Saturday, August 12, 2017

Inspiration Has No Expiration Date: Why We Celebrate The Start of Every School Year #imagesofed

This week I had the privilege of attending several back to school celebrations in districts throughout our great state of South Carolina. It was truly an honor to be a part of the joy, excitement, and fun as we celebrated the start of a new school year. I noticed an interesting common theme too. In every school district I visited, I saw and more importantly, I felt the dedication, commitment, positive energy, enthusiasm, joy, and excitment of teachers and educators who have the heart for this work and are ready to work as hard as they have and need to in order to change the lives of young people. We celebrate the start of the school year, because we know that inspiration has no expiration date. It is something we all need and we need it everyday.

I'm determined this year to not let that inspiration expire. I will keep this feeling of excitement and education going by honoring those who do this work. This year, I am ready to do my part to elevate our noble profession, which I've had the opportunity to be a part of for nearly 20 years. We have a tendency as educators to blend in the background, to let others speak for us, to keep our heads down and our hands steady, doing the work quietly.

We need to do things differently.

We need to be the authors of our own narrative. We need to tell our own stories. We need to invite others to see what it is we are doing, the commitments educators are making, the sacrifices educators make daily, the hours, that extend far beyond the last bell of the school day, that educators are putting in to make education a quality and effective experience for the children we serve.

We need to elevate our profession, by demanding respect for it in our words and in our work.

We are in a powerful and noble profession. We have the power to change lives and for some reason, lots of the folks who are telling our stories aren't the ones who are writing it.

We have to change that. We have to change it NOW.

There are teachers shortages all across this country. There are more vacancies than there are teachers available. There are fewer students choosing education as their field of study. We need great teachers and we need them NOW. We need people, in and outside of the profession, to understand that our work is hard, heart work. It is work that changes obstacles to opportunities. It is works that makes what seemed impossible, possible. It is work that turns potential into reality. It is work that improves the quality of life for others. It is work that matters-for everyone. WE all benefit from every child receiving a quality education. It needs to be seen as such, treated as such, and respected as such.

Because our work is so hard, and difficult, we must never underestimate the need for inspiration. We are educating students by giving them the knowledge, skills, and experiences they need to thrive in a changing world, but we are also developing human beings who we all share a common future with-who could be the EMS worker who rescues you from a car accident, who could be the firefighter who responds to your call, who could be the CNA who brings you your medicine in the nursing home, who could be the doctor who performs your surgery, or the lawyer who represents you in the courtroom, or the bus driver of your grandchildren, or the cashier at the checkout. We are critical in the development of this world's future. We must not forget that, and we cannot allow others to treat our work with any less respect than it deserves.

We are educators. We change lives.

Every time I interact with a great teacher this school year, I am going to make it known. I'll share it on Twitter, on this blog, on my website #leadershipwithlatoya, in every platform I have because I want everyone to know why our profession is honorable and needs to be elevated. My challenge to educators and non-educators everywhere is this:

Join me in ELEVATING the teaching profession NOW. 

Let's make a commitment to not allow that beginning of year inspiration we always feel expire by telling our own stories, inviting others to see the work we are doing, sharing what it means to be an educator and letting others know they'd be more than lucky to be a part of such an honorable and noble profession.

We'll use the hashtag #imagesofed to show the world that we are doing great, courageous, honorable, hard, heart work because our children our counting on us-all of us- to help them change their lives.

I don't know about you, but I'm excited!

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


Sunday, July 30, 2017

Part 2-The Gap Between Knowing and Doing: Why Good Ideas Fail

In an earlier blog post, I wrote about the difficulty of execution. I highlighted the idea that we often fail to do what we know because we lack discipline. Using eating healthy and dieting as an analogy, I over simplified the difficulty in doing what we already know to be true. Although oversimplified, it certainly made the point clear. When things go awry, it's not usually due to a lack of knowledge, but due to our inability to consistently execute the behavior and actions we know will lead to the results we desire. So often good ideas fail because of poor implementation. The idea gets criticized as a failure, when in actuality the implementation of the idea was poor. In this blog post, I want to expand on this concept.

I've written on this blog multiple times about our "dessert smorgasbord" tendencies. That is, when we learn of what we perceive to be a good idea, we immediately want to try them out, along with all the other good ideas we've found enlightening. The problem is that we lack focus and clarity in our effort to solve problems because we try everything, instead of working to contextualize the solution and find the one thing we think will help, and then execute and implement it with discipline, consistency, and monitoring of implementation. When we lack such discipline in the implementation of what we've initially deemed to be a good idea, we have a tendency to rush to quick judgement and reject the idea citing that it doesn't work. The truth is this: It's not the idea that didn't work. It's you.

Now, that's a bold statement. So let me further explain. Our human condition requires that we provide ourselves with a set structure, specific strategies, and the like in order to execute action in a disciplined and consistent manner. In reflecting on my experiences as a leader and subordinate, so often when ideas have failed to achieve the results we had hoped they would produce, I've come to realize that it wasn't the ideas at all. It was a lack of preparation for implementation, a lack of planning for providing the right support, education, and training around the idea, a lack of planning in the design for how the idea would be implemented, monitored, and the evidence that would be used to determine if it was in fact working. Why is this? What causes folks to struggle with the implementation and execution of consistent, disciplined behavior? What can be done to avoid the criticism of good ideas as failures when in fact it is a failure in implementation?

I'm no expert, but here are my thoughts. First and foremost, recognize that being a visionary is not enough. Having a vision, developing a shared vision, and communicating that vision is certainly important. However, there must be a distinct plan for reaching that vision. Dreaming is necessary for aspiration and accomplishing that which may seem impossible, but a dream without work is reduced to a wish. A vision without a plan for implementation-and I mean a well thought out, strategic plan, supported by a structure for the work to be done, is nothing more than a wish. Wishing doesn't work, but working does. Good ideas often fail because those who are responsible for designing the implementation of them don't plan well enough, aren't strategic, don't create or alter the structure of the work to support the implementation of the idea, and don't develop a clear mechanism for supporting the education and training of those who are to actually go forward and implement it.

Secondly, we must acknowledge that people, in general, lack discipline. Most of us are creatures of habit, good or bad, and struggle to be disciplined in our work, our personal lives, our diets, and other things. Knowing this, it ought not be a surprise that when we decide to implement a good idea, that it requires an extreme amount of discipline and to help ourselves we must provide structure and strategy.  This isn't rocket science and I'm no scientist, but despite the fact that most folks know that every good idea is only as good as the ability to implement it with disciplined, strategic, action, folks still get stuck at visioning. Some might would disagree with me, but I believe that you can't stop at the development of a vision. In order to make something happen, you have to do something, and that something has to be specific, strategic, and monitored regularly so that you don't unconsciously slip into the mundane of routine of "making it through the day". I've watched so many folks declare a good idea a bad one because "it didn't work" when in fact it wasn't the idea at all. It was because he or she lacked the discipline to consistently execute the behavior needed to make the idea work, didn't provide the right structure or strategy to support the implementation of the idea, and didn't educate themselves or subordinates enough to implement the idea. The fidelity of implementation is a real challenge when it comes to making something work because the human condition lends itself to undisciplined behavior. It is our nature to operate in a state in which we do what is convenient, what is easy, what is best for us (instead of best for the organization), and what is comfortable. Failure to acknowledge the fact that good ideas require work and discipline, along with planning for implementation, will likely result in disappointment.

Thirdly, as leaders, I believe it is the leaders responsibility to move the organization beyond vision. Some might disagree as I have heard over and over, the leader sets the vision. I don't disagree with that, but in my opinion, it doesn't stop there. If you recuse yourself as the leader from thinking about the details, your vision is reduced to a vague idea. Leaders should think about ideas not only in terms of their merit, but in terms of their operation. What will this idea look like in practice? How will it work across various contexts and situations? What obstacles to implementing this idea can we anticipate? How can we work around or through the anticipated obstacles? What evidence will let us know if the idea is working? What support structures need to be put in place to aid in implementation of the idea? Are there any specific strategies we should be focused on during the implementation? How often and who will monitor the fidelity of implementation? What does successful implementation of this idea look like, sound like, feel like?  Leaders who recuse themselves of thinking about or through these questions are predisposed to failure. That is, they are more likely to cite the idea as a failure, because they lacked the discipline of planning for implementation and following through with the plan.

Good ideas are often cited as failures because the people charged with implementing the failed to do the work needed for the idea to be a success. The leadership gap is the gap between knowing and doing. Knowing alone is not enough to be a successful leader. Leaders who intend to be successful must bridge the gap by doing what it takes to get the work done and doing so with disciplined, consistent, and strategic action. That, my friends, is the leadership challenge so many face. You can start by acknowledging the lack of follow through we humans are prone to and putting some support structures and strategic actions in place to counter that. I think that's a good idea, and if you agree, do something about it.

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


Saturday, July 8, 2017

Lessons In Leadership: The Summer Series

Hey y'all. Let me begin by saying thanks for listening to the podcast. It has been a really exciting adventure making episodes each week and hearing from listeners about how our quick and practical episodes are helping them grow! That's the point of the #leadershipwithlatoya podcast. It is not a recipe for perfect leadership. It isn't a guidebook. It's really simple. It's a real, down to earth conversation about relevant topics for leaders of all disciplines. It doesn't matter if you are a leader in education or another field, this podcast is designed to help leaders explore and tackle the many challenges of leadership, to think critically about those challenges, and occasionally offer some ideas, tips, tools, and insight. I'm grateful for everyone who has listened, tweeted, or joined our Facebook page, or visited our website.  You all are turning my passion project into a labor of love and I am loving every, single minute of it.

As you may know, this summer we've been doing a special series called Lessons In Leadership. Here is some information on our latest episodes:

Ep.12 Summer Series Kick Off​​​​​​​: This episode, Leadership Lessons, kicks off our summer series. Mike and Latoya chat about some of the toughest lessons they've learned in leadership, including how to use critical feedback for your growing your leadership abilities and ways leaders can turn failures into powerful lessons to improve their leadership capacity. In this summer series, we'll be discussing lessons for leaders in innovation, building great teams, resilience and more! 

Ep.13 Lessons in Resilient Leadership:In the second episode of our summer series on Leadership Lessons, Mike and Latoya chat lessons in resilient leadership. What does it mean to be a resilient leader? Why is resilience an important quality for leaders to posess and demonstrate? What happens if leaders lack the abiltiy to be resilient? What can leaders do to be more resilient in their leadership? Fast, insightful, and packed full of practical tips leaders can use today, this episode is sure to get you thinking about your resilience as a leader!

Ep. 14 Lessons in Leading Innovation: In this episode, Latoya chats with Virgil Hammonds, @VirgelHammonds, Chief Learning Officer at Knowledge Works, about lessons in leading for innovation. They address key elements that must be present for leading with innovation, how leaders of innovation are different from leaders in general, and what innovative leadership might look like in the future. This is an episode you don't want to miss. If you're interested in being innovative rather than traditional in your leadership, this episode is for you! 

Ep. 15 Lessons in Instructional Leadership:In this episode, the summer series continues, as Latoya and Mike tackle the topic of instructional leadership. While this is packed full of great practical information that you can use now, don't let the title keep you from listening if you're not an educational leader. We discuss the importance of focus and clarity of communication, ways to provide quality feedback to improve practice, and more in this episode! You don't want to miss this one! For links to some of the tools discussed on any of our podcast episode visit the resources and tools tab on our site at! 

We're excited about a new feature we are launching soon called "Leadership With Latoya Live"! Listeners will be able to have live conversations with Latoya and Mike, co host of the podcast and ask questions specific to their need. Stay tuned for more on this soon!

Thanks to everyone for listening and sharing our podcast with others in your PLN! Let us know what topics you want to hear more about by emailing us at! Leave a review and subscribe on iTunes here: Like, Share, and Comment on our Facebook page:! We're committed to bringing you the best podcast in leadership! Thanks for listening!

Until next time-Be you! Be True! Be a Hope Builder!


Saturday, May 27, 2017

Who's In Charge of Your Professional Development?

In our most recent episode of #leadershipwithlatoya, we tackle the topic of taking charge of your professional development. This is an all too important concept for leaders and others alike. If we wait to be invited to the next conference, for the next organizational offering, or for someone to mandate us to attend the company professional development, we sacrifice our own personal professional development and growth, limiting it to what is being offered to us instead of working to address gaps in our own skills. This is a dangerous, yet all too common tendency for leaders. It is so easy too get so immersed in the work we are responsible for that while we are pushing others, we forget to grow ourselves. If we aren't careful, we wake up one day, and ask ourselves a question that we can't seem to answer: What have I learned to help me be a better leader and a better learner?

I am constantly asking myself that very question. It is the core reason why I blog and podcast. I am a learner first, and a leader second. Without taking care of my own professional development and growth, the folks who I am responsible for working with as the leader, are subjected to my own limited knowledge, skills, and abilities. In order to build capacity in others, you must first build it in yourself. I've spent the last year learning a new job and I still have a great deal to learn. I am not perfect, and there have been many lessons learned this year. However, I am committed to learning and working to grow myself in those areas needed to be the best leader I can be for those I work with and serve. I am dedicated to making sure my contribution is adding value to our organization in a way that is clear, quantifiable, and positive.

My question for readers and podcast listeners regarding this topic are simple:

What are you doing to grow yourself professionally?

What excuses are standing in the way of you building your own capacity for leading?

How can you structure your time in a way to allow for you to develop yourself to maximize your potential?

How will you hold yourself accountable for you own professional development?

You are in charge of your professional development and growth. Don't wait for the invite to the conference, the mandatory meeting, etc. If there's something you want and need to learn, go do it!

Until next time-be you, be true, and be a hope builder!

#leadershipwithlatoya-Podcast Now Available on iTunes!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Who's In Charge: The Complexity of Leadership

Leadership is difficult.  The challenges of leadership are often due to an underestimation of its’ complexity. Too often, leadership is thought of as the ‘face of the organization’, but leadership is significantly more complex than a simple representation that embodies organizational mission, vision, and values. Cultivating the strengths of others, mitigating for weaknesses, while building capacity in subordinates and accomplishing a set of aspirational goals isn’t exactly easy. In fact, I contend that leadership is one of the most difficult exercises in humanity. Furthermore, it’s my belief that those who excel at leadership, meaning they lead in a way that allows the organization to experience sustained success, are quick to acknowledge the difficulty of such.  Leadership isn't about being in charge; its about managing the time, talent, and resources in your charge.  It's messy, complex, and down right difficult. If I had to define it, I'd do it this way:
Leadership is the ability to design a structured framework that leverages the strengths of multiple individuals, allowing for an integration and coordination of key actions and strategies aligned to the organization’s mission, and put into practice a mutually agreed upon vision. This complex task requires key skills and abilities that must be developed through life long learning, reflective practices, and professional experiences. 
Leadership is challenging for a number of reasons, but summarily much of the following make it a complex task. Let’s take a look at the list below:

Leadership Challenges:

·    Challenge 1: Developing a through knowledge of each individual’s strengths and growth opportunities in your organization to support a plan to develop and elevate capacity.
·    Challenge 2: Designing a structure that supports the leveraging of strengths for organizational effectiveness, while mitigating for weaknesses.
·    Challenge 3: Maintaining a clear focus on organizational goals and objectives; avoiding unproductive actions often disguised as work that needs to be done.
·    Challenge 4: Coordinating and integrating strategic actions in a timely and collaborative fashion to maximize positive impact.
·    Challenge 5: Managing and developing talent and resources to support success and exploit the strengths of individual members whose impact positively contributes to the greater good of the organization. 

Acknowledging the difficulty of leadership is key to understanding how to improve your personal leadership capacity. A desire to lead should not be confused with an understanding of leadership. Far too often, a desire to lead is rooted in what one perceives leadership to be, without a through consideration of the complexity of such a task. Those who aspire to lead should take the time to study effective leaders, but before doing so should be careful in the ways in which they define effectiveness. Let’s explore further.

Leadership Effectiveness:
·      Supported by structure & strategy (structure & strategy are used to move forward)
·      Supported by results (evidence via qualitative and quantitative data)
·      Supported by impact (link between leadership actions & improved capacity of others)
·      Supported by value (adds value to the organization as a whole)

 Fig. 1 Leadership Effectiveness

To add value to the organization, a leader must first possess a clear understanding how the three key elements that contribute to such: strategy, results, and impact. Without an appropriate understanding of the three contributors to value, determining how and if value is added can be quite difficult. To improve your effectiveness as leaders, you can begin by thinking carefully about the challenges of leadership, what makes it difficult, and what makes leaders effective.

What makes your leadership challenging? How can you define those challenges and then plan for addressing them? Leave your thoughts in the comment section. I'd love to know what you think.  Until next time-be you, be true, and be a hope builder!

#leadershipwithlatoya-Listen on iTunes


Saturday, April 22, 2017

Strategy Matters: Why Working Hard Should Not Be Confused With Delivering Results

Far too often, leaders get caught up in the day to day tasks of leadership. We become almost unconscious about our work, sticking to routine and compliance out of habit, yet losing any intentionality or deliberateness in our work. When we are called on not being intentional or lacking strategy, we tend to respond with this classic statement- "But I am working so hard!" That's why leaders have a responsibility to prioritize their work, to design a strategy for delivering the which they are held accountable for, and implementing a structure to support the work in a way that is centered on delivering results. If we aren't careful, we can work ourselves "to the bone", but never deliver the results we are tasked with producing. There are ways, however, the leaders can avoid this trap that so many fall into so often.

Be Purposeful

Leaders must be purposeful in how they organize, spend, and use their time. In other words, planning is essential. When leaders jump to doing without thinking about what needs to be done, why it needs to be done, what the goals or outcomes are for the work, and how they will get it done, they put themselves in a position of expending effort with no focus on outcomes. Leadership isn't about how hard you try or work. It's about doing the right work at the right time and delivering the right results. Sounds simple? Think again.

Do The Right Work
How do you determine your work priorities? What lens do you use to filter what's immediate and what can wait? What do you do to set goals for the work you complete? How do you determine that what you are working on is in fact the right work-what you should be working on? Do you revisit your assigned deliverables or professional goals routinely? Do you check for alignment between what you are working on and your deliverables? If leaders aren't careful about ensuring they are working on the right work, they can easily spend time working on something that has the possibility of being good work, but not the work you should have been doing.

At The Right Time
How intentional are you about how you organize your work time? Do you block out time on your calendar to ensure you are doing those things that are core activities essential to you accomplishing your goals or delivering outcomes? For a leader, this might mean blocking time off on your calendar to provide written, specific, and robust feedback to subordinates. For example, for a superintendent, it might mean blocking time off on your calendar to plan for your conversation, questions, and look fors when you visit a school and speak with principals. Intention matters. If we aren't deliberate about how we spend our time, it can become the one commodity that keeps us from delivering the results we are tasked with, not because we don't have it, but because we don't use it effectively.

Deliver The Right Results
How do you quantify your effectiveness? What data or evidence are you using to determine if you are delivering the right results? How often do you revisit your professional growth goals and evaluation targets? Do you have them visually posted in your office or routine workspace so that you and your team can see them and ensure your level of awareness is where it should be? Do you revisit them routinely in staff meetings, in conversations with members of your organization, etc.? Are you transparent about your likelihood of success to deliver the result or any obstacles or barriers you are encountering the might compromise your ability to deliver the results your tasked with on time and at a quality level?

I love questions so much more than I love answers. I can only hope y'all feel the same. Above all, I hope you have something to think about to help you deliver the results you need and want to deliver!

Until next time-be you, be true, and be a hope builder!


Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Power of Thought Partnership & Accountability

As a kid, I always wanted to know from my teachers if we could work in groups. It wasn't because I wanted to have the opportunity to socialize with friends while we worked on our project and it wasn't because I wanted someone else to do the work. Mainly, I wanted to learn from and with others. As an adult, that hasn't changed a bit. In my first principalship, I pushed for our elementary principals group to start our own PLC. I partnered with two other schools to offer a more personalized approach to PD, facilitated by teachers who demonstrated expertise on topics teachers said they wanted to know more about on our late start days. In my second principalship, I was fortunate to work with one of my dearest friends and colleagues, Dr. Michael Waiksnis. We were co-principals. We've often been asked about the co-principalship. Specifically, folks usually want to know a few things: How did that work? It worked fabulously for us. Did you split responsibilities/duties? Nope. We did everything together. We shared an office. We even rode to work together everyday. Did staff or students or parents try to play you against each other? Nope, but we had some specific strategies that we implemented from the onset that provided a clear picture of our unity, which was authentic by the way. Michael and I have been personal friends and colleagues for over 10 years. We have a professional trust and personal relationship that allowed us to work well together. Interestingly enough, we are very different. Our end goal about what we wanted for children as principals was the same, but we often debated and compromised about the ways in which we would move the school forward. In a recent conversation with my former superintendent, we were discussing the coprincipalship and why it worked so well for us. I shared with her that I believed a key element was that we chose to work together and we had a long history of professional trust that was established long before we started our work as coprincipals. Prior to our coprincipalship, we worked on several projects together. We presented together at multiple conferences. We co-authored articles about a variety of topics. We led a district wide Twitter chat on the #irock initiative, a 1 to 1 digital conversion campaign in our district.  We are the cofounders of the first EdCampSC (South Carolina), a project we undertook on a whim after a brainstorming session in our superintendent's office, having never attended one ourselves, and it was successful.  Michael and I were just the right combination for a valuable thought partnership. Our individual strengths seemed to compliment our individual opportunities for growth. It was and continues to be one of the most valuable thought partnerships I've ever had.

As leaders assume new and broader leadership roles, it is not uncommon for the feeling of isolation and activity of solo thinking to become all too normal. That's why I've always sought out someone to think with me. I realize that I have a professional responsibility to grow myself as a leader and having a thought partner, who can also hold me accountable for that growth, is a key to this.  Far too often, leaders see themselves as the experts in the room. Approaching their work with a mindset that because they've held leadership roles, they bring the expertise to the table and are present to add value rather than gain something valuable. I see this quite differently. I don't see myself as an expert in anything, but I believe what I do extremely well is learn. I am, perhaps, an expert learner. One of the many ways I learn is by relying on thought partners to help me think more critically, to push me to think differently, to ask me to consider a different viewpoint, and work to purposefully make my self think in an opposing direction, which is really hard to do by the way. 

Having a thought partner enhances accountability. When you are open enough to consider the ideas and thoughts of others, for the sake of having a great idea, and not deterred by the fact that it may not be your idea and yours alone, it's amazing what can happen. I can recall numerous conversations where I felt very different than Michael about a particular idea he had, but because of our professional trust and my knowledge of Michael's solid work ethic, I compromised, as did he in multiple decisions we made for our school. We are and have always been amazed by the ideas and work that has been born out of our thought partnership. It is always, always, better than any of either of our solo thinking. However, it's important to note that our thought partnership was not directed by anyone else other than ourselves. It began because we both craved collaboration. We needed someone else, who was serving in our roles, to think along side of us-and so we chose each other.

Isn't it ironic that collaboration and it's power is heavily emphasized at the teacher level, but almost virtually non-existent, with the exception of informal networks, at the leader level in education? Why is it that once the pinnacle of leadership is reached, that tendency to view one's self as an expert rather than a lead learning partner is so present? What makes leaders more isolated? How can we alter the structure and behavior of leaders so that leaders have an opportunity to engage in cognitive collaboration? What are the benefits of thought partnership? What keeps leaders from being interested in thought partnering? Could it be egos? Perhaps the risk of professional jealousy? Or is it simply because we've structured leadership work in a way that doesn't support cognitive collaboration at the leadership level?

My challenge to every leader is to find a thought partner. Someone whose thinking you value and respect. Someone who doesn't think just like you. It's quite difficult to grow your thinking if your thought partner is a replicated version of you.  Someone who can push your thinking, even if you don't always agree with them, because you understand that ideas are to be debated, not people. As a leader, what are you doing to avoid the danger of solo thinking and working in isolation? Who is your thought partner? How are you formalizing and making your work together routine rather than rare? How are you growing as a learning leader and not one who believes you are the expert, with no room for growth and openness for new, better, and improved ideas? Great leaders recognize when a learning opportunity is in front of them and capitalize on it because the have a desire to learn all they can to improve their ability to serve and help others. Making room and time for a thought partner is one of the most valuable things I've ever done to improve my leadership.

Thank you Michael!

Until next time-be you, be true, and be a hope builder!