Good Leaders Read…A Lot

Educators know that reading is power.  I’ve been reading What Connected Leaders Do Differently by Todd Whitaker, Jeff Zoul, and Jimmy Casas. It’s a solid read with an american focus, and I’ve found some great nuggets.

Here’s one: great leaders read all the time.

Photo Credit: The Fresh Feeling Project* Flickr via Compfight cc

Great leaders also always seek to improve. They want to learn and to get better. They’re never satisfied with good enough. Reading is part of that continuous improvement. How else can you explore new ideas and create new schema?

I read a lot, mostly at night or on the weekends. I have a paper book on the nightstand (no screens before bed!) and spending 15 – 20 minutes winding down helps me on two fronts: I can take my mind away from the whirlwind of the day and read something of interest.

What do you do to amp up your reading?

How Do You Want Families to Feel on the First Day of School?

With thanks to Pernille Ripp for title inspiration.

My nieces and and nephew just started at new schools in Washington, D.C. after a move across the country. They were excited and nervous, as you would expect. And so were my brother and sister-in-law. They didn’t know exactly what to expect either and wanted their kids to have a great first day. As educators, we often forget how parents may feel approaching a new school year.

Photo Credit: baggyjumper via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: baggyjumper via Compfight cc

I’ve recently read some excellent back-to-school posts by amazing educators Jose Vilson, Pernille Ripp and Stephen Hurley about caring for students, planning for the emotional side of the classroom, and co-creating a classroom with students. This stuff is really important!

And yet… we also need to think about families. We might be able to come up with a list of words to describe how we would like them to feel, like welcome, happy, included, or confident. How do our actions actually achieve these?

I was not always the most welcoming teacher or principal. In fact, when I look back over some of the things I did, I cringe. I acted like I knew what was best for students and their families. But I didn’t, a fact that it took me a few years and experiences and the modeling of some really great teacher and principal mentors to realize.

Have you ever done this exercise after a learning session?  “I used to think…. but now I think…” It’s a great way to give yourself permission to leave behind old ways of doing things that were not the best and commit to making a change. So I’ll go: “I used to think that parents should leave me alone and let me do my job, but now I think that if they know how much I value their child and their input, we can do a great job together.”

So what does that mean for the first day of school and welcoming families? How about a big fat smile that stretches your face and no curt or frustrated words? How about having parents bring students to classrooms for the first day (or maybe a first week?) How about free coffee or tea on the playground for adults as they arrive? Expand on these to fit your school and your context.

I’ll let Maya Angelou have the last word with a quote I always need to keep in mind:

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

 

Two Essential Questions for Reflection

The end of a school year always prompts reflection. After collapsing exhausted on Canada Day to recover from the whirlwind of June, educators take a few deep breaths and think about their year. That reflection takes different forms. It can be mulling over how your class did as you sip a morning coffee on the balcony, or wondering what you could improve in your approach to inquiry as you walk the 17th fairway, or seeing your teaching approaches through a new lens by reading that educational title that was on your nightstand for ages.

Photo Credit: Flооd via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Flооd via Compfight cc

My reflection is focussed on two questions:

Am I getting better?

How do I know?

Steven Katz, psychologist, teacher and researcher, uses these questions as a basis to measure all improvement, whether as a whole school or as individual leaders and educators. They are simple yet powerful. Where can you look to know if you are really getting better?

This year, I focussed on two areas for my own growth and improvement as a leader. It almost goes without saying that I have many more areas to improve, but I kept in mind that we can only do a couple of things well.

First, I wanted to create a space in principal learning teams and school visits where there could be open and trusting dialogue about school improvement. I also wanted to work on my listening to understand people’s perspectives and experiences (in the interest of full disclosure, this is something I feel like I always need to improve).

These are some pretty nice goals, don’t you think? And that’s really where it stops, unless I have some way of knowing if I’m getting better. One component is my own observations. I see some progress in learning teams with principals and vice principals as they lay out what they are struggling with and hoping to learn about. I watch as some principals ask questions during school visits or push back. I try to be honest and transparent, but I’m not really sure if I’m perceived that way. But these impressions aren’t enough.

Shakil Choudhury has shared that the most important leadership quality is self awareness. We get there through brutal self-honesty and feedback from others. I’ll start by gathering feedback from those I work with through a series of questions:

What does open and trusting dialogue mean to you?

Do you feel the principal learning team time and the structure of the school visit is useful for creating that dialogue?

What can I do to improve the conditions for this dialogue to exist?

What are my strengths as a listener?

What do I need to improve as a listener?

I’ll be back with an update. Here I go!