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!


Sunday, April 2, 2017

Who's Dating the Achievement Gap? It's not Single.

Ask anyone in education what has been the one consistent challenge in schools across America for the last 20 years and I am willing to bet their answer would be three words: The Achievement Gap. For years, much research has been written on how the performance of minority children and children of poverty differs from their white and/or more affluent counterparts. There is no denying that in many of our public schools across America, there is a stark difference in the overall performance between these two groups of children. That is certainly not to say that there aren't exceptions to this general problem. There most certainly are exceptions, as with most things. However, what I continue to be baffled by is why we haven't been courageous enough to have a conversation about the root issues that contribute to the achievement gap. There is a popular narrative that one place educators need to start is by acknowledging their beliefs and biases. While beliefs certainly play a role in our daily practice, we cannot reduce this complex challenge to that simple solution.  We need not only acknowledge that all children can learn, regardless of race or socioeconomic status, but also operationalize it in our daily practice as educators. This means acting with courage when we see or when we hear something that counters that belief. While I am in agreement that an educator's expectations most certainly impacts the performance of their students, I refuse to belief that the achievement gap is simply a problem related to chronic widespread low expectations. In fact, I think we all know that this challenge can not be treated as if it is rooted in a single cause.

The achievement gap has multiple partners. It is not single in nature and can no longer be treated as such. If we are going to get to the core of working to overcome this, we are going to have to address all of its' many partners. As a child, my mother would often tell us, that to solve a problem, you must address the root of the problem. "If you don't get to the root, the problem will just keep coming back," she'd say. I'm of the belief that we've yet to address the root. We know the key factors that contribute to the gap, but we aren't acting on what we know, thus we have a gap. As educators, we often find ourselves on the audit end of the problem, dealing with the result of a multitude of things that happen to or affect young children's developing brains and bodies after they've already happened. The achievement gap can't simply be reduced to poverty either. Instead, we should address the many things that often come with it:

  • Lack of access to quality prenatal care
  • Lack of access to quality health (mental and physical) care
  • Lack of access to quality employment
  • Lack of access to quality economic development
  • Lack of access to quality housing
  • Increased exposure to trauma or adverse childhood experiences
To keep this relatively simple, let's look at the Flint, Michigan water crisis. Remember the children who were and are still suffering from the effects of high levels of lead in the water they drank, bathed with, their parents cooked with, etc. In an earlier blog, I wrote about the impact of lead on the bodies and brains of young children. Exposure to high levels of lead can have a variety of effects on people, none of which happen to be good. Researchers at Virginia Tech conducted a study on the water crisis in Flint. Dr. Marc Edwards is the primary researcher and author of the site that describes the timeline and inquiries that lead to this crisis being exposed. You can read more by clicking here.  Further you can dive into reading about the dangers of lead poisoning by Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital by clicking here The article is titled, Neuropsychological Effects of Lead Poisoning on Child Development. According to this literature, children who have high levels of lead in their bodies are likely to have problems such as:

  • deleted language or motor milestones
  • poor speech articulation
  • poor language usage or understanding
  • difficulty maintaining attention
  • problems with working memory
  • difficulty with problem solving
  • difficulty with coordination (fine and gross)
  • difficulty with behavior

The article goes on to list a number of things that can be done to address this and identifies a few solutions as possible ways to counter lead poisoning. These include things like lead safe housing, education of public, medical, and educational communities, early identification, early behavioral and/or medical treatment, adequate nutrition, and more. What's particularly interesting to me is that miracle teachers are not listed as part of the solution. That's because the medical profession believes in acknowledging the root(s) of the problem, in addition to the symptoms, in order to address an illness. Make no mistake; it's not just about lead poisoning either. Many marginalized communities of poverty have higher rates of chronic asthma, higher rates of poor housing, higher rates of illiteracy, higher rates of emergency room visits, and more. I've read article after article after article. We know what the problems are, but we continue to do an autopsy instead of provide preventive care and continue to place the primary burden to solve the achievement gap soley on the shoulders of educators and educators alone. It's not right. It's not fair and it's not realistic. How much more research do we need to know that living in a high stress environment, with an over exposure to trauma, and a lack of access to quality health care, housing, and employment in an overwhelmingly economically depressed area has a negative impact on student performance? It's not rocket science, but if you need more information on this issue please read some of the articles I've been reading for a real picture of the point I am trying to get across in this post. You can check them out here and here.

Educators, most certainly have a professional and moral obligation to provide students with the highest quality instruction possible. There's no doubt about it. We also have a responsibility to deal with the root causes of the achievement gap to help them do so. We can no longer treat the gap as if it is a singular isolated event. We must be courageous enough to talk about the many other gaps in healthcare, housing, employment, economic development, etc. that accompany it and contribute to it. Moreover, we must be courageous enough to demand others do something about the other gaps that they can impact.  As educators, it is time we ask those in the private sector to join us in this effort. While we can do our best to provide students with a quality educational experience, we are not policy makers, we cannot impact the economic development of our communities, we cannot provide access to quality health care and housing, but there are those who can and should. If we are committed to closing the gap, then asking those who impact the very things that contribute to it, should not come as an unexpected request. In fact, there should be an overwhelming eagerness to address the roots of the issue so that we can work toward solving the problem. To solve this problem, it will require the best of all of us, not just educators. Collectively, we have a responsibility to our communities, and to humanity as a whole. After we are courageous enough to start talking about these root causes, lets be courageous enough to do something about it.  For those of us who are educators, I challenge you to let others know who's dating the achievement gap because it is not single. With the help of everyone, we might just be able to make it monogamous.

Y'all press on now because the children are depending on us-ALL of us.

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


Friday, March 31, 2017

The Gap Between Knowing and Doing: Why Achieving Excellence Is Difficult.

It's no secret that excellence, true excellence is difficult to achieve. When it comes to achieving excellence, inspiration and aspiration will only take you so far. Achieving excellence isn't always related to a person's skill level either. While a lack of skill definitely impacts achievement, it's not the critical element that prevents one or an organization from achieving excellence. The difficulty in achieving excellence is related to the gap between what we know and what we do. In other words, we often possess the needed skills or can obtain them through training, development, practice, etc. to accomplish the task(s) before us and do so in a high quality manner. It isn't the skill that's missing. It's the discipline to consistently execute the behaviors we know are necessary to accomplish our goals at the highest level that prevent us from achieving excellence. This is true in multiple facets of life-socially, personally, professionally, etc. The truth is very few people execute the discipline needed to consistently apply the skills and behaviors needed to achieve excellence. Allow me to provide you with an analogy to make this point clear. Let's say you have a desire to lose weight. What do we know is necessary for weight loss? Eating less, making better eating selections, and exercise, right? Well if we know that why is it so hard to lose weight? Is it because we don't know what it takes to do so? Absolutely not. It's because we don't execute the discipline to eat well and exercise consistently and because of that we struggle to lose weight. Sounds simple, right? Hold that thought.

Discipline is the gap between knowing and doing. It is the missing element that prevents us from achieving what we often are so quick to say we want to accomplish. The question, then, is what makes consistently executing what we know is an effective behavior difficult? Structure. We are often quick to immerse ourselves in the work we are doing without creating a structure to ensure we are doing the work at a quality level that aligns with our desire to be excellent. We lack strategy and structure, and therefore assume being busy and getting things complete means we are doing our work.  We quickly become compliance driven.  That may be true, but if the goal is to do the work and achieve excellence, we must design a work structure that counters the unconsciousness that can occur when we are deep in practice.

As mentioned in a previous blog, I thoroughly enjoy studying effective leaders who have been able to achieve excellence. For me, it isn't about how they are perceived; it is about the body of evidence that provides the evidence that they have been able to achieve excellence. Perhaps my line of thinking is off base, but I'm convinced that leaders who are able to achieve excellence have a defining factor in common, and that is, that they are disciplined enough to operationalize strategic behaviors on a consistent basis. While the words disciplined, strategic, and consistent sound simple, they are actually very difficult to operationalize. It requires an acknowledgment that we aren't naturally disciplined, strategic , or consistent in behaviors that we know are effective to achieve excellence. To support our unnatural tendencies, effective leaders develop a structure to support our ability to be disciplined, consistent, and strategic.

That structure can happen in a variety of ways. It might be in the way we schedule our time, in the organization of resources, in how we monitor our progress toward achieving our goals, or how we develop and monitor processes for working with our colleagues, or using data to drive our work. We aren't naturally structured and organized people, but it's quite interesting that we operate sometimes as if discipline, strategy, and consistency come naturally to us.

So there you have it folks. Excellence is difficult to achieve because discipline, strategy, and consistency are the gap between knowing and doing. Now that you know that, how might you approach your work differently? What structure might you add to help support your ability to be disciplined, consistent, and strategic about your work? Good luck to all of you. I'll be working along side of you to improve my ability to close the gap as well.

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