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.

How can anchor charts change classroom culture?


As a school leader, it becomes apparent to me on a daily basis, the importance of developing and investing in the relationships of my faculty and staff.  Ask any principal if the old maxim, “culture eats strategy for breakfast” is true and I’d venture to guess 9 out of 10 school leaders would say definitely.

If it is true on the macro level of a school, it is also true on a micro level in the classroom.  The investment teachers put into establishing a trusting and nurturing environment allow students to feel safe and take academic risks.  

For the classroom teacher, one powerful method of establishing a culture of excellence and growth mindset in the classroom is to effectively use anchor charts. An anchor chart is nothing more than a tool to support instruction. These posters, which are created by teachers and/or in collaboration with the students display the most important and vital content strategies of a lesson or unit. These graphic displays show how one goes about thinking about a concept.  It provides an opportunity for students to move forward when they are stuck.

Anchor charts can be used for endless possibilities but the most common charts focus on to engaging students in learning, are used as visual reminders, help chunk complex material into bite-size pieces, build vocabulary and remind students about classroom procedures.

The best part about anchor charts is that they build a culture of trust within the classroom.  Anchor charts are visible artifacts that subtly tell the students, “I don’t expect you to know everything the first time around”,   “We work together in this classroom to help one another”, “I trust you to try to work it out yourself before coming to the teacher for guidance”.    

At the school I lead, anchor charts are commonly used from everything for reading and writing, math, and even student-led conferences.  It’s been a game changer for many of my teachers and has helped them with classroom communication and management.

If you explain something to someone and they say they understand, yet still do not do what was asked, obviously they didn’t understand.  Anchor charts combat this scenario in a non-confrontational manner. Students feel supported, develop independence and have agency in their own learning.  The best part, classrooms that use anchor charts and have this type of positive culture just feel good to be in. The teachers feel it, parents feel it, administrators feel it and most importantly, the students feel it.