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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.

1 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.

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!

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?

2 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.

2 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.

2 80/20 Hacking: The Power of Process

80 20 hacking

We do much of what we do as school leaders simply because it’s expected.

Not because we’ve carefully decided exactly how to spend our time, or carefully considered what leadership actions will have the greatest impact, but simply because we’re supposed to.

As much as we might want to be redesign our roles from scratch, we tend to stick with what’s expected.

According to the Pareto Principle, 80% of our efforts produce only 20% of our results, and a mere 20% of our efforts is responsible for a massive 80% of our results.

What if we could “hack” this system to focus our time and energy only on the 20% that will produce the greatest results?

I believe we can, but it requires a rethinking of our impact as school leaders, and how it functions in practice.

We Can’t Abandon Symbolic Leadership

We tend to do what’s seen as appropriate for our role, and with good reason: it gives people a sense of predictability and comfort. It keeps the ship running smoothly (or at least, running the same way it always has).

If I’m expected to attend a certain standing meeting each week—say, the meeting where we discuss a student of concern—but I stop attending, what message does that send? What expectations am I setting for other people by withdrawing my presence and tacit support?

We shouldn’t underestimate the symbolic importance of our role, and when we change our focus, we need to make sure people understand that whatever we’re pulling away from still matters.

And that takes a focus on process.

“If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you’re doing.”

W. Edwards Deming, one of the great management thinkers of the 20th century, saw process as one of the keys to quality.

Unfortunately, in schools, we often don’t understand the processes we’re using, and we compensate by devoting our scarce time and attention to things that otherwise wouldn’t need it.

There are certainly plenty of issues that need our focus and attention, as well as our symbolic presence, but consider this:

Which team is going to be more effective—one that knows exactly what to do and how to do it, or one that you have to personally monitor at all times?

If a team or staff member needs you constantly, there’s no process in place. You’re still in the training phase, and you need to develop systems and processes to do the heavy lifting.

Because Deming was a manufacturing guru, his work is often maligned in education. But I think it’s especially relevant in the intensely human work of schools.

Processes for People

If we, as leaders, are going to produce results, it’s through our impact on the people we work with. You probably don’t teach math personally, so if students are going to get better math scores, that’s going to happen because of how you lead your staff—how you impact the people on the very front lines of instruction.

If we take the usual approach to leadership, we’ll strive for relational influence. And that’s important, to be sure—trust, relationships, vision—all are key parts of leadership.

But relational influence is hard to scale. There’s only so much time in the day, and you can’t be in two places at once.

That’s why systems and processes are so powerful—because they take the influence that you’d have if you were present in person, and turn it into a cultural expectation. You can lead in a particular area even while you’re doing something else.

Hacking Pareto

The dream of everyone who understands the Pareto Principle is to stop doing the unhelpful 80%, and redirect 100% of our efforts to what’s producing the greatest benefits for our students. If only it were possible to hack the Pareto Principle…

Let me be honest: School leadership is real, human, messy work, and if we evaluate our efforts strictly on the basis of efficiency and impact, we’re pushing out some of the heart and soul of the job.

But heart and soul can also show up in the expectations we set; the systems we put into place; the ways we delegate, trust, and monitor; and the way we devote our attention to what needs it most, now.

With good systems, we can hack Pareto. We can devote vastly less attention to everything that’s working well, because it’s been institutionalized as a process. Good people working in good systems can do great work, without the principal sitting around micromanaging.

So we can go where we’re needed, solve the next problem, and spin up the flywheel of excellence.

How do you put systems in place so your staff can operate with greater autonomy while still accomplishing exactly what they need to?

Likely Success

How Likely Followers Make Change Catch On

Part 5 in a series by Steve Peha (see parts 1, 2, 3, and 4)

In our last piece, we talked about that all-important initial group of change agents in our schools: Willing Starters. Without them, nothing starts (at least not willingly). But without the next group, the Likely Followers, nothing continues.

Likely Followers may be harder to identify than almost any other group. There are several reasons for this but let’s just all agree for now that human beings are complex and that those of us who display a variety of different tendencies may be a little harder to figure out than others.

So it is with Likely Followers. Which is, by the way, why I use the word “likely” with this group. Nothing’s for sure here. These folks are just more likely than others to be the next group to take up the current change.

To give you an idea of how complex this can be, I’ll tell you a few things about myself.

I’ve a been an educational software developer, education consultant, and entrepreneur for almost 30 years. From that you might conclude that I’m a Willing Starter when it comes to technology in general, to ed tech, in particular, and especially to the newest teaching practices.

But I’m not. Not at all, in fact.

I’m a Likely Follower on teaching practice. I’m not comfortable (nor do I feel qualified) experimenting on children, especially very young ones. So I’m inclined to follow master practitioners with good track records and legitimate research (or, as I’ll discuss below, proven models). Once I see that something works, however, I’m generally ready to dive in.

I’m a Deliberate Decision-Maker on my personal use of technology. My wife thinks it’s hilarious that I’m afraid of installing system upgrades. And that’s true. I always run two or three OS versions behind on virtually every device I have. Why? Because I have a lot of work to do and I need a strong guarantee of stable system versions on a variety of digital devices in order to maximize my productivity.

Like most Deliberate Decision-Makers, I will easily forego the latest whiz bang capabilities for a less powerful but more stable system. This is exactly how Deliberate Decision-Makers feel about their teaching. Even when they know that what they’re doing probably doesn’t work as well as it could, they’d sooner choose the Devil they know than the Devil they don’t. I’m that way about my personal use of technology.

Here’s a tip on working with Deliberate Decision-Makers. Justin is always bringing us new information about technology tools that improve our productivity. Every once in a while, he hits on one that solves a nagging problem for me. For a Deliberate Decision-Maker, the “pain” of learning something new has to exceed the “pain” of dealing with things the way they are.

If Justin were my principal, all he’d have to do to get me into more personal technology use is get to know me enough to know what I’m struggling most with and connect me with some technology that would address that “pain point.”

Finally, and this surprises people the most, I’m definitely a Principled Non-Participant on the use of educational technology with student, especially primary age kids. This does not mean I am against education technology. As a technologist and software developer, it fascinates me. But in reading the research, observing in classrooms, and using quite a lot of it in my own work, (not to mention making some) I just haven’t found anything that helps kids learn as well as simply working with me—and some technologies, like e-book readers, seem to have negative effects (see last item).

This should give you a key insight into how to deal with Non-Participants. Once you know the principle I’m holding onto (personal academic effectiveness), you can concentrate on helping me see that a particular piece of technology might help kids learn dramatically more if I used it.

And being a “Likely Follower” in the area of teaching practice, as soon as my principle is addressed, I no longer have any logical reason to be a Non-Participant. For example, if Justin came to me with a new iPad e-book reader that improved student comprehension instead of lowering it, there’s a good chance I’d pick it up immediately. (And who knows? Maybe he will!)

Start Me Up

Obviously, there’s something in my personality that is all about starting things. How does that get expressed in my work in education? Where, in all of this, am I a Willing Starter?

I love bringing proven models of problem-solving from other disciplines over into education. That’s where I’m more than happy to go first. And that’s where I’ve had the biggest wins, the ones that just aren’t possible doing the same things we’ve always been doing within in education.

I am definitely a Willing Starter when it comes to interdisciplinary knowledge transfer. For example, this entire set of pieces I’m writing is based on the work of a social scientist in an academic area called Diffusion of Innovations. Technically, the entire Rogers model I’m using here has nothing directly to do with schools or teaching or improving academic achievement.

But I’ve had great success with it because I’m applying it in its appropriate context as a theory of organizational change.

The original cross-grade, cross-curricular teaching strategies I’ve created are based on concepts from computer programming, information theory, and linguistics. For the last four years, I’ve been out in front on Lean and Agile Schools (see here and here), the application of Lean and Agile product development practices to teaching and learning. I’ve developed an application of a powerful form of organizational culture change called The Culture Engine. And I’ve been especially successful in fusing the science of human performance assessment and the psychology of human motivation together into a unique and original approach to grading that has produced dramatically positive results in classrooms all over the world.

The reason I’m a Willing Starter in the application of interdisciplinary ideas is that I know that when I take something from the social sciences or organization development or psychology or a hundred years of research on assessment and grading that I’m working with things that have been proven—often for decades by many different people. That’s exactly the proof someone like me needs to move forward.

So What?

Why did I just tell you all that about myself? Because I wanted you to see just how complex it can be to identify people in groups outside of the Willing Starters, who identify themselves simply by volunteering to start.

The Willing Starters may represent just 10%-15% of your school, or perhaps even less. You can’t run a successful change initiative on that. That’s why it’s absolutely crucial to pull the Likely Followers in. But to do that, you have to know who they are. And, as I hope I’ve shown with my own examples, a person who seems like a Likely Follower in one area of his or her work may not be a Likely Follower when it comes to changing practice.

The Talk

No, I’m not referring to an uncomfortable conversation with a teacher in your office. I’m referring to the kinds of things Likely Followers are likely to say, to you and to others, when the subject of new practice comes up:

  • “I’m eager to learn!”
  • “If someone will show me how, I’ll give it a try!”
  • “I’m excited about the possibilities.”
  • “I think this will be good for our students.”
  • “This looks like it could be a positive change.”

Are those idealized statements? Sure. But they represent things Likely Followers have said in my presence and, more to the point, when I observe the behaviors of Likely Followers, it’s as if their actions speak in terms similar to these.

The Walk

You can gain a deeper sense of your Likely Followers by looking for people with certain traits, behaviors and attitudes that separate them from Willing Starters and Deliberate Decision-Makers. In general, Likely Followers are:

  • Optimistic. Followers are willing to attempt new practices as long as they are shown how because they tend to be “glass half full” people. If they feel they have support from others who have been successful, they’ll suspend just enough of their disbelief to give something a shot. Having observed a leader or received equivalent training, they will take it upon themselves to try new things and to report their experiences back to the leaders who are helping them. But help from leaders—people like you and your Willing Starters—is crucial.
  • Trusting. Followers tend to trust the opinions of their leaders with regard to new practices. Given reasonable explanations and examples, Followers tend to accept the judgments and conclusions of leaders and take appropriate action to align their practice accordingly.
  • Supportive. Followers support the implementation of new practices as long as they know leaders support them personally. Followers are eager for their leaders to break new ground, are thankful for the efforts their leaders make, and for the help their leaders give them.
  • Open. Followers are enthusiastic about receiving coaching and other support from leaders. They don’t shy away from feedback. They do their best to apply constructive criticism and to follow the models leaders provide.
  • Curious. Followers seek out information about new practices that leaders are implementing. They ask good questions and they don’t stop asking until they are clear about the knowledge they need to begin implementing new practices successfully.

Don’t treat this like a rubric, or a checklist, or a profile. Use it to get a sense for who a Likely Follower is likely to be. All lists like these are reductive. And all human beings are infinitely complex. Respect differences, invite surprises, be just as curious about them as they are about new ideas.

The Trick

Fortunately, you don’t have to go it alone. In fact, you shouldn’t. At this point, you want to begin distributing your leadership of a new change initiative to others, specifically to your Willing Starters. Virtually every Starter I’ve worked with has a colleague or two who, while perhaps not quite as adventurous, has a deep respect for and trust of their less risk-averse friends.

My goal is to leverage these relationships to get the Willing Starters to identify the Likely Followers for me. At the very beginning of the initiative, when the Starters volunteer, one requirement is that after they have achieved success, they begin sharing this information with their two or three closest colleagues, the people over whom they have the most influence.

That’s the key with Likely Followers: they need to feel influenced by someone they respect. I definitely do not mean coerced or manipulated. I mean influenced. If you read a great book and you think your friends would like it, too, you’d probably mention that, right? If you found a great place to go to dinner, you’d probably tell a few folks, wouldn’t you? If you found a piece of technology that really did make your life better, I’m sure you’d share that, too, right? This is the kind of influence I’m talking about.

Influencing others is a natural human behavior. In fact, there’s good evidence that we can’t not do it because we all crave the validation of watching someone else do something we’ve done based primarily on our recommendation.

Now I’ll Try to Influence You

I don’t know if you respect or trust me enough yet to really be influenced by me or not. But I’m gonna give it a try as I wind up this piece.

What I want to do is to influence you to put in the hard work that it takes to identify and develop your Willing Followers so that you can boost the percentage of successful practitioners to about 30% in your school—or just above critical mass, that crucial point in the adoption curve where change can move forward by itself, or at least with far less leadership effort.

While your Likely Followers will definitely be the hardest group to identify, the work that it takes to do so is well worth it for several reasons:

  • Your success will be extremely difficult without them.
  • Once you find them, and put your Willing Starters in charge of supporting them, you will have successfully distributed the leadership for this particular change.
  • The behavior of Deliberate Decision-Makers and Principled Non-Participants depends almost entirely on how well Likely Followers do.
  • Your Willing Starters need a bit of a break from leading the charge; a new group of enthusiastic practitioners is the perfect thing to keep them feeling good and growing.
  • You’ll get to know a part of your staff that few school leaders ever get to know well. These are the “good” people who never cause trouble, who are fairly reliable in their work, and who we never really pay that much attention to. Well, we should pay a lot of attention to them because they are, in some sense, the linchpins of any successful, sustainable change.
  • You’ll prove a huge point: that you don’t have to be the best teacher in the world to switch successfully to new practices.

I could go on and on but I think you get the point. Even though your Likely Followers don’t appear to be as important as your Willing Starters, they are ultimately more important in the long run. We can find Starters in every part of our life. But it’s the finishers we really need to get the job done. Likely Followers, because of their willingness to follow, tend to be strong and consistent finishers as long as the people who go before them stick with them to the finish.

Ultimately, persistence is one of the fundamental traits of successful leaders. Working well with your Likely Followers, then, is one of the fundamentals of successful school leadership.

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