professional learning communities” than many educators.

We need to close that gap. Organizations that exist for the purpose of learning must be, in fact, organizations that engage in learning. As leaders, that means we need to be practitioners of Genchi Genbutsu. We need to be in classrooms.

At the moment, 2,027 people from 24 countries have joined the Instructional Leadership Challenge, which started about a year ago and has grown each month as word spreads.

The Challenge

If you’ve already participated in the Challenge, welcome back! You can go through the 21-day process again at any time, to maintain your habit of visiting classrooms daily. Email info@principalcenter.com if you want to restart the Challenge.

Beyond the Classroom: Go And See More

There are other aspects of your school that you need to go and see. What information do you need? Who do you need to support? What work do you need to see actually being done so that you can lead effectively?

Make a plan to go there this school year.

Is A Paperless Office Possible?

The dream of having a paperless office has been around for decades, yet it seems that as each year passes, we end up with more paper, not less.

Case in point: when my district went to an all-online job application system, instead of getting 250 hardcopy pages in the mail, I’d have to print 500 or so pages of application materials. Going electronic actually created more paper.

That’s consistent with the findings of researchers Abigail Sellen and Richard Harper, whose book The Myth of the Paperless Office gives a fairly clear spoiler in the title.

Sellen and Harper found that email actually increases paper usage by an average of 40%, and if you think about other ways that digital tools can generate information—such as assessment reports—it’s no surprise that we’re inundated with paper.

What About Scanning?

But we’d all like to have less paper lying around, so why don’t we just scan it all?

There are, in fact, good reasons not to scan everything. Sellen and Harper introduce the idea of affordances—the practical benefits of paper, such as the ability to actually flip through a report that you’re holding in your hands, versus simply scrolling through a PDF file.

Chances are that most of your paper doesn’t need to be scanned, because it:

  • Doesn’t require any action, or
  • Requires action that needs to be done on the hardcopy itself, like filling out a form, or
  • Doesn’t get any easier or less time-consuming when converted into digital format—like reading

So what can you do with it?

The Paper(Less) Office Makeover

Over at The Principal Center, I’m offering a free 7-day online course called The Paper(Less) Office Makeover:

The Paper(Less) Office Makeover

You can start this course any time, and you’ll get a new lesson every day. There’s a PDF workbook—which you may want to (GASP!) print—and a video for each day, to help you implement high-performance systems and strategies for managing paper less, even if you can’t manage less paper.

We’ll explore:

  • The essential tools to keep within arm’s reach so you can optimize your paper-based workflow
  • How to use digital tools to keep track of your paper-based work, without lots of scanning or duplicated effort
  • The real reason most paperwork sits around far too long
  • How you can cut your filing time (and your secretary’s) by 99%, without making it any harder to find what you’re looking for
  • How to “snooze” a hardcopy document so it shows up precisely when you want to see it—even weeks or months from now—and it’s off of your desk in the meantime

Learn more »

Real Firefighting: Leadership as Creative and Reactive Work

Firefighter 600

I love being part of the profession of school administration, but the word “administrator” is a little too paper-pusher-ey for my tastes. That’s why, like many people, I prefer the term “school leader.”

Leadership is inherently creative work. We’re not just pushing the buttons that someone else in our bureaucracy told us to push. We’re not just shuffling paper around to make work for ourselves and our direct reports.

We got into this line of work to make a difference for students, and that’s absolutely creative work.

Most of us feel a tension between the creative, or leadership, and reactionary, or administrative, sides of our work. Sometimes we feel that we’re spending too much time fighting fires, and not enough creating solutions to the most pressing challenges our schools face.

When we’re spending too much time in reactive, firefighting mode, perhaps it’s because we haven’t yet done the creative leadership work that it will take to solve the unsolved problems in our schools. And often that’s because they’re big, hairy problems.

We’ll never completely eliminate the need for reactive work. As school administrators, we’ll always deal with problems, conflicts, and other issues that are simply the result of human nature.

But for every school leader, there’s an optimal balance between dealing with the crises of the moment, and investing in the changes that will get those challenges under control for good. Firefighters know this lesson well.

How Firefighters Fight Fires Today

Let’s be honest about the “firefighter” metaphor: firefighters aren’t entirely reactionary. Consider the dramatic reduction in deaths by fire over the past 30 years:
FEMA fire stats

Do you think that better reactive firefighting is solely responsible for that improvement? Are firefighters driving faster and spraying more water?

No. These improvements are almost entirely due to prevention efforts. And figuring out how to prevent a problem—especially one that has always existed—is highly creative work.

On a day-to-day basis, the firefighter with the clipboard probably saves more lives—by ensuring that the right policies and procedures are in place—than the firefighter with the hose.

Some of these solutions are cultural, such as helping people understand that they shouldn’t smoke in bed, while other solutions are policy-based, such as building codes.

Prevention doesn’t eliminate the need for firefighters, just as having great systems in place in your school will not prevent you from having to respond to problems on a day-to-day basis. But it makes an enormous difference in the results you get.

Solving Problems As Creative Work

Leadership’s creative work usually involves building systems of some type, by developing policies, procedures, norms, expectations, and roles that will keep the predictable problems under control.

Some of these are basic, like ensuring adequate supervision when students are getting on and off the school bus.

Others are more nuanced, like creating a culture where ideas can flow freely in a staff meeting.

Both require systems, not just effective reactions or charisma. Both require thinking ahead about the kind of school we want to have, and doing whatever it takes to create that reality.

Over the next 12 months, I’ll be working with an amazing group of school leaders in the High-Performance Instructional Leadership Network. Registration is currently open, and you’ll want to join by the end of the month so you don’t miss out. We’ll explore how we can build systems for high performance, solving problems at the organizational level, and how you can transform your productivity to multiply your impact. Feel free to get in touch if you’d like to know more.

Should You Turn This Year’s Regrets Into Next Year’s Agenda?

One of the most critical starting points for high-performance instructional leadership is having a focused leadership agenda.

If you don’t have a well-defined sense of what you’re focused on, everything that you’re not focused on will gradually creep in.

The principalship—and the work of schools in general—is subject to the Ratchet Effect: once the “ratchet” of expectation clicks, and we take on more responsibilities and goals, it’s hard to reverse, and we tend to get stuck with an ever-growing list of “priorities.”

Which quickly results in very little focus at all.

How can we decide what should get on next year’s agenda?

Looking Back (Selectively)

As you think back on this school year, you’ll no doubt reflect on what went well, what was a little rough, and what you hoped to accomplish that didn’t happen.

And it’s tempting to take those regrets and turn them into resolve:

“Next year, we’re really going to tackle this.”

Fabulous! Do that.

But recognize this: you can’t take every regret about this year and put it on next year’s agenda.

Change may be a good thing, but too much change leads to chaos. Do what you have the capacity to do, and save the rest for a better time.

Focus On Your Strengths

As you look back on this year and decide what to focus on next year, keep this in mind: you’ll get much further, faster by building on your strengths than by trying to fix your weaknesses.

Solve problems and deal with the messes, but don’t forget to leave bandwidth for seizing opportunities to do great work on behalf of students.

How (Not) To Differentiate Your Leadership with Staff

Differentiating your impact

As leaders, we achieve most of our results indirectly.

I don’t teach reading or math or art; I ensure that reading and math and art are taught well.

We work through relationships and systems to turn our daily work into results for students.

But that impact isn’t distributed evenly. Teachers are not mere conduits for our leadership. They’re complex human beings, who each respond differently to our leadership, because they have different needs, expectations, and personalities.

We may strive to dedicate equal time, or provide equal treatment, to each teacher, but the way we influence staff is one of the most important facets of school leadership to differentiate carefully.

Here are three areas where we often need to break from the “fair means equal” paradigm.

Struggling Teachers: the “80%”

It’s no secret that a teacher who is struggling can easily take up as much time as the rest of the faculty combined. Union meetings, planning meetings, feedback sessions, observations, paperwork—working with struggling teachers is important, but incredibly time-consuming when done right.

(When it’s not done right, it’s slightly less time-consuming on a daily basis, but it drags on, either too long or even forever.)

The Pareto Principle suggests that 80% of our efforts produce only 20% of our results, and given the mediocre success rates we usually have, that’s certainly true for working with struggling teachers. But if that’s what we need to do, it’s what we need to do, even if it seems unfair.

We know we need to differentiate with teachers when we’re forced to, but what about when we’re not forced to?

Counterproductive “Fairness”

What if I have a teacher who’s struggling with planning, so I ask her to send me lesson plans in advance? I might be tempted to ask the entire faculty for lesson plans, to avoid making this expectation look like a punishment.

If turning in lesson plans isn’t already an expectation in my school, it’s likely to feel like a punishment to everyone, since they’ll likely know why I’m suddenly asking for plans. Fair can be counterproductive.

Striking While the Iron is Hot: the “20%”

Sometimes we need to strike while the iron is hot. If someone is motivated, we’ll see outsized gains from investing whatever time and resources they need.

The absolute best professional learning that took place under my leadership was a collaboration between two first grade teachers—one new, one experienced, and both on fire to learn new approaches to building literacy skills. I can take no credit because it was entirely self-directed, and all I did was get out of the way.

Nonetheless, I could very easily have thrown cold water on the fire by

  • Failing to listen and understand what they were working on
  • Discouraging their plans because they weren’t part of our official curriculum adoption
  • Refusing to provide the small amounts of funding and release time they were asking for

Saying “yes” cost very little, and because they were motivated, it resulted in tremendous learning and professional growth. And it took almost no time out of my day.

Here’s the thing: I didn’t dole out the same amount of money and release time to everyone else in an effort to be fair. Approaching support and professional development the same way for everyone is guaranteed to waste effort and money. If someone else is on fire six months from now, I can support them in the same way.

That’s why differentiation is so critical, and so powerful.

How Do You Differentiate?

What are some ways you provide different supports, opportunities, and expectations for your staff, so everyone gets what they need?

The $10 Experiment for Giving Something Up

Ten dollar experiment

Scope creep. “Other duties as assigned.” Coverage.

Little tasks and duties get added to our calendars, and over time, this can take up quite a bit of a principal’s week.

We’re all team players and don’t want to ask our staff to do anything we wouldn’t do ourselves…but sometimes we end up spending our time on things that don’t have as much direct impact as we’d like.

Some of these activities may be related to supervision, climate, and culture:

  • Greeting students as they arrive
  • Supervising in the lunchroom
  • Being the administrator on duty at athletic events

While contributing to school climate, building relationships with students, and increasing your awareness of what’s going on around you are all good things, they can feel too vague and indirect—and it can be frustrating to know you have loads of work to do, yet are trapped wiping tables and chit-chatting.

Or, perhaps you have the opposite perspective—you love being in the lunchroom, and hate being stuck in the office behind piles of pointless paper.

“Why am I making spreadsheets when I could be working with students?” you might ask yourself.

What can we do to maximize the impact of our least-desirable tasks, and—when necessary—re-allocate our time to better uses?

Know Your Theory of Action

If you’re spending substantial time on work you’re not passionate about, take a few minutes to think about why that work matters. What impact are you having? Are you resolving conflicts? Identifying trends in data? Building relationships? Helping teachers improve?

When you can articulate the value of what you’re doing—even if it’s not what you’d prefer to be doing—you’ll experience a greater sense of efficacy, and you’ll be more purposeful in having the impact you intend.

Find the Leverage

If you feel like you’re just hanging out with students for too much of the day, one immediate solution is to turn supervision time into instructional leadership time by having conversations with students about what they’re learning in class.

More generally, we can think about how to use whatever activity we’re engaged in—whether or not we’d prefer to be doing something else—with greater intentionality and focus:

  • If I’m making a new pot of coffee because I finished the old one, I can run my latest idea by whomever walks in the staff lounge
  • If I’m helping a student wipe down tables in the lunchroom, that’s a chance to get to know the student and talk about the character traits we’ve been emphasizing in our homeroom curriculum
  • If I’m reviewing assessment data, that’s a chance to identify PD needs and opportunities

The clearer your leadership agenda, the more easily you’ll be able to find a point of leverage in whatever you’re doing.

Have An Organized Leadership Agenda

If you have an agenda—a list within your to-do list—of topics you need to discuss with various people, you can take advantage of the time that you’d otherwise spend making small talk. See my my article on Mike St. Pierre’s blog for my favorite to-do list app.

On the other hand, if your agenda is little more than a strategic plan in a binder, and can’t be easily updated with new, more specific information, you’ll miss many of these little opportunities.

But what if you’ve done all of the above, and you’re still spending too much time doing work that’s beneath your pay grade? This is a tough question for us to ask ourselves, because it sounds arrogant. It’s not.

The $10 Experiment

How can you tell when to drop a particular duty from your list of responsibilities? Here’s a Gedankenexperiment—a mental exercise—that may help.

I call it the $10 experiment. Imagine you could take a task that you’d like to stop doing personally, and delegate it to an employee.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • If I could hire a $10/hour employee to do this task for me, what would I ask them to do? How would I explain the assignment? (You might end up with a better theory of action and a greater impact if you keep doing the task yourself.)
  • Would hiring a $10/hour employee to do this be a good use of school funds? If not, guess what? You cost far more than $10/hour, so stop.
  • What would I lose by delegating this task? Is there any fundamental reason why I couldn’t delegate it (such as a legal issue or a reason related to school culture)? If possible, delegate it.

Whether you end up keeping the same tasks on your plate or shifting duties considerably, these questions will help you maximize your impact by allocating your time to the most high-leverage work, and by approaching whatever you’re working on with greater intentionality.

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