How Do We Get From Compliance Focused To Growth Focused?

It has been a few months since I have posted anything since my responsibilities at work leading a school and the addition of taking my own doctoral classes have left me quite busy. However, during these months I have had an opportunity to read a few books.  One of these, Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson, has been particularly insightful.  The strategies of this book have been helpful to be more reflective in my own practice.  Below I share some of the strategies of the book and how I have tried to apply them to my school.

Often times as school leaders, we are faced with challenges or roadblocks in our mission to drive progress and move our school forward.  These challenges can be teachers who may be underperforming or colleagues who have not committed to a new initiative. Inevitably, it leads to having a high stakes conversation in which emotions run high and both parties can feel defensive.

Rather than see these conversations as challenges to overcome I have found it helpful to view them as opportunities.  Why? They are opportunities because they are a chance to share knowledge, collaborate and drive authentic change by building coalitions within the school to enact positive change.

Because these high stakes conversations can be unpleasant if not handled well we may be tempted to avoid them.  Avoiding these courageous conversations does a disservice to the school, ourselves and the person who needs to hear the feedback in order to improve performance and meet expectations.

A critical aspect of having a courageous conversation is to establish a sense of safety for all parties involved.  When a teacher or student feels they can share their opinions without fear of retribution, the dialogue that results is more likely to be open and mutually beneficial.

Think of the last class you taught, observed, or meeting you held.  Was the focus on getting the other person to do what you wanted them to do or was the focus on growth and feedback? If it was focused on compliance how well did you think it went. If the meeting or class was focused on growth, did go smoother? Perhaps, even enjoyable?

When safety is established in open dialogue, we focus on facts and not the perceptions we may have of someone else.  This focus on the facts allows us to reflect on actions and evidence. It is important to be mindful of ones own language, body language and nonverbal communication signals being sent.  Both verbal and nonverbal cues can cause others to shut down because they don’t feel safe in sharing. While we can’t control how another person might act we can control the signals we are sending.

The reflection on our own actions create space to find a mutual purpose.  Being self-reflective also allows one to focus on staying open and curious to the other person’s motives, thoughts, and feelings.  People are much more likely to be open to change if they feel what is being discussed is mutually beneficial.

When I am talking to a teacher and they become angry or fearful I try to remind myself to remain open to their emotions and feelings and display some empathy.  This helps me to dig deeper into trying to find the source of their anger or fear by asking why they feel a particular way.

One of the most challenging aspects of these conversations is not to make the mistake of presenting “either/or” decisions.  Courageous conversations that are outcome-based rarely lead to open dialogue and the development of mutual respect. Sometimes, as school leaders this becomes unavoidable, especially if someone is not in compliance with district policies on child safety, certification, or if we are forced to place someone on a performance improvement plan. But for the most part I try to avoid the “either/or” discussions if I can avoid.

As leaders, we must first seek to understand before being understood.  By asking questions, showing that the other person has been understood and working towards finding common ground I try to demonstrate to the other person that we are working towards a mutual goal, which is to engage the students and help them learn.

When those we work with feel a sense of support, agency and mutual purpose it makes our jobs of teaching and learning so much more enjoyable and productive.

Principles for Principals


Tim Westerberg, a retired High School Principal and author, wrote a great article in Educational Leadership magazine in 2016 titled, The Principal Factor. The article shares six principles for leadership which can be summed up by saying, PUT RELATIONSHIPS FIRST!

So powerful was the article that I wrote down the six principles on a piece of yellow legal paper which I have kept on my desk for the past three years to refer to often, especially on difficult days.

These six principles remind me to put relationships first.

Principle One

Show students respect. No one in the school is invisible. This includes students, teachers, staff, aides, parents and facilities staff. Respect goes a long way in developing relationships which can help later when you may need to have a courageous conversation with someone.

Principle Two

Be Visible. Get out of the office and into classrooms and common areas. Although I don’t get out of my office as much as I want to on a daily basis I try every day. Each morning I greet students outside during morning arrival and again at dismissal. I try to get into the cafeteria at least a few times a week for a lunch shift or two. Better yet, is when I get a chance to cover for a teacher during one of his or her classes. Walking the hallways during class transitions is another great opportunity to see and interact with students.

Principle Three

Be clearly in control. It’s not about power. I try to communicate my role as a leader and demonstrate that I am secure in my ability as a leader. As much as possible I try to give my faculty and staff opportunities to take on leadership roles within the school. This means that I need to listen more than talk. Someone once told me that we were given two eyes, two ears and one mouth for a reason. The best leaders use them in proportion to one another.

Principle Four

Clarify non-negotiables. Relationships are stable when the Principal is clear about non-negotiables. One non-negotiable for me is for everyone in the building to maintain a growth mindset. This goes for not just students but for faculty and staff as well, including me. Another non-negotiable for me is Principle Five

Principle Five

Be Civil. I need to model the values and behaviors that the school is asking students to adopt. The same goes for everyone that works in the school. When the adults in the building are modeling the behavior we wish to see from the students it becomes easier for the students to see and meet those expectations.

Principle Six

Show Affinity. It helps if you genuinely like kids. Students can smell BS and insincerity. So can teachers. As a leader, I need to demonstrate my care for the students and the fact that I love my job as a school leader. It can be difficult on the bad days, but on those tough days, it is even more important that I follow principle six.

I guess that’s why I keep this dog eared, coffee stained piece of paper on my desk. I need the constant reminder.

Comfort is Killing Us


The greatest danger to effective instruction and the administration of a school is comfort. Once a teacher, teachers or school leadership becomes comfortable at their job they tend to no longer seek to improve their practices and instead often seek comfort in remaining with the status quo. In my mind, this is the equivalent of the life support monitor of the school flatlining.

It is vital that educators maintain a growth mindset as professionals. We must be reflective and improve our own practices as well as others within the school. Essentially, we must stay hungry, always be growing and push others to do so as well.

There is a difference between being “comfortable” in one’s practice and having a mastery of a particular skill set. When a person exhibits a mastery of a skill they have the confidence and expertise to perform the duties of their job at a high level but they also understand that there are always ways to do the job better, with more efficiency or impact.

When an educator is comfortable with their job, the power of the status quo takes over and educators journey down the path of least resistance. These educators essentially punch the clock and do as little a possible to disrupt their routine. The curriculum is to blame for student success, or the students are not motivated or ill-behaved, or there is a lack of resources to deliver meaningful lessons, or…insert excuse here...

Inevitability, the only thing these comfortable educators look forward to on Monday, is that Friday is four days away.

The desire for some teachers to remain in the status quo is like a poison within a school. These comfortable and unmotivated teachers can quickly create a cultural in which others can be brought into their toxic way of thinking.

“I’ll always choose a teacher with enthusiasm and weak technique over one with brilliant strategies but who is just punching the clock. Why? An enthusiastic teacher can learn technique, but it is almost impossible to light a fire inside the charred heart of a burned-out teacher.” 
― Dave Burgess, Teach Like a Pirate:

Our job as educational leaders demands that we mentor those teachers who are average but have the potential to be rockstar educators. These teachers may be first-year educators or teachers who have spent 20 years in the classroom. We have to identify them early and lift them up within our organizations otherwise they will leave the profession.

In a similar way that we encourage and cultivate potential rockstar teachers, we must doggedly pursue teachers who fall below our expectations and merely go along to get along. By having critical conversations about “the why” someone teaches and getting them to think about their long term goals, we can open up a dialogue with teachers who fall below expectations. These courageous conversations require us to first, listen and second, be candid about our expectations for them in the classroom and school.

These critical and courageous conversations can and must be respectful. First, the stakes are too high and the time is too short to give our students less than they deserve. Secondly, the job of a teacher is too hard and stressful for someone to be effective if their heart is not fully invested in the needs of the students. It’s too harmful to the teacher and for the students.

Top 10 Influencers for 2018


As the year comes to an end many of us spend time reflecting on what we may have accomplished or failed to accomplish the past 365 days. I am no different. As I thought about what to write for today I thought about what I have accomplished such as starting my doctoral program, implementing student-led conferences at my school, continuing to try to push my faculty to take instructional risks in the classroom and starting this blog. However, writing about these topics seems a bit too specific and narrow. Instead, in the spirit of the Top Ten lists, we often see this time of year I’d like to share my list of the top ten influencers who have impacted my own learning this past year.

Perhaps you have not heard some of these individuals or organizations. If not I encourage you to start following and hopefully learning from them the same way I have the past year.

10. Edutopia – OK, I know this is not a new site or trendsetting but George Lucas’ Educational Foundation has been doing great work for years. If you are stuck for an idea or need a quick resource to share with a colleague, chances are Edutopia has something great.

9. Mindshift – KQED News Mindshift is always thought-provoking. Subscribe and get a weekly email with great educator related stories, thought pieces and resources.

8. TED – Again, TED’s “ideas worth spreading” is not new or groundbreaking in 2018. However, I started using the TED videos in a new practice. I force myself to take at least a 15-minute “lunch break” during which I eat my lunch and watch a TED video. I get a few minutes to decompress, force my self to get a few moments of peace and usually leave my office feeling inspired. Don’t forget about another great resource in TED-Ed too!

7. Classroom Screen – This is a site that my friend and fellow educator Tim Miller,@SocStuTchr , shared with me earlier this year. The developer, Laurens Koppers @ClassroomScreen, created a home screen with a myriad of classroom widgets to help one manage their classroom. Things like a noise level monitor, a random name chooser, and a QR code generator just to name a few widgets, are included and super easy to use. I think it is a great tool and have used it while substituting for one of my teachers as well as presenting to fellow educators.

6. Common Sense Media – I have been referring a lot of parents to Common Sense Media when we have discussions about screen time and student consumption of media. It provides a great reference or starting points for many parents who soon discover they have to help their children manage their screen time and media diet.

5. TeachThought – There are so many resources and pieces on this site that I can sometimes get pulled into a vortex of amazing resources. Don’t surf this site during your short break!

4. Workbench – I am still encouraging my faculty to begin implementing Workbench more often in the classroom(it’s a goal for 2019). I learned about Workbench when they were acquired by Google in 2018. Workbench is a place to build, find, customize, and share standards-aligned lessons for your classroom. It’s free for schools, heavy on STEM, coding, and robotics and has some great featured partners such as Parrot and Makey Makey. Now that they have been bought by Google this could be one of the biggest curriculum resource sites in the near future.

3. Rich Czyz & @4OClockFaculty, – A great book in which Rich, @RACzyz , shares his story and some wonderful ideas for shaking up professional development in your school. I shared this book at a Principal meeting last spring and our Chancellor bought a copy for all of the Principals. I know that Principals who have tried some of the strategies have had some great results!

2. Simon Sinek – Simon Sinek’s 2014 Ted talk, How Great Leaders Inspire Action, is well known to many. Take a few minutes and watch it if you have not seen it yet. I also encourage everyone to read his books Start with Why and Leaders Eat Last. While what he says seems so simple and makes sense, that manner in which he reveals the fundamental truths about leadership are always inspiring.

  1. Twitter – If you are not on twitter. Get on it! Now! They are so many awesome educators in the Twitterverse that it just makes sense to be in the space. Join an #edchat or several. Follow some educational leaders. They will turn you on to other educational leaders. I truly believe that any educator not on Twitter is doing themselves, and their students a disservice. There is just too much valuable information out there to not be willing to dip your cup into the twitter stream and walk away with a great idea, resource or connection.

Have a Happy New Year!

What is 21st Century Learning?


I spend a lot of time in the school I lead talking about and explaining what a 21st Century Learning Environment is, isn’t, what it looks, like and feels like. I have similar conversations with other Principals and leaders within the department of schools in which my school operates.  

As educators, often times these conversations focus on the learning and skills we seek to develop within the students.  The educators I speak with agree that 21st-century learning skills encompass the ability of students communicate, collaborate, critically think and problem solve, as well as be creative.  These are commonly referred to as The Four C’s.

The Four C’s are incredibly important skills for today’s students to understand and master so that they can be prepared for the uncertain future work environments which they will be entering.  It should not be a secret that the dawn of the “internet of things” and Artifical Intelligence means that our students need to be prepared to enter a workforce who jobs do not exist yet.

However, if we only focus on the skills we want our students to develop we lose sight of the WHY we want them to develop these skills. Schools still need to continue to help students develop competency in the core content areas such as English, Modern Language, Fine Arts, Math, Economics, Science and Social Studies. In addition, we must develop students understanding of global awareness, financial and entrepreneurial literacy, civic literacy, health literacy, and environmental literacy.

In today’s technology-rich and rapidly changing society, we must develop students ability to access and evaluate high-quality information, in order that they are to able to utilize this information, navigate social media, and use technology effectively.

Educator’s today are tasked with developing students life and career skills in a much different way than in years past.  In order for students to be prepared to meet the needs of an rapidly evolving world, they must develop skills in flexibility, self-direction, productivity, leadership, and social & cultural competencies.

Given the complex nature of intersecting these various skill sets (the 3 R’s and 21st-century learning skills) within the classroom, it is unreasonable that we expect teachers to meet these needs in a traditional classroom setting.

Moving beyond just having technology such as iPads, Chromebooks or laptops in the classroom schools need to look forward to how instruction is delivered. It is even necessary to look at how many states establish curriculum standards and set expectations to evaluate student competency.  Standardized tests and school rating are not enough to determine if we are doing justice for our students.

As we look towards more student-centered learning environments Problem Based Learning or PBL, is one avenue wherein schools can look to bridge this gap and address the needs of today’s learners.

The efforts by High Quality Project Based Learning outlines a framework of six domains to make PBL effective in the classroom and prepare students to be successful in the world after school.

These domains include:

  1. Intellectual Challenge & Accomplishment – How do students critically think and strive for excellence?
  2. Authenticity – How do students work on projects that are meaningful and relevant to their culture, lives, and future?
  3. Public Product – How is student work discussed, critiqued, shared and publicly displayed?
  4. Collaboration – How do students collaborate with one another in person/online and receive guidance from adults and experts?
  5. Project Management – How do students use project management processes that allow them to start a project, ideate and complete a project?
  6. Reflection – How do students reflect on their work and develop their metacognition skills before, during and after a project?

If we want students to be prepared to enter the workforce ready to challenge and question the ideas before them and to have the stamina to focus and inquire over a long project we need to create environments for them that are authentic, give them a voice, and provide an opportunity for them to reflect on their learning.  In this way, they can develop the skills to critique in a professional manner and be proud of the work that they share in public.

To continue to teach using a traditional educational methodology that trains learners to become good at being students rather than become competent at becoming learners does a disservice to those who we are tasked with guiding and shaping into effective members of our society.


Vulnerability & Building Trust

Several years ago I wrote a letter to Billy Martin, a drummer, percussionist, artist and now an Artistic Director of the Creative Music Studio. I had received a signed copy of one of his vinyl records because I had made a small donation in support of the studio he was building, The Herman House Gallery.

To express my gratitude I sat down to write him a short thank you note which turned into something of a three-page letter.  As a fellow drummer, I shared my musical path and lamented the fact that I was no longer playing music regularly or had the ability to be creative since I had become a school administrator.  To my astonishment, he took the time to not only read my letter but to actually write back! 

His response was thoughtful and I could tell he had read my letter. Rather than dismiss my missive to him as the ravings of a crazy person, he was empathetic in his response and challenged me to do one thing.  Be creative, make art every day.

When I began to reflect on his challenge, Be creative, make art every day I began to look for those opportunities to be impactful in meaningful ways. 

I thought about my time in the classroom.  As teachers, we take hours to plan and prepare our lessons and units.  We differentiate material for the students that need something a little more or level materials in order to meet their exact needs. We design pre & post assessments and make sure that we are collecting data and following the scope and sequence. That is part of the science of being a teacher. 

However, the moments that I remember most in the classroom where not the times I was a scientist. It was those times I felt like an artist.  Those times when the plan fell apart and I had to improvise the lesson based on the direction the students were asking questions and displaying passion about the subject.

By deviating from the prescribed plan, I left myself vulnerable to the students as we explored their questions and interests together.  I didn’t always have all the answers and we had to explore together. This vulnerability created an atmosphere of trust within the classroom where the students could see their teacher traveling with them on their learning journey.  This is the art of teaching. Establishing trust and journeying together.

As Principal I may not get those moments often, if at all, with students. Instead, I get the opportunity to create and design with teachers on a different level.  I used to view my faculty and staff as over fifty different individuals with various competing needs and desires.  Today, however, I view the faculty as a collection of professionals as if they were an improvisational jazz group. 

In order for any improvisational group (i.e. musical or comedy group) to be successful, they must possess two traits.  First, they need to have a solid foundation of their craft.  Second, they must trust the group with whom they are working. The most successful improvisational groups are willing to be vulnerable in order to take risks, go somewhere new and create something greater than one person is capable of doing alone. Teachers are no different.

Together, the teachers and I have a solid background in our content knowledge. It is from there which we based all of our practices and discussions, it is our common language.  However, the culture of the school had not begun to change.  Our expertise alone did not create a positive creative environment.  It wasn’t until I shared my vulnerability with the teachers that they began to take risks instructional risks of their own.

I had to demonstrate that, as a leader,  I wasn’t the wealth of all knowledge.  That I valued and needed the points of view of others.  By forming committees, teams and departments I was able to “give the work back” to the teachers and demonstrate that I trusted their decisions and valued their expertise.

This is probably a bad idea but…

I also share my vulnerability by sharing my good ideas and bad ideas.  Often times I begin a statement with, “This is probably a bad idea but…” or “Here is an awful idea…” as a way to invite criticism and demonstrate that I do not have all of the answers.

When teachers feel safe and supported they begin to encourage one another to take instructional risks. Taking these risks exposes their own vulnerability because they know their efforts may not succeed.  However, the freedom to fail as a teacher and come out on the other side, informs our school culture and builds upon their unconscious actions and beliefs.  More faculty end up taking risks and trying new instructional practices. 

Teachers don’t take risks out of some sort of competition.  Instead, teachers can subconsciously feel the supportive environment which they have had a hand in creating.   Now when I speak with teachers or better yet, have a chance to overhear their conversations, I don’t solely look at the informational content of what they are saying.

Instead, I look and listen for how the message is being sent. The active listening, the “yes and…”, “tell me more about that” and “have you considered..” comments tell me about the relationships that are forming and how the teachers are becoming more comfortable sharing vulnerability with one another.

As a school leader, this is the creative process and art I strive to make every day.  To establish and nurture the conditions in order to form a more positive school environment and culture.

For example, this afternoon, I get to attend a faculty meeting and listen to a first-grade teacher deliver a short TED-style talk to her fellow teachers about how her classroom implements the 16 Habits of Mind. 

Handing over a faculty meeting to teachers so they can speak about whatever ignites their passion is a risk I am willing to take. I am showing the teachers, let’s try something new. I have no clue if it will work but let’s give it a shot. 

And for this first-grade teacher, I know she will feel vulnerable presenting to her peers the exciting work they are doing in their classroom. Is there anything much more intimidating for a teacher than to present to her own peers? I think not. But she is trusting her colleagues will receive her with openness and honestly. I know they will.

 I wouldn’t have it any other way. After all, you can’t create great art without taking some risks. Isn’t that the point?

16 Habits of Mind…In Kindergarten? You know it!

One of the 16 Habits reminders at my school

A recent edition of Education Week (Nov, 7, 2018 V 38, Issue 12) is dedicated to examining four big questions as related to personalized learning. In order of how they are presented in the issue they are:

  1. What is (and isn’t) personalized learning? 
  2. Why do some personalized learning efforts make school feel less personal?
  3. Is it a good idea to give students greater choice over what they learning?
  4. Are tech and education companies overselling personalized learning?

While these are great questions to explore and discuss, I think it is the third question that is important for any school to examine. Whether the school is exploring personalized learning or not.

Whether or not a school is pursuing personalized learning is almost immaterial to the question, “Is it a good idea to give students greater choice over what they are learning?”  If we look objectively at the 21st century learners, or the Generation Z students, in our classrooms we come to realize that the effect of the constant connectivity and digital choice has created a culture of immediate gratification within our students. You can see it when kindergarten and first grade students are playing Roblox or when high school students are playing Fortnight.  The ability to have choice is central to how students interact with the world. In fact, they expect it! 

Instead of lamenting the limited attention spans of students, I believe we are tasked with meeting students where they are.  That is, we have to give them choice in their learning. Sometimes, this choice needs to be authentic and self-directed. At other times, it is OK if it is manufactured by the teacher to help the student or students master a standard or skill.

 If students have never been given the tools or opportunity to practice making decisions about their learning, how can we expect them to make good choices when finally allowed to do so?

However, we cannot teach students using a direct instruction methodology in the primary grades, then, expect students to become advocates for their own learning in middle school, high school and beyond.  If students have never been given the tools or opportunity to practice making decisions about their learning, how can we expect them to make good choices when finally allowed to do so?  Without developing skills and reflective practices, it is likely students may choose the path of least resistance rather than choosing an option that will provide a strong learning experience.

This is where the 16 Habits of Mind come into play.  

Costa & Kallick’s seminal work, Habits of Mind, explores sixteen problem solving and life skills needed to successfully navigate life, promote reflection and develop grit and resilience.

We have found, over the past six years, that having intentional, grade appropriate, conversations with students about the Habits of Mind starting in kindergarten and continuing through eighth grade allow our students to make smart choices and develop a sense of ownership in their own learning.

Our faculty will scaffold learning activities to ensure that students are pushed with challenging learning activities but provide a safety net to help students stumble when they make a mistake or fall below expectations.

The question should not be,  “Is it a good idea to give students greater choice over what they learning?” because students are already expecting choice.  Instead, the question should be, “How can we prepare students to take agency of their own learning to prepare them for the choices they will face in the future?”

By doing this, we can help students develop the grit to stay focused on a task or project for a long period of time.  Furthermore, they will develop the resilience to continue when they experience failure and a project gets tough. And isn’t that what we want? Students leaving school with the ability to communicate, think critically, collaborate and be creative problem solvers.

The Power of Intention

At the beginning of the school year I spoke with my faculty and staff about the importance of presuming a positive intention when working with one another, working with students and communicating with parents.

At the most basic level, when we presume each person we interact with throughout the day has a positive intention, we free ourselves from any past perceptions of that individual and any baggage those perceptions may carry. Instead, we free ourselves to make each interaction we have with others about seeking what is possible. Rather than becoming defensive or trying to prove a particular point, we can become open to new and creative problem solving strategies which allow ourselves the freedom to actively listen to one another.

I won’t say it has been easy for me, my administrative team or my faculty and staff to adopt this philosophy.  But I can share it has made each one of use more mindful in our interactions with one another and our community. This mindfulness has had the residual impact of taking some personal responsibility for the manner in which we communicate with those we work with everyday.

Personal responsibility may be one of the most important characteristics of “owning” ones intention. 

As a school leader, often teachers darken my door to ask permission to try a new instructional strategy, test a new technology tool, or have a courageous conversation with a parent about their son or daughter. By seeking approval from the Principal, teachers are seeking validation in their decision making process and seeking cover if something goes wrong. However, this can have the unwanted consequences of removing responsibility from ones actions.

Consider the following scene. You are a Principal and a teacher knocks on your door and asks the following. “Is it okay if I try out the @SeeSaw app in my classroom?”  In most cases I would guess you would be inclined to say, “Yes!” You may even be excited that a teacher is trying a new strategy in their classroom, especially if that teacher has been resistant to change in the past. Basically,  the teacher is asking for permission to try something new in the classroom. On the surface, that is good thing, right?  But at the end of the day if the new tech tool does not work, it’s no big deal for that teacher.  He or she may say, “Just another app that didn’t work in the classroom.” Since there is no real investment from the teacher he or she could blame the technology for not meeting the classroom needs, the students for not meeting expectations, or even the Principal for pushing the teacher to try something outside their comfort zone.

But what if the conversation went differently?  What if that teacher came to your office and said, “I intend to curate student work in order to build their academic portfolios. I think it may help them be reflective in their learning process. I think I am going to try using @SeeSaw to start the process.”

In this case, the teacher is stating the ultimate goal of the instructional strategy and taking ownership of how they see it unfolding. And if the new app does not work for that particular classroom, the possibility remains open to try other resources and technologies. In both cases, the ultimate goal was the same. To compile student work in order to give the students an opportunity to be reflective. However, the teacher that shared their intention to curate student work is focused on the process and not the outcome.  By focusing on the process that teacher is “owning”  their action to create student portfolio’s.

What might happen if we stop expecting teachers to ask for permission and start asking them share their intentions? I think teachers would feel more appreciated for their professionalism and expertise. I bet more teachers would be willing to try new strategies in the classroom and take ownership of the results.  Good or Bad. And if a new strategy doesn’t work in the classroom…so, what? It is merely one step in the teachers learning journey, he or she has had one more opportunity to refine their instructional practice, and all the while, the students have seen an adult modeling a growth mindset.

Why Create a Circle of Safety?

I’ve been thinking a lot about  Simon Sinek’s concept of the circle of safety. It is not a new concept but he does a great job explaining that when those with whom we work and lead feel safe from threats within the organization, people are more likely to be innovative, solve problems and be creative. It is comparable to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Here’s a great Khan Academy video by Shreena Desai if you need a refresher: Maslows Hierarchy of Needs

I have observed this concept in practice when observing instruction and talking with other educational leaders.  Good teachers progress through the curriculum and use data from assessments to inform their instruction. However, when I spoke to these teachers and students neither indicated they felt a strong attachment to one another.  The relationships in the classroom were transactional.

Great teachers follow the scope and sequence, progress through the curriculum and use data to inform their instruction and do all the other things good teachers do. But the great teachers go a step further, they create a circle of safety and culture of trust with in their classrooms. It is in these classrooms that I have observed students feeling safe enough to take educational risks, collaborate, create, and be authentic while supporting one another.

In a similar way, great school leaders need to create a circle of safety for their teachers.  By minimizing external distractions and threats that may be felt by their teachers, great leaders create a culture of trust within their organization.  Allowing teachers to conduct research and take instructional risks, reminds teachers that when a strategy fails, they are modeling a growth mindset and resilience for each other and their students.

It’s not a one time thing, either.  Teachers need to hear and feel this message from their leaders time and time again.  Former Harvard Business School Professor, John Kotter talks about the importance of over communicating in his 1995 Harvard Business Review article Leading Change, Why Transformation Efforts Fail. In the article he speaks to the importance of sharing the message with everyone, in a myriad of ways and often. Furthermore, he talks about the importance of “walking the talk” of the message that is being communicated. This means that as educational leaders we must model the circle of trust with our faculty and staff so we can see it translate to the classroom.

When teachers feel safe and supported we create conditions in which they can thrive and fulfill their potential.  The same can be said of our students.

The Journey Begins

Why am I doing this?

For sometime now I have been thinking about writing a blog. I can think of a bunch of reasons why not to write a blog.  “I don’t have anything valuable to say.” “Writing something every week is too burdensome.” “I have too many demands on my time.” But the fact remains I keep thinking about it.

“In our world today, what is a student more likely going to need to be able to write: an essay or a blog post?”
― George Couros

Reflection has always been a process in my own learning and now that I am in a doctoral program I am doing a lot of reading and reflection.   George Couros talks about the power of delivering a presentation or writing a blog –  it forces one to think about your own learning.

I have certainly had that experience as I have developed presentations and led professional development.

So I guess that’s why I am doing this. To reflect my own learning while I journey through my doctoral program(and probably to step away from APA writing format on occasion). Also, I wish to provide a platform to share the reflections and perspectives of the educational thought leaders who I have the opportunity to learn from on a regular basis.

I hope you enjoy or get something out what I post in this space. And if you do, that you share it with someone else.  Because sharing our wisdom and knowledge with other educators is the purest form of professional development.