Learning Leaders: Find Your Joy in Leisure Reading

By Jamon H. Flowers, M.Ed., SURN

The famous Charles Dickens quote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” refers to both the French Revolution and my first year as a Ph.D. student at William and Mary. This year provided me with meaningful personal and professional growth that I never anticipated.  The first anxiety-filled day of each class was saturated with requirements, explanations of assignments, and seemingly impossible reading lists. I felt like I had been thrown into an extremely difficult culture that provided no time to become acclimated. Despite the initial impossibility of each class assignment list, each semester becomes easier to manage. In a word, Ph.D. means “sacrifice.” It demands late nights and less and less time with friends and family to survive. My initial frustration and self-doubt morphed into self-growth, and all the sacrifice was worth it at the end.

Summer is finally here, and I am no longer committed to a schedule that consumes my time with academia. What will I do with my free time? I will read; I will read for pleasure. This epiphany came to me when I realized I had read the entire May 2018 edition of Educational Leadership in one sitting. I was not compelled by guidelines of an assignment, therefore, I lost track of time while reading each article. Sure, I annotated sections that were thought-provoking, but it was what I chose to do. I became reacquainted with a familiar stranger. For the past nine months, required reading coupled with completing written and oral-speaking assignments temporarily halted my reading for pleasure. Now, I have the opportunity to resume this passion, and I am excited.

leisure

As administrators pleasure reading is often not a routine. We become bombarded with pouring ourselves into our students, staff, and community, and we tend to neglect feeding our appetite for personal and professional growth. Our blazing fire of motivation extinguishes as the school year progresses. However, a great way to rekindle our drive is to read. Reading helps to replenish and to stimulate, setting the stage for novelty and ingenuity. For example, as I read the latest edition of Educational Leadership titled, Bolstering the Teacher Pipeline, Herrmann’s article, Rethinking Teacher Recruitment, triggered in me a “wonder,” a “want,” and a “will.”

  • I wondered how might innovative practices, such as “schools offering internships through which younger college students could shadow teachers, work closely with K-12 students, and support enrichment activities” (p. 21), be implemented in more school divisions, with the hopes of attracting a wider range of candidates.
  • I wanted to learn more about hiring and retaining millennial teachers. Abrams’ article, What Matters to Millennial Teachers: A guide to inspiring, supporting, and retaining the newest generation of educators, provided 6 principles that all administrators would find helpful as they enter the recruiting season.
  • I will share the article, To Diversify the Teacher Workforce, Start Early, with peers in human resources and high school principals. This piece presented by Goings, Brandehoff, and Bianco discusses the power in grow-your-own model and 6 guiding principles to recruiting underrepresented community members into education.

Needless to say, reading something I chose to read for less than an hour resulted in an abundance of learning and pragmatic approaches to improvement. (By the way, I strongly recommend reading this month’s edition!)

The end is near for another school year. I am sure you are exhausted and in need of a well-deserved vacation. As part of self-care, I encourage you to read. Reading literature that piques your interest. If you are like me, you start books but never finish them due a long list of demands. However, this summer I have committed 30 minutes a day to reading. For some of us this time will be the only professional development we receive, so let’s do it! Practice what we encourage our students and staff to do. Reading is a magical portal.

May books always be with you.

On my shelf this summer:

  1. The Principal 50: Critical Leadership for Inspiring Schoolwide Excellence

Author: Barati Kafele

  1. Closing the Attitude Gap

Author Barati Kafele

Communication: The beginning and ending of leadership

by Jamon H. Flowers, M. Ed., SURN

As a principal, what is your vision? Do staff members know what needs to be done to reach that goal? Do they know how you expect them to reach that goal? More importantly, do they know why this goal is vital to meet? And once they understand the “what,” “how,” and “why,” do you provide them with enough autonomy to get the job done in an effective and timely manner? These are pragmatic issues that principals encounter. Here are a few thoughts I have on how to more effectively address these issues and reach set goals in an authentic and enduring manner.

Collaborative vs. Solitary

Before anything else, engaging stakeholders, such as teachers, parents and community members, in conversations about where we are and why we are there, where we need to go and why we need to go there, and how we are going to get there and why we are traveling the path(s) to get there are pivotal. Notice why is included in each question. Although these conversations may be uncomfortable, the fact that you are seeking and valuing their perceptions increases their commitment and confidence which reduces resistance when it is time to implement. This collection of perspectives helps to pinpoint what needs to be done (the what), action steps needed to deliver (the how), and the reasons for doing it (the why) helps to keep everyone focused.

Telling Your Why

Principals have the best intentions but need to remember that people are not mind readers. That’s why it is important to share your why. Tell your staff and communities why you choose to lead your school, your vision for the school and how you will get it done. Often, principals, especially those new to their school buildings, are met with more resistance due to the lack of communication. People do not give support for what they do not understand or fear. In this case the fear of the unknown. State and live your commitments on a daily basis. You are being watched by all to determine if your why is at the forefront of your actions.

Give Them Space

Early in my administrative career, I discovered that my message of the importance of teachers having autonomy was not demonstrated in my actions. I was dictating the paths to achieve set goals. Staff and teachers became more concerned about meeting my expectations versus completing their work in a quality way.

The lesson I learned was that being too rigid compromises an individual’s ability to perform. There is nothing wrong with giving teachers the flexibility and freedom to interpret change so that they can get the job done in a way that works for them and the school. Remember, when we ask for change teachers are on the front lines. They have the skills and capability of executing in the moment, so let them do it and provide them with resources and support. Doing this gives them a sense of ownership, pride, and a boost in their morale.

 Celebrate

One of the simplest acts of showing gratitude is to celebrate. Celebrate those who contribute to the success. Leaders cannot change an organization alone as it takes an entire team to achieve this goal. When implementing change it is inevitable that we will experience setbacks. However, it remains crucial to celebrate whether it is a big or small victory.

As a principal, I celebrated my staff frequently, especially during testing season. During this intense period, I made sure staff was showered with gifts, food, and other incentives. For example, community partners provided faculty and staff lunch for an entire week. Additionally, the parent-teacher association (PTA) supplied teachers with baskets full of snacks and inspirational quotes. At the end of each school year, awards and trophies were distributed to those individuals who exceeded expectations. Teacher morale, their sense of efficacy, and their commitment strengthened. I was told on many occasions they felt appreciated and valued- two emotions that are sometimes absent in the education system. Let us be honest with ourselves: we all want to experience those feelings on a regular basis and when we do, we are motivated to do more for a cause. Remember to celebrate students and community members, too.

Final Thoughts

If we are not careful, visions and declarations are merely promises. As a leader, your job is to translate those promises into practical, on-the-ground performance through a complex sequence of interactions, on a daily day. It is crucial that you use each interaction as an opportunity to practice the elements listed above. Aim for improvement with each interaction. Commit to developing ever greater clarity and capabilities so that you may become ever more helpful in the moment. So, say what you care about, make it clear what you intend to do, and remain accountable.

 

What are you letting go of in 2018?

Guest post by Jane Core Yatzek

As we welcomed in a New Year, many of us participated in the age-old tradition of creating New Year’s Resolutions.  I have set goals over the years for more sleep, more exercise, more time with those I love, more professional reading, more of any number of things.  But as we find ourselves in March – almost 12 weeks into the year – I am looking at resolutions that are sagging in progress or worse have been forgotten.  I find myself wondering what about less?

With the same 24 hours a day in 2018 that you had in 2017, you are not going to have more time for anything unless you have less of something else.  Administrators in education today have such complex jobs – they are data analysts, organizational managers, team motivators, vision setters, all while acting as in loco parentis for hundreds of students daily.  How can you possibly let go of something?

Research has found that letting go of something or declining a request maybe the best way to get ahead as it relieves anxiety and helps us set (or reset) priorities.  Recent studies on scarcity reveal that when time gets limited we feel more pressure to take on more commitments, when realistically we should be minimizing commitments to balance our schedules.  So, if you are ready to get some of your time back, what will you try to do less of?  Here are some ideas to get you started:

*Let go of working through lunch – get up and eat lunch in a new spot without answering email, checking voice-mail, proofreading the newsletter.  You can also multi-task this “let-go” by reconnecting with a known colleague or meeting a new colleague as your lunch buddy!

*Let go of a project that you can delegate – Hate how the front bulletin board always need attention? Picture schedule needs to be redone?  After school tutoring data needs collecting? Give the basic parameters to budding teacher leaders and let their creativity fly and skills grow!

*Say “no, thank you” when someone asks you to be a part of something – and be fine with watching from afar or not watching at all.

*Need a baby step?  Try letting go of something for a week. Reflect on Friday if it can be a more permanent “less”; either way you had less of something and more time for something else for five days!

Less may very well be more, let’s spend the next part of 2018 finding out!

Jane Core Yatzeck is a doctoral student in Curriculum Leadership at William & Mary School of Education.  She has 20 years of experience in education; first as a special education and general education elementary school teacher, and then as a school administrator at the middle and elementary levels.  She can be reached at jacor2@email.wm.edu or on Twitter @jcoreyatzeck.

Resources:

https://hbr.org/2010/01/say-yes-to-saying-no

https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/5_research_based_ways_to_say_no

Like this post? You might find Lisa’ Nelson’s Stop, Continue, Start visual template useful in planning. http://seeincolors.com/stop-continue-start-template-a-visual-tool-for-productivity/

Thankful for Partnerships

Administrators in the SURN Principal Academy help shape an educational partnership that spans the state.

Administrators in the SURN Principal Academy help shape an educational partnership that spans the state.

At this time of year, many of us engage in reflection on the many things for which we are grateful. At SURN we pause a moment this week to acknowledge our gratitude for the many meaningful partnerships that breathe life and purpose into the School Leadership Institute. Our connection with William & Mary School of Education runs deep, and the support we receive from faculty and staff provides a foundation for reaching beyond the university and into the K-12 classrooms and schools we serve.

We collaborate and work with our 30 Virginia school divisions to bring quality professional learning and development to educators across the Commonwealth. Through these collaborations and experiences at William & Mary School of Education, leaders have established relationships far beyond our walls. This fall principals willingly opened the doors of their schools to allow their colleagues an opportunity to develop their skills in instructional leadership as they complete collaborative walk throughs together.

The opportunity to network and to collaborate with peers is cited as a strength of virtually every workshop and program at SURN. Learning and innovating together to enhance student achievement is a hallmark of what we accomplish in partnership with each other, and relationships are at the core of this. We look forward to continued growth in our partnerships with all of you.

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at SURN!

A Principal Returns to SURN: Familiar Face in New Space

October 23, 2017

By Jamon H. Flowers, M.Ed.

As the SURN Principal Academy began its sixth cohort of principals from across the state this summer, we were joined by a familiar face in a new space. Jamon H. Flowers, M.Ed., joined the EPPL program as a full time doctoral student and joined SURN as a graduate assistant. Jamon was familiar with SURN as a principal participant in the Principal Academy during his tenure in Roanoke Schools. He agreed to share his thoughts on his return to William & Mary School of Education and SURN with us in the following blog post.

Jamon Flowers of SURN returns to William & Mary in a new capacity.

Jamon Flowers, center, returns to the SURN Principal Academy in a new capacity.


During my tenure as a principal, I spent most of my time coaching, supporting, inspiring, and problem-solving for others, but that all changed in 2012 when I became a participant in the SURN Principal Academy. My eyes were opened to how incredibly valuable it was to take time outside of my school for my own professional learning so that I could return and make school an even better place for learning.

Through the SURN Principal Academy, I had opportunities to connect with other principals from our network, including schools similar to mine and schools that were vastly different. Our collaboration increased my effectiveness as a principal and attracted me to actively participate in the on-going research and professional development initiatives, such as Visible Teaching, Assessment, Learning and Leading that promoted quality teaching and learning. Connecting with a diverse group of principals proved that the most valuable resource that all principals have is one other. Without collaboration, our growth is limited.

Now it is four years later and I have returned “home,” but in a different capacity. Instead of being a principal participant, I am a graduate assistant at SURN. In this role, I meet and work with principals who have a wide range of years of experiences, serve different school types, and strongly desire to improve the quality of teaching and learning within their buildings. Each peer offers fresh perspectives and a myriad of ideas. As a mentor, I am able to share my experiences, collaborate with others, and learn alongside principals across the state.

Commitment to ensuring that every student within the SURN school division network encounters an effective principal is a driving force in my dedication and excitement to work in this institute. As the old adage states, “home is where the heart is;” it is good to be home.

We agree, Jamon. Welcome back!

Leadership and Learning @WMSURN Leadership Academy 2015

Diane Sweeney, Coming Soon!

SURN is pleased to have Diane Sweeney, author of Student Centered Coaching: A Guide for K-8 Coaches and Principals and Student-Centered Coaching at the Secondary Level, join us for our Leadership Academy this summer on June 22-23, 2015.

Diane has been a national education consultant since 1999.  She taught and coached in the Denver Public School system before serving as a program officer at the Public Education and Business Coalition in Denver.  She is a well-respected educator who focuses on coaching and professional development.

Student Centered Coaching: A Guide for K-8 Coaches and Principals (Corwin Press, 2010) focuses on school-based coaching designed to impact student learning.  Professional development should focus on how to best support teachers and collaborate with them in order to design successful and targeted instruction.  The book focuses on the critical role of principal in developing and sustaining a culture of learning.

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Student-Centered Coaching at the Secondary Level (Corwin Press, 2013) is the follow-up to Sweeney’s 2010 best-selling book and focuses on the principles and tools of student-centered coaching in order to meet the challenges in middle and high schools.  Coaching focused on the student can allow the coach to provide feedback that has a direct impact on student achievement.

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For more information on Diane, please visit www.dianesweeney.com.  For more information on SURN’s Leadership Academy and how to sign up, please visit our website for more information or email us surn@wm.edu.

SURN Principal Academy

The 2013 and 2014 cohorts of the SURN Principal Academy met in September to continue their learning about high yield strategies. The 2013 cohort dived deeper into a session on John Hattie’s book Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learndesigned by Carol Sceare. Meanwhile the 2014 cohort considered how various learning strategies aligned to teacher pedagogy using a sorting activity on the form. Both groups engaged in a simulated observation using the indicators of student engagement form led by SURN Principal Academy mentor, Tony Vladu, principal of Denbigh High School (NNPS).

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Visible Leaders Institute for Central Office

Twenty-six central office leaders from 20 SURN member school divisions engaged in a day long exploration of student engagement which included training on how to use the Indicators of Student Engagement Tool to collect formative feedback on what students are doing to learn in the classroom. The Visible Leaders Institute for Central Office (VLICO) consists of two one-day sessions designed to provide central office leaders with knowledge and skills to support their principals who are engaged in the SURN Principal Academy. A culminating activity was to create a poem modeled after the format of Margaret Brown Wise’s Important Book from one of four perspectives on student engagement. Can you match the perspective of administrator, student, teacher, and central office personnel to each poem?

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Welcome 2014 SURN Principal Academy Cohort Members!

Twenty-four principals and assistant principals from Virginia Regions 1, 2, and 3 started their two-year journey in the SURN Principal Academy, July 14-16 at The College of William and Mary. They focused on how to collect data about student engagement and provide feedback to teachers. As part of their reflection, teams wrote poems about student engagement from the perspectives of student, teacher, and administrator.

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