The Best Time to Make a Long-Term Investment In Your Leadership

Plant seedling

If you want to save money for retirement, you have to make the decision to not spend that money on something else, so it’ll make a difference for you later.

It’s the same with professional learning: The time you put in now, investing in your leadership, pays off through the impact you have on your organization over the long term.

In the moment, we’ll always choose the immediate over the long-term. I’m more likely to return my phone calls and answer my emails, because it’s more urgent, than to sit down and read a book that will make me a better leader.

Just like saving for retirement, we’ll never reach the point where we have a “surplus” of time to put toward professional growth. We have to carve it out, even in the midst of our busyness.

(In fact, it’s when we feel like we have the least to spare that it’ll have the greatest impact. If you started saving for retirement when you were 18, you’ll probably be in great shape.)

The best time to invest in your leadership—like the best time to plant a tree—was 20 years ago. The 2nd best time is today.

But we have to make the decision, purposefully. We have to choose.

Invest in Your Productivity

The program I offer is one that won’t make you wait for some nebulous point in the far-off future to reap the benefits.

When you join the High-Performance Instructional Leadership Network, which is open until midnight Friday, you’ll immediately start to find new ways to reduce your stress, increase your productivity, and become a more effective leader.

Take a look and see if the Network is right for you.

Any questions? Give me a call at 1-800-861-5172.

But don’t wait around—registration closes indefinitely on Friday, and I don’t want you to miss out.

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ELR14: Wade Kerns on 21st Century Professional Development

Wade Kerns

In your school, is PD a sit-and-get, one-size-fits all experience? Or do you create professional learning opportunities that use technology to differentiate and meet the varying needs of your staff?

In this episode of Eduleadership Radio, Wade Kerns joins me to talk about 21st century professional development. In our discussion, you’ll hear:

  • Why most professional development is disrespectful to teachers
  • How schools are starting to differentiate and modernize their approach to professional learning
  • The tools that empower personalized, powerful professional development
  • How individualized 21st century PD can work in parallel to initiative-based PD for all staff

Eduleadership RadioWade is a middle school administrator in Baltimore County, MD.

His blog, Educational Leadership, Examined, is at WadeSKerns.com.

You can follow Wade on Twitter @WadeSKerns.

Listen Now:

Download this episode (MP3 format, 23 minutes, 31 MB)

Follow Eduleadership Radio:
Subscribe in iTunes (link will launch iTunes)
iTunes Show Page (on Apple’s website)
Direct podcast feed (Google Feedburner)
To download individual episodes directly to your iPod, iPhone, or iPad, search for eduleadership in the iTunes Music Store on your device.

What’s Next for Your Instructional Leadership?

As you look back on this school year, you’ve probably accomplished a dizzying number of things.

Some of these accomplishments are part of the daily churn of school life—dealing with endless minor emergencies, making countless decisions, and doing what needs to be done, day after day.

Other accomplishments will stand out in your mind as big career moments, like when you started a new program, made key staffing changes, or took a stand for something.

Mirror road

First of all, thank you for all you do on behalf of your students. You make a difference, even if it feels like the day-to-day work that keeps you on your toes is endless. You are impacting lives and impacting the future of your community.

But I also want to ask an aspirational question: What’s next for you as an instructional leader? How can you lead your staff to even better work on behalf of the students you serve?

Let’s be honest: This is a tall order. Most principals aren’t realistically expected to be strong instructional leaders—on paper, yes, but not in the way the job is configured.

Sure, plenty of districts pay lip service to instructional leadership in job descriptions, but the day-to-day duties placed on principals undermine that priority. We never have the time we need for the work that’s supposed to matter the most.

If this is going to change, I believe it has to change with us first. We have to be the ones who decide, “I’m going to be a leader of learning improvement.” Because that’s what instructional leadership is, at its core—leadership to improve the teaching and learning that takes place in your school.

If you want teaching and learning to improve in your school, it’s going to take work. It’s going to involve challenging the status quo that keeps you busy in the office and corridors and lunchroom, and keeps you out of classrooms. It’s going to involve challenging the norms of isolation and I’m-fine-so-please-leave-me-alone teaching. But it’s going to be incredibly rewarding.

A New Opportunity

I have an announcement: Starting in July, I will be working with a small network of school leaders in an intensive, long-term professional development program. This program is designed to dramatically increase the capacity of school administrators to serve as instructional leaders, even as the other demands of the principalship continue to compete for our time and energy.

The High-Performance Instructional Leadership Network is a year-round PD program that includes two workshops each month to help you maximize your impact as an instructional leader. It’s not for everyone, but if you’re interested, here’s more information.

More Information:

High-Performance Instructional Leadership Network

I’ll continue to offer near-daily articles on improving your performance and productivity as a school leader here at eduleadership.org, and we’ll continue to offer a variety of online workshops at PrincipalCenter.com.

But what I’m most passionate about is dramatically increasing the capacity of school leaders to serve as leaders of instructional improvement, so that’s why I’m throwing my energy and focus into this project. I hope you’ll take a look.

ELR13: Steve Fink & Ann O’Doherty on the Principal Preparation Guarantee

Eduleadership RadioIn this episode of Eduleadership Radio, Steve Fink and Ann O’Doherty join me to discuss a first-of-its kind guarantee for principal preparation.

Steve Fink is Executive Director of the Center for Educational Leadership, part of the University of Washington’s College of Education.

Ann O’Doherty is Director of the Danforth Educational Leadership Program, the principal preparation program at the University of Washington. *

I spoke to Ann and Steve to discuss their new partnership: If a Danforth graduate needs additional support in serving as an effective leader, CEL will provide the necessary professional development at no cost.

In the interview, we discuss how they’re phasing in this guarantee, how they determined what competencies to guarantee, and how principal preparation and on-the-job professional development fit together to create a leadership pipeline for districts and regions.

Listen Now:

Download this episode (MP3 format, 32 minutes, 41 MB)

Follow Eduleadership Radio:
Subscribe in iTunes (link will launch iTunes)
iTunes Show Page (on Apple’s website)
Direct podcast feed (Google Feedburner)
To download individual episodes directly to your iPod, iPhone, or iPad, search for eduleadership in the iTunes Music Store on your device.

* Disclosure: I am an alumnus of the Danforth program, but this was my first time speaking to Ann. In the time since we recorded this interview, Ann has become a member of my dissertation committee.

My Vision for Online Professional Development

man with telescope

I believe professional development can foster connection, learning, and significant work to create improvement in our schools on behalf of the students we serve. And I believe online professional development can take us even farther, beyond the constraints of time and place.

I’ve tried to progressively act on this belief. In the summer of 2011, I started The Principal Center in order to foster connections among school leaders. In 2012, I made The Principal Center my full-time job, providing online workshops to foster the learning of school leaders, teachers, and other educators. Over time, our emphasis shifted from connection to learning, as we emphasized workshops, and as it became clear that connecting online was much more feasible on Twitter.

What has eluded me is the third aspect of professional development: how to meaningfully support principals in their actual, day-to-day work. And as much as I value the learning we’re able to foster, I wish it was characterized by more connection.

Our workshops provide what I consider high-leverage, high-potential information – or as we put it, “the best in professional practice for school leaders.” Put to use, I believe the ideas we teach can transform practice and improve learning.

But since our participants are different for each workshop, we don’t have a long-term learning community that fosters the connectedness and deep work that characterizes the best professional development, and people usually don’t report back on how their practice is changing as a result of their learning.

Don’t get me wrong: This is fine. If you take a workshop in order to learn something specific, and you learn it, we should all count that a success.

But I believe we can do more. 

First, I believe we can connect better – at a deeper level, and over the long-term. That connection among school leaders is incredibly valuable:

  • It helps good ideas spread
  • It helps us squash problems quickly by asking for advice
  • It provides a sense of community in a job that can be tough and kind of lonely (while being intensely interpersonal in nature).

I’ve been inspired by the connections among educators that form on Twitter. They’ve developed into friendships, hashtag chats, edcamps, and even t-shirts (I’m looking at you, Wisconsin tweeps!). This is a tremendous force for good.

But Twitter, like standalone workshops, has a major limitation: It’s not very helpful with the…work aspect of our work. It’s hard to have substantive, in-depth conversations. It’s tough to collaborate on documents and plans. It’s tough to do real work on Twitter, as great as it may be for forming relationships and sharing ideas.

And it’s tough to do real work during a workshop packed with ideas and information. (Somehow, “I’ll give you 20 minutes to work on that” doesn’t go over very well online.)

But we aren’t limited by what we can do in workshops and on Twitter. I believe we can engage in the work more effectively, collectively, connectedly.

I believe very firmly that “professional development” doesn’t professionally develop you unless you do some work. “Sit ‘n’ Git” is problematic in PD, because when we’re passive, and don’t bring our real on-the-job challenges to the table, our practice doesn’t change. This is true in online workshops, and it’s true on Twitter. And changing practice is what professional development is all about.

I love Twitter. I love the friends I’ve made there, and if anything, my use of Twitter will probably continue to grow. Twitter chats are a terrific innovation.

But I have to ask: Is there something better? Something more suited to deep professional connections? To in-depth learning? To work?

Google Plus iconI think there is, and I think the platform for it has been around for a while: Google Plus.

I wasted more than a year on G+ following just a few friends and “What’s Hot” posts in my stream, and grew tired of the “Apple vs. Android” flame wars, photos of amazing travel destinations, and typical Facebook-ish memes. Not exactly the stuff of deep professional learning.

But just recently, I’ve started to find other educators on G+, and my professional use of the network is growing.

Not too long ago, Google added a feature called Communities, which essentially create private (or open) groups to focus on specific interests. Combine this with full Google Docs/Drive and YouTube integration, toss in Hangouts, and you’ve got a full-fledged professional development platform.

We’re using Communities to host our Curriculum Study Groups, which we just launched this week, and I’m extremely excited about the potential to connect people with common professional interests.

What about school leaders? How can we connect, learn, and do the work together online? How can G+ help?

I have something up my sleeve. Stay tuned.

Getting Started with Data Teams Presentation – WASA Summer Conference 2009

Linked below are the documents from my presentation at the WASA/AWSP 2009 Summer Conference in Spokane, WA. Use the contact form if you have any questions or would like more information. Thanks to everyone who participated.

Data Team Cycle Template

Data Team Cycle Process Reflection

PowerPoint Presentation – Getting Started with Data Teams

Quote of the Day: PLCs & Research

There is no lack of research for those who seek to promote discussion of effective teaching. The issue is whether or not educators are prepared to accept their responsibilities to work together to become proficient consumers of that research. A professional learning community will fulfill that responsibility by ensuring that frequent and focused discussions on teaching and learning are the standard practice in its school.

DuFour & Eaker, Professional Learning Communities at Work, p. 226

Professional Learning Communities at Work

Inbox Zero for Principals

Jocelyn at the AWSP blog The Comp Book points out the relevance of Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero presentation for principals. Mann’s audience is typically the Silicon Valley crowd, but his advice for handling a high volume of email is equally applicable to school leaders.

At the 2007 WASA-AWSP Summer Conference, I gave a presentation entitled “Productivity for School Administrators: Managing the Four Inboxes,” which I will post here soon. I hope to present this material again in the near future as I continue to refine my processes for handling email and the other work that shows up each day.

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