Courage: The Ultimate Challenge of Leadership

It’s not uncommon to chat about leadership with my sisters. While we all work in different fields, we all find how we work with others more effectively to be incredibly intriguing. We see many commonalities in our work with others because working with people, helping them reach their highest potential, supporting their efforts, and acknowledging their hard work isn’t all that different, regardless of the professional field. Over the years we’ve shared insights, challenges, successes, and of course…books. We all love to read and I’d go as far as saying we’ve been in our own exclusive book club for most of our lives.

This week I read Michael Fullan’s book Nuance: Why Some Leaders Succeed and Others Fail. It was an excellent read and I can’t recommend it strongly enough if you are a student of leadership and aspire to be an excellent leader. As I shared some of my learning with my sister over a phone call, I found myself coming back to what I have found to be one of the greatest challenges for leaders: courage. It’s no secret that leaders are charged with making hard decisions, conducting courageous conversations, and nudging folks beyond their comfort zones. This is incredibly difficult work, and making sure your nudge is seen as well intentioned and a result of your caring about the folks you serve as a person and professional can be tough.

Human nature is one that responds well to routine, predictability, and comfort. When we are pushed beyond this, it’s natural for us to resist-and that resistance can manifest in a variety of ways: explicit refusal, indirect avoidance, an uptick in anxiety, or paralysis. And we name this in different ways, feeling overwhelmed is a common one. For those of us who are leaders, our challenge is to not let these facets of human nature drive our efforts. When we are challenged with leading others to a new level of performance, shifting a culture, or achieving their highest potential, it’s not hard to succumb to a sense of empathy that alters our leadership. What we know we need to do gets tangled up with what others feel about what we are asking of them, and we lose the ownership of leading others through these tough and challenging places. Our challenge as leaders isn’t to disregard what others feel, but to help them move forward in spite of what they feel. We do this when we acknowledge the difficulty in something and accompany that acknowledgment with an affirming confidence in their ability to achieve it. It might sound something like this: “I know this is really hard and a big shift in the way we’ve always done things, but I also know you are more than capable of doing this. I believe in you and I am going to help you get through this. You can do it.”

But far too often I’ve watched leaders struggle with how to respond to the difficulty of change and people’s reactions to it. Their empathy turns into sympathy and they change their expectations or shift the need for change to those above them, losing all ownership of the very things they are trying to implement. One thing is for sure-when you don’t own the change you’re in charge of leading, neither will the folks you serve. Courageous leaders operate differently. They acknowledge feelings of others, but they are willing to endure the process of change, and understand that shifting anything-a culture, a practice, a perspective, is a process. It is a long and arduous process, and to shift anything you must stay with it long enough for it to move. Leaders who lack courage quit too soon, give in too early, or become inconsistent rather than persistent, because they lack the stamina that courage requires.

Courage is born in the moments when we decide to not give up or give in, even when things feel hard, difficult, or uncomfortable. It is our ability to “stay with it” that is the ultimate test of our leadership. This development of endurance takes practice. It isn’t something we acquire when given an opportunity to lead. Like a marathon runner, we must train, pushing ourselves for ourselves, so that when the time comes, we can continue without faltering. As leaders, having a strong sense of who we are and what we believe is instrumental in the development of courage. When we know what we believe and what we stand for, we can demonstrate a strength that supports us in moments of struggle. For in the end, it is not our intelligence, our charisma, or our abilities that get us to the victory line, but our steadfast courage that will carry us all the way there.

Until next time, be you. Be true! Be a hope builder!


Be G.R.E.A.T! by Latoya Dixon

FEATURED originally as a guest blog on

It’s no secret I love Clemson football. I graduated in 1999, following my sisters Elisa and Tonya, who graduated in 1997 and 1995 respectively. It’s in my blood. I also admire and have the highest degree of respect for Deshaun Watson. He’s now the quarterback for the Houston Texans, but like me, he’s also a Clemson Tiger. I like how he looks an obstacle in the eye, stays poised in the most dire situations, and views challenges as an opportunity to be great. I haven’t abandoned the home team (Go Panthers!), but I sure do enjoy watching him play on Sundays. The wildcard game against the Buffalo Bills this year was amazing, and Deshaun Watson in his usual fashion, was the star of the show. At the end of the game an ESPN sports caster asked him what he was thinking in the moments that they were down and working to make a come back. The Texans were losing 16 to 0 at the half, but tied the game up in the fourth quarter to send it into overtime. They won the game! His response, “So I said let’s be great today. So somebody had to be great. Why not me?” I couldn’t seem to get that response out of my head. I am so inspired by the way he responds to challenges, both in action and words. I can’t help but think about how waking up each day with the intention and goal to “be great” might change our lives as individuals, as members of families, and especially as educators.

Sunday can be a day of dread for many, and that’s no different for teachers.  It’s Monday’s prep day. It’s the day to ready ourselves for the week ahead, and if we aren’t careful it can be filled with anxiety, fear, uneasiness, and worry. But if we approached our Sundays like Deshaun Watson approaches challenges on the football field, with the intention being great, how might that change our entire perspective? To me, it would make Sunday the best day of every week. Being great isn’t about being better than others, but about being our very best selves. That’s what I heard when Deshaun Watson asked, “Why not me?” He challenged himself to set the example, and we can do the same thing. Here’s what being G.R.E.A.T. means to me: 

G: Grace-We extend grace to others and ourselves. When something goes wrong, we focus on resilience. We work to help others and ourselves bounce back from missteps instead of wallowing in them. We move forward with a joyful and positive spirit.

R: Relationships– We center and still our hearts and minds. Our focus is on treating others well, building trust and understanding in our classroom and school community. We do this with intention because our relationships are at the center of all we desire for our students to accomplish, and we can only accomplish those goals with healthy and productive relationships with our colleagues.

E: Encouragement– We encourage ourselves and others through positive affirmations, kind words, and supportive actions. We recognize that encouragement is what we need most when we are faced with challenging situations. Our words have the power to hurt or help. We choose them wisely and with care.

A: Accountability– We take personal accountability for the energy we bring into the spaces where we work, serve, and socialize. Our attitude and our efforts are under our control and therefore, are our responsibility. We have the potential to set the tone positively or be toxic. We choose positivity, and accept personal accountability for our actions and reactions.

T: Trust-We trust that every moment we experience as educators-the most challenging ones and the most glorious ones-are helping us develop and grow into the educators we are meant to become. We are present in our conversations and collaboration with colleagues, students, and all members of our school community. We trust that if we show up in the moments that bring us the most challenge, we define our legacies in ways we can be proud of in the future.

So, Why not you? Why can’t Sunday be your day to get ready to be great. Who can you extend grace to during the week? Which relationships can you look forward to improving? How can you use your words to encourage? What are some ways you can take personal accountability for the energy you add to your classroom, your colleagues, your school community? How can you work toward trusting that every moment matters, and make sure your legacy will be something you can be proud of in the future?

I’m no Deshaun Watson. He’s an amazingly talented football player. But we can all make Sunday our day of preparation to be G.R.E.A.T. Why not us? We are the teacher tribe! 

The Cognitive Conditioning of America’s Educators

I’m afraid we’ve been brainwashed. I think most of us with 20 or more years in this field remember the age-old interview question, “What is your philosophy of education?” I can remember answering that question too. My answer then isn’t different from my answer now. I believe education can change the lives of children. I believe it can and does make a difference. I believe that for all children, but especially for children of poverty, education is the gateway to economic mobility, and gives all of us an opportunity to make the world a better place. I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that it has the power to break generational strongholds of poverty, trauma, and more. Without my education, from Head Start to my Doctorate of Philosophy degree, my life would not be what it is today. And I am willing to bet, if this question was posed to educators across the country their responses would be similar to mine. Yet, when we begin to have vigorous debate about the value and use of high stakes assessments, our philosophies are often overshadowed by a narrative of weaponized accountability, competition among schools and districts, and our perceived need to sort, sift, rank, and label schools and students. 

You might wonder why I am concerned that our colleagues have been brainwashed. There are lots of examples I could give, but here are a few that particularly trouble me. With the reauthorization of the ESEA, also known now as the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, states were given the opportunity to exercise flexibility in meeting the requirements of federal accountability. Yet, few states ventured away from the assessment systems brought on by all of the previous named pieces of legislation, like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. I can’t help but wonder if the redundant inoculation of a narrative that has said we must label our schools to hold them accountable, and we must use high stakes testing to do so, and to prove our worth and validity as institutions of public education and recipients of public tax dollars, has led us to believe that there is only one way to measure success in our schools. This particular mindset troubles me because it creates a false positive, a perception or belief that a few days of high stakes testing can paint the wholistic picture of a school’s or district’s success. I learned early that 175 days are greater than 5 days, and I choose to believe that an absolute measure of our schools are better captured across the majority of time we spend instructing students and students spend learning. This isn’t the only thing that has led me to believe we’ve been conditioned to quantify the complex efforts and skills involved with teaching and learning in absolute fashion. There’s more.

This year, in South Carolina, there is a proposal to eliminate additional testing, not required by the federal government. This means we will no longer test Social Studies at the elementary and middle school level, and Science will be assessed once in middle school and once in high school. This proposal has brought on an onslaught of concern, specifically from Social Studies educators. In short, some of these folks have expressed concern that if Social Studies isn’t included in our high stakes assessment and accountability system, then it may not be taught. This is the epitome of the “tail wagging the dog.” I can’t help but strongly challenge such thinking. What students need to know and be able to do should not be determined by what is on the big set of tests at the end of the year. We know from a variety of research that our students must be problem solvers, collaborators, creative, persistent, authentic engagers of literacy of all kinds, kind, healthy, and whole people to become successful adults. If that is so, then it suggests to me, that reducing our practice as only valid if children participate in a high stakes assessment related to the content we have taught is counter intuitive to what many of us would articulate as our philosophy of education. With or without a high stakes assessment, what we teach students and the skills we want students to know and demonstrate are important. We don’t need a highly consequential assessment to prove that. I trust educators as professionals, who love the whole child, and want children to have the instructional and educational experience they deserve-tested or not.

So why then, have we allowed our philosophies to be disrupted by those who haven’t done the work we do? Why is it, that we buy into someone else’s philosophy, be it corporate or individual, about how we prove that we are doing good work? The futures of our students are the ultimate measures of our efforts. What they become, or fail to become, is a reflection of our work and the work of other important stakeholders such as parents, community members, etc. We do not do this alone. Yet, there are those of us who have allowed the assertions of others to define us. We have been conditioned to believe that if it doesn’t show up on a high stakes assessment as positive, if it isn’t colored in green, if the grade doesn’t show up as an A, if the rating doesn’t say excellent, then our work and our efforts are to be questioned and perhaps, viewed as ineffective or less effective. I whole heartedly reject that, and I hope you will too.

Dabo Swinney, the Clemson Tiger football coach, and two time National Champion, said it best: “Best is the standard.” Our job isn’t to try and be better than other schools or districts. We shouldn’t rests our efforts on how much better or worse our students perform than the school next door, or the state across the border. As educators, we must define best for ourselves and by ourselves. A failure to subscribe to our own educational philosophies has the potential to lead to a brainwashing of sorts-an adoption of a belief that we didn’t originally subscribe to when we started doing this important work.

My charge to educators today is to think for yourself. Make sure your efforts are aligned to your educational philosophy, not the accountability system of the school report card, or the mandates of those who choose to put our schools, districts, and states in rank order and label us because of a perceived belief that it will incentivize better performance. Tell them to apply this same thinking to the work of doctors, hospitals, engineers, IT work, and business. Produce a report card based on a few days of interaction with customers, patients, or clients. Use that data to rank, sift, and sort these entities and publish for all to view and make judgement of quality of their work. I can guarantee you that Apple isn’t trying to be better than Samsung, and Kroger isn’t trying to be better than Publix. They are all trying to be the best they can be…because best is the standard. Decide for yourself.

Until next time, be you. Be true. Be a hope builder!



Four Dangerous Assumptions of Accountability & School Quality

Accountability is important. We all need to take personal responsibility for our actions, for our work, and for our impact on others. We need to know how children are performing, how we can help and support them in improving their achievement, and opportunities to identify areas where they are gifted and strong and where students need to grow. It’s unfortunate, but the weaponizing of assessment in school reform has led to a number of assumptions about school accountability systems. In this blog, I am going to attempt to outline some of my concerns in this regard.

Assumption 1: Accountability scores are equivalent to school quality.

Far too often, school report card grades or scores are driving home values, community growth, and an assumption that the quality of what is happening in classrooms is far greater in those schools with high accountability scores versus those schools with low accountability scores. Quality and accountability should not be conflated, but seems to be regularly in discussions of school reform and improvement. We cannot assume that the score is a solid indication that quality instruction, quality relationships, and quality decisions are being made in a school with high accountability scores, and that the opposite is true for those schools that don’t perform so well in the accountability system.

Assumption 2: High accountability scores are an indication of high teacher quality.

We know, from scores of research, that our students from higher socio-economic families present an advantage in terms of their performance on achievement tests in comparison to their counterparts. The background knowledge and experiences they bring to school reduce the need for teachers to provide explicit direct instruction around academic vocabulary, to scaffold learning, or fill in content knowledge gaps. Simply put, we can surmise that students perform well on the achievement measures if the accountability scores are high, but we cannot assume that those scores are due to a higher degree of teacher quality in comparison to their low achieving counterparts.

Assumption 3: Schools that fare well in the accountability system are doing something dramatically different from those who do not score as well.

It pains me to hear folks talk about accountability scores in this regard. As educators, many of us have probably been privy to a conversation among our colleagues, where one asks, “What are y’all doing to get those scores?” This question is fatal flaw in school improvement efforts because it often leads to a desire to replicate a practice with no adaptation for the context and deficiencies under which a school’s students and teachers might be operating within. The “Simon Says” approach to school improvement does not work. Every school and its community is unique, and we must be certain to account for context in our efforts. Not doing so, in my opinion, is the equivalent of providing a Band-Aid for an infection rather than an antibiotic, and expecting the same healing the Band-Aid produced for a scrape for a bacterial infection.

Assumption 4: More effective and impactful leaders are in schools with high accountability scores versus those in schools with low or average accountability scores.

This one hits close to home. I’m biased and I know it, and it’s because I led a low-performing school, and did so with the highest degree of effort and instructional leadership. To support our students in the midst of a math teacher vacancy, I taught 8th grade math for two periods each morning, and served as co-principal for the rest of the day. I can attest that the challenges we faced in our school were exacerbated and atypical, but we knew we would still be held to the same accountability measures as more affluent, resourced, and advantaged schools. Let me be clear, I have no problem with a standardized accountability expectation. I just want to be sure that the assumption that high performing schools are an indication of high leadership effectiveness is a dangerous one. It is simply not so. One should not assume that there is a phenomenal school leader in every “Excellent” rated school, and conversely, the assumption that there is a highly ineffective leader in every “Unsatisfactory” rated school should not be made. You have to see the work to know the impact and a report and statistical analysis of achievement data cannot provide us with conclusions about leader quality, teacher quality, or school quality.

What troubles me most is the impact these assumptions have on schools, but also on families. The family that assumes they are moving into a great area with a great school only to find that the culture is toxic, in spite of the achievement scores and accountability performance. Further, that the teacher quality is not exceptionally different than that of the previous school their child attended that had lower accountability scores. When folks lean into these four dangerous assumptions, it perpetuates the false narrative that are public schools are failing and that some schools are exceptionally worse or better than other schools. A deficit mindset sets in, schools and families begin an intense focus on what is wrong, and what is right, losing the balanced mindset that we all need that considers all factors when we think about how well or unwell a school is faring. Instead, we need to view accountability scores for what they are: a statistical analysis of student performance on high stakes assessment-not a report on teacher, leader, or school quality. Keeping accountability in the right perspective and communicating about it in a way that makes sense and is honest and transparent regarding what it is and what it isn’t is critically important in the current public education climate and teacher crisis. We can do better, and we should.

Until next time, be you. Be true! Be a hope builder!


Leading For Improvement-Part 10: See the connections. Share them explicitly.

School improvement requires a sense of mutual interdependence. In the context of improvement, it means we recognize how one person’s actions affects another person’s experience. To be more specific, we know that when everyone puts forth his or her very best effort, we all benefit. One of the most important things leaders should do in the improvement process is help members of the organization see the connections among their efforts. Show each person the connection among processes, skills, knowledge, and efforts. Once we can articulate this, we can create a sense of purpose for the team-a purpose that is greater than one’s self. This creates commitment to the work, but more importantly to the organization and its’ members.

This expanded commitment can drive consistency in efforts, fidelity of implementation, and quality of work. When we know that our inconsistency and lack of fidelity to implement the changes we have all committed to can negatively affect the organization and our colleagues, we are more likely to stay true to our change efforts. We want to be sure we can say to our colleagues that our efforts are up to the challenge, and the desire to be a committed and dedicated member of the team can carry us in moments when we feel we cannot carry ourselves. This connection to the collective work and our colleagues can be an instrumental facet of our improvement efforts. At the heart of change is connection, an understanding that what we do or fail to do, is directly connected to the organization’s future or the future of those we serve.

The power of connection is a central theme to improvement efforts. When we make explicit effort to connect to each other, to our work, to our organizations-we are able to learn, grow, and thrive. Conversely, isolation is sure to sabotage our efforts. That’s why leaders must paint the picture for others. Name the connections. Ask others to share ways they are connected to the work and their colleagues. Ask them to name and claim the impact of their efforts and their connections. Connected people are able to take on the challenging work of improvement because they know they don’t have to do it alone!

Until next time, be you! Be true! Be a hope builder!


Leading for Improvement Part 9: Celebrate the change-big or small.

When we press for change, we have to be sure we don’t take on a deficit mindset. It means we must focus on securing small wins rather than thinking about what we are yet to accomplish. These opportunities to celebrate, small or large, are critical to the process of continuous improvement. It is in these moments, that we affirm the hard and challenging work of others, we uplift and encourage them, and we say with our words and actions that the work matters. Our acknowledgement of effort and improvement creates a sense of pride that can only come from working toward a goal and accomplishing it. That sense of pride is what helps us believe in what we’ve yet to achieve and keep going on days and moments when we realize that in spite of all the effort and desire we put forth, there are no guarantees that our work will result in the changes we are hoping to see.

Celebration doesn’t have to be massive, but it must be for the masses. That means we celebrate the efforts of everyone because we approach success collectively, the same way we approach the hard work. As a young principal, I can remember being so excited about making certificates for our entire school staff. I made them to celebrate the improvement of academic achievement we experienced after embarking on the Professional Learning Communities work for two years. Each certificate had a picture of each staff member along with his or her name and a line describing the reason for the recognition. What I did not realize until much later, is how much those certificates helped sustain our improvement efforts. Years later, I saw those same certificates hanging behind the desks of teachers, in the nurse’s office, and the custodian’s closet. That small token of celebration had sustained folks on days far beyond the day I handed it to them.

We must never underestimate the joy that comes from winning. In the school improvement arena, winning means our actions translate into all students learning, improved teacher practice, and that our schools and the people we serve are better because we were willing to do our jobs with love, care, dedication, and commitment. When we win, when we meet our goal, when we make positive progress, we celebrate to acknowledge the hard work of all who serve. Plan on winning and don’t forget to celebrate!

Until next time, be you! Be true! Be a hope builder!


Let’s Stop Weaponizing Assessment

It seems that using a balanced approach to do our work as educators is an overlooked perspective these days. It’s almost as if we have been conditioned to choose an extreme to support our position on literacy, accountability, and assessment. This either/or mentality in place of a both/and approach is troubling. When we fail to honor the continuum of concepts and pedagogical methods by forcing others to choose a position, we lose the opportunity to honor the fact that all of our children come to us with different and unique needs and gifts. What they need, when they need it, and how they need it simply can’t be so stringently defined. Simply put: it depends. There are far too many factors that contribute to each child’s learning journey for us to narrowly define our approach to instructing and assessing them.

With such extreme thinking, we’ve been forced into two camps when it comes to assessment. Camp A: We give too many tests. Tests are stressing our students out a great deal and our teachers are only focused on teaching to the tests. We are constantly assessing students to try and predict how they’ll perform on the big high stakes tests, and many of our students still aren’t demonstrating college and career readiness. Camp B: We have to know how our children are comparing to others in our schools, districts, state, and across the nation. These tests help us hold the educators accountable. We can see who is getting the job done, and who isn’t. We can see where large achievement gaps exist. If we don’t tests our students, how will we know how they are doing? Both perspectives are problematic, in my opinion, and it’s because we’ve weaponized assessment.

Assessment is an essential tool for effective teaching and for learning. When used as a tool rather than a weapon, it can help educators guide their instruction, create formative learning opportunities, diagnosing student misconceptions, and serve as evidence of mastery. It can also prove to be just as useful to students, building their agency in knowing what it is they know and are able to do and identifying areas where they need more deliberate practice and support. Instead, assessment has become a weapon in the accountability arsenal, a far cry from its’ original intent and purpose I believe I’ve outlined here.

Why? Why has assessment been weaponized? Why has its’ weaponization forced us into two camps of thought, neither of which is balanced? I believe there are many reasons for this. 1. It makes accountability easy to measure. It’s a convenient way to articulate the impact of teaching on learning. 2. It’s makes comparing student performance much easier than it would be if we used an assessment approach that wasn’t so easy to quantify, such as performance assessments. 3. It’s a big business. A 2012 article from Matthew Chingos of the Brookings Institute estimated that states spend about 1.7 billion annually on standardized testing, and in 2015 Chingos wrote a follow up article noting that in the grand scheme of things this was minimal, considering that our public education system spends an estimated 600 billion per year. He went on to explain how if the 1.7 billion was repurposed it would do little to improve teacher salaries, class size, supply budgets, etc. His conclusion is simply that we shouldn’t retreat from assessment. It helps inform policy makers and shapes their decisions, helps measure the performance of schools and educators, and enables scholars to take on research targeted at increasing academic outcomes. There is, however, a follow up to this, the growing evidence-based intervention products that are consuming the budgets of schools and districts in their attempt to improve student learning on these weaponized assessments. I wrote about the intervention overdose in an earlier blog. If you’re so inclined, give it a read and let me know what you think.

I can’t help but think what might happen if we invested the dollars in intervention materials in a different way, and I’m not referencing salaries here. We can professionally develop our teachers to build their assessment literacy capacity, to work with and coach them on how to use the information from the assessment to shift their practice in a way that leads to student mastery. We can help our students develop agency, and support them in being able to speak clearly to their strengths and opportunities and their plan for growing their knowledge and skills.

I believe that the ultimate job of the teacher is to be a diagnostician. They must identify and correct misconceptions in thinking and understanding early on and this is a skill that takes practice and development. Instead, we continue to invest in outputs, gathering more results to compare, rank, sort, and hold schools and educators accountable, rather than focusing on inputs-developing the capacity of teachers to be masterful diagnosticians and improving the agency of students. That’s where our efforts and investments should be in my opinion. Thus would help end the weaponization of assessment.

I want to be clear. I don’t believe assessment is a bad thing. This isn’t an all or nothing issue. We need assessment in the educational process. No doubt about it. We just need to return to a more common sense approach. One that honors the teacher as diagnostician and the student as an agent of his or her own learning.

Until next time, be you! Be true! Be a hope builder!


Leading for Improvement Part 8: Fuel the charge with actionable feedback.

High-quality feedback is critical to a system of continuous improvement. With the critical eye of others affirming or correcting our work, we can grow exponentially. This is especially true when it comes to school and district improvement.  Just as learners need affirmation and diagnostic feedback that leads to correcting misconceptions of thinking, teachers need the same to enhance their practices and course correct before things go too far off track. Our responsibility as leaders does not end with the charge to change we place upon others. Instead, we must keep efforts moving in the right direction by providing supportive and actionable feedback that is specific, actionable, targeted, and helps improve the capacity of those we have charged with changing. 

Without feedback, our push to ask others to improve is nothing more than words without work. We must do more than articulate why there is a need for change and what changes need to happen. Our explanation of how members of the organization can make the changes we are advocating for must accompany our feedback. People want to know if they are getting it right and if they are not they want to know how they can get it right. Everybody needs feedback to grow and to thrive. When we fail to provide feedback to those we serve or ask for it from those we are serving, we create a one-way communication system in which our decisions, actions, and direction is driven by our personal perspective. A lack of feedback is the ultimate barrier to increasing the capacity of others. 

Often in the conversation regarding high expectations and the necessity of those to drive improvement, the critical element of feedback is missing. Our expectations alone do not serve as a catalyst for change. They only help us move our organization in the direction we desire if we provide feedback to support those we serve in their efforts. Feedback is leadership in action.  The power it has to enhance improvement or inhibit it when missing is undeniable.  Keep the feedback loop open, transparent, and collaborative. As leaders, we need feedback as much as we need to give it to others! That’s transformation on the inside and the outside!

Until next time, be you! Be true! Be a hope builder!


Leading for Improvement-Part 7: Lead the learning before you set the expectation.

Serving as a leader and focusing on improvement requires a great deal of learning. In order to be able to lead improvement efforts effectively, one must be sure to learn a variety of things: about the organization, the needs, strengths, and challenges. Further, the leader must equip him or herself with the knowledge, skills, and processes to lead the improvement effort. Dedication and commitment are only effective if coupled with the necessary skills and knowledge to make a positive impact in outcomes. High expectations also matter, but before the leader can set the expectation, and hold others accountable for meeting it, learning in depth about what you are about to ask of others is essential. Leaders go first-in their learning, in accountability, and their actions.

Learning as much as you can about school improvement means taking the initiative to learn as much as you can by reading peer-reviewed journal articles, books, and investing in your professional development in ways that produce a positive return on investment. That means being strategic regarding the conferences you attend, and perhaps not attending a conference that you’ve always attended any longer because it actually does not meet your needs when it comes to improving your organization. Leaders who learn before they try leading don’t look to others to serve as the architect of their professional development. Instead, they accept full responsibility for their professional growth and understand the necessity of it if they are going to lead the charge of school improvement and develop a set of expectations for all members of the organization, including themselves.

When leaders set the expectation before they learn about the practices they are expecting others to execute, they create a false dichotomy that effective leaders are effective solely because they have communicated and held others to high expectations. What I know for sure is that the most impactful leaders hold themselves to high expectations before they place expectations on others, and one of those is that they are lifelong learners. Those charged with leading improvement efforts must equip themselves with the knowledge and skills to be effective in leading change. Only then, can they set the expectations for others to meet!

Until next time, be you! Be true! Be a hope builder!


Leading for Improvement Part 6: Pull the team together to start and sustain the improvement process.

We’ve all heard it. Teamwork makes the dream work. There is no I in team. These things have absolute truth to them, but the idea of working to improve a school or district requires more than a mental belief that teamwork matters. It requires work, and as much as I have heard those charged with leading improvement efforts talk about the importance of teamwork, I have heard less talk about the last part of that word: work.

As a leader of a change initiative, our communication must be clear to those we serve. We have a responsibility to be transparent with others about the work that is required for change. That work includes the need for collaboration, meaning members of the team must work together, think together, struggle together, and win together. It is messy and it’s challenging, but if we can get the work part and the together part right, it is quite rewarding.

Our improvement journey must always commence with a focused effort on the collective. That is, we start with making sure everyone on the team knows, understands, and believes they are a valuable part of the change that is about to occur, their efforts matter, and their work is critical to accomplishing organizational goals. Once we have reached this level of consensus among the team, we can begin the work of making sure everyone has clarity regarding what needs to change and why change must take place. Clarifying and communicating the what and why of change should happen often. The work of change is always accompanied by the how of change when improvement efforts are successful. This work of focusing on the collective, the team, should not end once the school or district has met its’ goals. Instead, it should remain at the very essence of the organization’s efforts. This is what starts and sustains improvement-an understanding that it takes work and that work must include everyone on the team.

Finish what you start by being sure to start the way you wish to finish. This means bringing the same energy, effort, and focus consistently to the work. A lack of consistency can sabotage well-intended plans for improvement, and result in a strong start only to be followed by a weak finish. The key is in being disciplined enough to understand that your quest for improvement is directly related to the consistency of your efforts. Steady wins the race!

Until next time, be you! Be true! Be a hope builder!