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!

-Latoya
@latoyadixon5

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!

Latoya
@latoyadixon5 

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!

Latoya
@latoyadixon5

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!

Latoya
@latoyadixon5

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Leadership and Learning: How Do You Conceptualize Leadership?

Leadership and Learning: How Do You Conceptualize Leadership?

I’m obsessed about studying excellent leaders. As I get to know folks, I’m known to enter into a role as a quiet observer, thoughtfully studying and reflecting on what I am seeing, hearing, and watching. I pay attention to everything around me, trying to capture the needed information that is often communicated in an unspoken manner. Once I have established a relationship and trust with those around me, I slowly begin to share my thoughts and ideas, but I try to be careful about my timing, my tone, and work to have an ever conscious awareness of my audience, and possible unintended consequences of my words and interactions. I’m a thinker, so even as I am speaking and working, I am thinking. For me, my brain never stops and that can be a curse as well as a gift. It all depends on how you look at it.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership-more specifically, about what makes some leaders exceptional, and others average at best. A few things have come to the forefront of my mind on this topic and I’d like to share them here in this blog. While I do not presume that my thoughts on leadership are groundbreaking or even new, I do believe they are worth sharing. It should be noted that all of my leadership experience has been in education, mostly as a principal, and now in my new role-unless you count my K-12 student council experience and my role as a co-captian on  my high school basketball team. J  In my career, I’ve had the opportunity to observe and learn from a number of leaders, some peers, others superiors. After seeing leadership in a variety of different organizations and at different levels, there are a few summary thoughts I wish to capture and share.

Clarity precedes competence.     

Leadership and learning go hand in hand or not at all. Leaders have a responsibility to guide, direct, inspire, motivate, and hold folks accountable for their efforts, but that work is gravely impacted by the leader’s learning. It is quite difficult to lead folks in work you have not embarked on learning. As a leader your learning informs your decision-making. Gathering all information and increasing your knowledge base as needed, allows one to make better informed decisions, see the implications and long term benefits of the decisions they are making, and clarifies the intent of the strategy or action being executed. If leaders aren’t clear on the “what” and the “how” of their work, their competence has the potential to be compromised. There seems to be an encouraged focus to be hypersensitive regarding the “why” of our work as we work with adult learners, but the “what” and the “how” should not be left out of our thinking. Clarity precedes competence because if we only acknowledge why something needs to happen, we end up with some assumptions on what needs to happen and how it needs to happen. We must be clear about not only why we are doing something, but on how it can be operationalized and what that looks like for members of our organization in roles that will execute the strategy we are pushing them to implement.

Support is not a general term.

So often in my leadership experience, I’ve heard folks talk about their need to be supported or even an experience where they have not felt supported. It is my opinion, that our human condition, flawed and all, leads us to believe that a lack of agreement is a lack of support. Instead, we ought to be a bit more conscious about what support should be and how it should be provided as leaders and as recipients of it. Support is about precisely diagnosing what type of assistance, encouragement, intervention or guidance is needed and then administering it at the right time. Support is not about affirming another person’s ideas or actions or agreeing with them. Excellent leaders are careful about the use of this word, and in how they offer and administer support. Support is a gentle balance of pushing and stroking, just at the right time and in the right context. When I think about leaders who I see as excellent, this is something I see them doing with precision. They are not overly complimentary, yet their objective isn’t to be adversarial by constantly pointing out deficiencies and what’s wrong. They are skilled at situational leadership, administering encouragement when it is needed and warranted, critical feedback when it is necessary to ensure performance expectations are met and not compromised, and praise when there is a clear body of evidence of one’s work to support such recognition. Like criticism, compliments, are not given without a link to solid evidence of such. Average leaders often provide empty compliments and use support as a general term synonymous with agreement. Support is not a general term.

Excellent leaders are driven by the work.

My oldest sister Tonya, who is also in leadership (business, not education), told me something several years ago that has gravely impacted my leadership. If you knew our mother, you’d know her rearing was definitely an influence on Tonya’s thought that I agree with whole-heartedly. Tonya said in one of our many conversations about leadership and work, “There are two kinds of horses. There are show horses and there are workhorses. A show horse looks good and sounds good, but a work horse get’s the job done.” So often in my career, I’ve seen those who aspire to lead be enamored with the appearances of leadership. Many admire some who are well dressed, well spoken, socially graceful in their conversations with others, but lack a body of evidence of work to support that their leadership is in fact excellent. Excellent leaders are not only socially graceful, they are also driven by their body of work that serves as evidence that they are achieving their goals and getting the job done. Leaders who strive to be excellent aren’t always moved by what one says or how one is perceived, but by the work one has been instrumental in accomplishing, producing, etc. Excellent leaders are results oriented. Their worth is rooted in their ability to accomplish the tasks set before them. Several months ago, I heard a speaker say that he “always tries to imitate excellence”. I immediately thought, we must be sure we are defining excellence in the right way as leaders. Those we look to as examples ought to have a body of work that supports our judgment of seeing them as an excellent leader.

As I continue to think about this topic, I am sure there will be other thoughts that come to mind. Perhaps I’ll write a second blog as that happens. For now, I share this with you and hope you may have found something in my words that helps you think about how you conceptualize excellent leadership.

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

@latoyadixon5

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Leadership: Are You Leading With Actions or Words?

The Power of Reflection
Leaders are often tasked with evaluating situations, perspectives, people, etc. Leaders look outward to see progress towards goals, to determine to what extent collaboration is happening, and to assess how well a strategy is executed or implemented. That's why it's important for leaders to look inward first. Reflection starts with looking inside and taking an honest and personal assessment of your efforts.  Reflection isn't simply thinking about the past. It's digging deep into the core of who you are as a leader, how you have lead others, and whether or not your leadership has been effective. Reflection isn't about  how well you've taken charge either. Great leaders understand that positional power is an absolute, last resort. They are skilled at using the power of reflection to spur personal improvement and action. They are self motivated because they take the time to think about how to get better, and not just to review what else needs to be done. Reflection moves us from task masters to critical thinkers. We think more about how to go about the work to produce a desired effect. Leaders who struggle with reflection move along the checklist, checking off what has been done, and highlighting what's left to be completed. That's not reflection. That's a review. Don't confuse the two. They are quite different.

Leaders Go First  
When a shift in culture needs to happen, the leader does not wait for the rest of the members of the organization to shift. Instead, great leaders understand that they can model the shift they desire. Simply verbalizing the expectation of how folks should interact and behave isn't enough. This means when a leader recognizes that his or her attitude or actions hasn't met the bar, they admit it. They admit it by making it clear and transparent. Reflection, when done well, can serve as a catalyst for changing behavior. Changing others isn't really possible. Leaders influence others, impact others, but individual change is personal. Change only happens when one makes a conscious decision to do so. That conscious decision is often the result of deep reflection. Above all, when the leader sees that something is not going well, he or she looks in the mirror first. Great leaders resist the urge to look outward to find blame in an initial assessment. Great leaders check themselves first, taking an honest assessment of what they have done or have failed to do. Reflection, in its' truest form only happens when one looks in the mirror first. Leaders who go first lead with their actions, followed by their words. They believe in showing more than telling.

Leadership Challenge
Continuous improvement isn't simply a mindset to be adopted by organizations who want to make sure their school, district, or company is always working to get better. It's a concept to be adopted by individuals who wish to lead, regardless of position or title. Reflection is the mental exercise of figuring out how one can improve to reach his or her maximum potential. The challenge is to resist the urge to look outwardly first. So often when things aren't going well or the way we desire, our tendency is to look at those around us. I reject that tendency. I believe that when we look at ourselves first, we not only model powerful reflection for others, but we commit to the idea that everyday we have an opportunity to get better, to improve our craft, to sharpen our expertise and skills. My challenge to leaders is simple. Have you taken a look in the mirror lately? Are you spending time thinking about how you get better at being the leader versus thinking about how others need to improve? If not, I challenge you to do just that. Take a look in the mirror and reflect!

Until next time-be you, be true, and be a hope builder!
-Latoya
@latoyadixon5

Friday, December 9, 2016

The Power & Pressure of the Principalship: Why Principals Need Support Now!


Image from: quoteaddicts.com


“With great power, comes great responsibility.”
-Uncle Ben in Spiderman

Being a principal isn’t easy, and I’m not so sure it’s supposed to be that way. It’s a tough job. As principal, you have the power to improve the educational experience of students, instructional practices of teachers, and build a strong culture of trust among parents. If you work it right, they say, you can accomplish something amazing.  Principals must be master mind readers, noting each teacher’s particular strengths and opportunities for growth. Principals must know their students, in both academic and social emotional fashion, and must be skilled at developing partnerships with parents to help students reach their maximum potential. Principals are tasked with creating a culture of collaboration, where each and every person feels valued, although they have little control of anyone’s actions. While principals may administer consequences or extend rewards and/or recognition for a particular action, the ultimate decision regarding how one acts or behaves, rest within each individual. Principals work to earn the power and permission to influence others, not control them. Principals are tasked with being familiar with a variety of content, pedagogy, instructional methods, all the while ensuring they have a firm handle on the budget, maintenance and operations, transportation logistics, personnel protocol, professional development, and board policies. Principals must support teachers, students, and parents in their efforts, but here’s a question: Who supports principals? Furthermore, how are principals supported? Beyond the monthly meeting and annual conference, what structures are in place to create that same culture of collaboration that is so beneficial to teachers and students, for principals? When principals need support where do they turn? 

For far too long, principals have been left out of the conversation regarding the benefits of collaborative communities of learners for teachers and for students. Principals, too, need collaborative communities with their peers, to work through problems of practice, to develop intelligent solutions to the challenges they face, and quite frankly to last in the principalship. In recent weeks, I’ve read a great deal regarding the principal shortage. Many states and districts are focused on strategies to replenish the principal pipeline, but who helps you stay there once you make the rank of principal? As a former principal, I can attest to the feelings of isolation, pressure, and stress that accompany the principalship. While a monthly principals’ meeting might provide a venue for a common meeting place, it doesn't serve the purpose of support. In a recent tweet, I asked principals to share with me what would give them the support they so desperately need. As I presumed, they noted the following:
  1. A listener who understands the complexity of the job. While the first and foremost task is teaching and learning, so very often other factors (meeting basic needs of students, working through a personal crisis with a staff member, budgetary or operational issues) consume a great deal of time.
  2. A coach who uses an assets based approach to coach them. It takes more than a review of school data and a set of goals to help principals meet the mark of academic achievement, but so often, to use a sports analogy, we cite last season’s record, state the goal for this season, and tell principals “Play ball!”. Occasionally, we cheer them on, but that’s usually at the end of the game, better known as testing season! 
  3. A superior who recognizes the things that are working well, as well as the opportunities for growth. Monthly principal meetings ought to be more than problem listing sessions. Principals need time with their peers to work through problems of practice. Additionally, principals need to be coached on what they can do to develop their skills, sharpen their weaknesses, etc. and that must go beyond talking to another principals at a meeting or shadowing someone else for a day.
  4. A structured and routine practice to ensure consistent opportunities for collaboration with job alike peers. We know professional learning communities serve as powerful platforms for teachers to improve their practice. Principals, too, need a job embedded opportunity to participate in a professional learning community that meets their needs.
  5. A focus on principal wellness, with professional development on stress management. As a former principal, I began a journey of fitness purely out of a grave need to manage stress, improve my sleep patterns, and reduce anxiety. It took me years in the principalship to recognize that I needed to be intentional about managing my stress levels so that I could bring my very best self to the job each day.

While the responsibility of the principalship is great, so is the pressure. Principals face a constant pressure to improve teacher practice, student learning, school community relations, and last but certainly not least, themselves. If principals aren’t provided with the support they need, what should be their power, often becomes pressure. In the age of high stakes testing, increased accountability, along with a push to be innovative in the ways we teach and that students learn, it is not difficult to see how a principal’s potential power can easily becomes a persistent pressure. District leaders have a responsibility to support principals in the same manner and fashion that they support the work of teachers and the educational experiences of students. Principals must not be left to fend for themselves, when we know collaboration, creativity, communication, and critical thinking are essential to the educational experience. If we know those elements are working for students and teachers, why aren’t we making it our business to create routine opportunities for principals in the same manner? Principals are the heart of school leadership and they need your support now! I dare you to do something different!

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


-@latoyadixon5