SURN Principal Academy Delivers Powerful Messages: Communicate, Value Relationships, and Create Your Tribe

By Jamon H. Flowers, M.Ed., SURN

By now the wave of school openings has ended and the school year is well underway. The challenges that accompany the start of the new year are now giving way to the day-to-day work of meeting the high standards we have set for ourselves, our faculties, and our students. Meeting deadlines, managing conflicting obligations, providing direction for teachers, and supporting students can be overwhelming and make it easy to lose sight of our optimism. To help mitigate this, I’d like to remind you of some things you already know but may forget in the daily shuffle.

School leaders model and discuss the importance of communicating SURN Principal Academy expectations to their teachers at the September workshop.

School leaders model and discuss the importance of communicating SURN Principal Academy expectations to their teachers at the September workshop.

Communicate, Communicate, and Communicate! 

Remember to communicate! Effective communication leads to an effective organization. Communication with all stakeholders is a crucial ingredient in the recipe for a productive school year. As a principal, I tried to balance written communication with the powerful communication of my presence. It is no longer enough to just mail documents home. We must also embrace systems such as ConnectEd and School Messenger to stay connected with all members of our community. We also need to remember to post information and publicize school events and accomplishments on the school website and on social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Technology has increased the number of outlets for us to communicate and has made information more accessible to our stakeholders. As a result, we may sometimes worry that we run the risk of over communicating, but this is a preferable position to be in than not having communicated enough. Remember, effective communication builds trust. It puts people at ease (especially newcomers!) and keeps people from having to guess about our expectations.

Being present is a powerful form of communication and a characteristic of effective leadership. It is easy to get trapped in your office, but it’s essential to satisfy the high demand for your presence from both internal and external stakeholders. First and foremost we communicate the value of education by being present for our students. This includes being in the hallways, cafeteria, and extra-curricular activities. Every organization, department, grade level, central office person, and family that is associated with your school wants a piece of your time, and it is important to provide each of them with an opportunity for a face to face meeting. Try to schedule these meetings during your least busy time.

Familiar faces in new places as SURN leaders connect, re-connect, and discover the value of relationships at the SURN Principal Academy.

Familiar faces in new places as SURN leaders connect, re-connect, and discover the value of relationships at the SURN Principal Academy.

Relationship over Achievement

 Student achievement is a source of strength, both for the division and the individual schools. Achievement creates energy which, in turn, fuels further improvement, but too much focus on achievement can actually damage student performance.  For example, as the principal of an unaccredited school, I relentlessly focused on tasks and goals. In the beginning, I commanded and coerced, and as a result, my faculty became more concerned with meeting my expectations than with meeting the needs of students. I should have heeded the caution of Spreier, Fontaine, and Malloy (2018): “Too intense a focus on achievement can demolish trust and undermine morale, measurably reducing workplace productivity” (p. 45). In other words, I should have remembered to coach and collaborate, to take time to learn my faculty, staff, and students. Relationships take time and are made one open-house, one faculty meeting, one classroom visit, and one hello at a time. With relationships and trust fully established, we can get down to the business of improving student learning for every child in our building.

Mentor leaders encourage collaboration, pride, and networking as they develop their tribe.

Creating your TRIBE!

The principalship is a high-demanding, complex, and lonely job. Therefore, experiencing a supportive community of fellow principals is necessary. Principals rarely have opportunities to collaborate with their peers to share ideas, reflect on leading and learning, and discover how to improve their performances. At the beginning of my administrative career, I worked in isolation, but I quickly learned the power of having a community of leaders as a muse. In my latter years of being administrator, I was introduced to SURN. Being new to VA, the network in the Principal Academy helped develop my VA educational leader profile. To this day, I remain in contact with members of my cohort as well as my mentor. I encourage each of you to take advantage of your cohort members and our time together during the Principal Academy. By surrounding yourself with positive people who are in the similar roles, they are going to push you towards greatness.

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

Jennifer Abrams Helps Us Use Our Best Voice

By SURN Staff

SURN leaders often share the need to continue developing human resources skills and competencies as they strive to cultivate collaborative cultures. This means communicating well, crossing generational divides, and leveraging conflict. We are pleased that Jennifer Abrams, international communications and educational consultant, will join us at the 22nd annual Leadership Conference this year.

Jennifer Abrams is a communications and education consultant and author.

Jennifer Abrams is a communications and education consultant and author.

Jennifer brings a dynamic keynote based on her popular workshop, Swimming in the Deep End – What Does It Take, to open the day Tuesday, June 19. “No matter what role we play in a school or district, we all want to make a difference. However, things move fast in education these days, and often in our communications we are left confused, overwhelmed and not as successful as we could be. We need to build up a skill set of effective decision making capabilities, ‘resistance management’ communication strategies and for the sake of our health, our ‘stress tolerance (Abrams, 2018).’” Additionally, Jennifer will lead a concurrent session later that morning.

Jennifer’s books are best-sellers. In Having Hard Conversations, Jennifer leads us through replicable processes as we navigate work-related difficult situations as leaders. The sequel, Hard Conversations Unpacked: The Whos, the Whens, and the What-Ifs, takes readers on a deeper dive into the nuanced world of communication. The Multigenerational Workplace: Communicate, Collaborate, and Create Community provides readers with tools for navigating beyond their personal “generational filters” as they lead.

We hope you’ll join us as we learn from Jennifer Abrams and our other esteemed presenters at this year’s conference. You will leave with tools, resources, and experiences designed to enhance your leadership performance.

A little more about Jennifer: Jennifer considers herself a “voice coach,” helping others learn how to best use their voices – be it collaborating on a team, presenting in front of an audience, coaching a colleague, supervising an employee and in her new role as an advisor for Reach Capital, an early stage educational technology fund. Jennifer holds a Master’s degree in Education from Stanford University and a Bachelor’s degree in English from Tufts University. She lives in Palo Alto, California (www.jenniferabrams.com/about/).

 

Igniting the Joy of Leisure Reading

Guest post by Blanqui Valledor, York County School Division

In my dream classroom, my students would instantly gravitate to and acknowledge the brilliance of the piece of literature I assigned them to read. We would have in-depth discussions, and they would beg for more insightful pieces of text.  That was the dream, not the reality.

It is a struggle to get students to read and get excited over texts when we are constantly competing with short synopses of text found on the web.  “This is boring. Why are there so many words? Why do I need to read this?” became chanting mantras in my classroom.  I quickly realized that no matter how creatively or enthusiastically I explained the importance of reading and discussion, they could not empathize with the positive power I experienced whenever I read.

class_photo

Enter leisure reading.  In 2014, the International Reading Association published a study on the importance of leisure reading, also known as self-selected, independent reading. According to the 2014 study, “leisure reading enhances students’ reading comprehension, language, vocabulary development, general knowledge, and empathy for others, as well as their self-confidence as readers, motivation to read throughout their lives, and positive attitudes toward reading” (International Reading Association). Out of my need to share my love of reading, I incorporated leisure reading into my curriculum. I had nothing to lose.

At first, leisure reading was met with resistance: “What if I don’t like the book, do I have to continue reading it?” “No,” was always my answer; “I don’t finish books that I don’t like, why should I force you?” I stocked my classroom with a variety of text – young adult, non-fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and best sellers. I read while they read in class.  I shared what I was reading and questions I had, and soon after others began sharing their experiences with the books.  From their interests, we discussed topics presented in the text which evolved into creating text sets as our mode of research.  The chanting mantras I heard for years began to fade and were replaced with ‘You have to read this book!’

Incorporating leisure reading into my curriculum was the best pedagogical decision I have ever made.  By allowing my students to select their text, I have been able to understand my students better.  They have introduced me to new worlds outside the traditional literary canon, and I have reciprocated their enthusiasm by introducing them to “classics” based on their interests. By the end of the school year, the majority of my students have read anywhere from eight to ten different books – more than I could ever accomplish with them in class.

Student Testimonials:

Lisa Nelson – Seeing Big Ideas in Color

By Sarah P. Hylton, M.Ed. 

lisa_nelson_pic

 “It’s not what you look at that matters; it’s what you see.”

                Lisa Nelson, founder and CEO of See in Colors, claims this quote from Henry David Thoreau as her favorite, so it’s no surprise that her work as a visual strategist embodies this message. A graphic recorder, Nelson captures presentations in real time by visually recording the essential ideas and critical concepts being presented, creating something akin to a mural of the presentation or conversation. Using essential text, bright colors, and simple graphics such as drawings, shapes, and lines, Nelson’s hand-drawn sketches bring to life the underlying components of a speaker’s message, providing all participants with a means of, quite literally, seeing the big picture. Nelson’s sketch-noting engages participants and invites them to make their own visual connections to the material being presented. Nelson’s visual capturing of our 2017 SURN Leadership Conference can be seen here.

We are excited to welcome Lisa Nelson again this year for our 22nd annual SURN Leadership Conference on June 18-19, 2018 at the William and Mary School of Education Professional Development Center. Nelson will be sketch-noting in real time the presentations by our keynote speakers, Michael Fullan and Jennifer Abrams, as well as offering a break-out session in how to start sketching your own notes and ideas. Come learn how to be more creative and how to communicate your ideas clearly. Drawing skill is not required, and basic supplies will be provided, but space is limited for the session and requires advance registration. For more information on registration and the conference, please visit the Leadership Conference page on our website.

 

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/

The 5 Cs across the Disciplines

By Sarah P. Hylton, SURN

The Profile of a Virginia Graduate is a framework aimed at preparing our students to be life ready citizens. Positioned as part of the VDOE’s Standards of Accreditation, the Profile is the response to an essential question: “What knowledge, skills, and dispositions should a Virginia high school graduate possess?”

Focused on the four pillars of Content Knowledge, Workplace Skills, Community Engagement/Civic Responsibility, and Career Exploration, the Profile insists that creative thinking, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and citizenship – which we commonly refer to as the 5Cs – be incorporated into learning experiences in every classroom, pre-K through 12.

The 5Cs are not the purview of secondary teachers only (a common misconception given the reference to graduation in the name), nor are they intended to reside primarily in one discipline or another. Rather, this focus on the 5 Cs obliges all teachers to develop a common understanding of these skills and attributes and to understand how the 5 Cs exist across the standards and goals of the various academic disciplines.

Creating opportunities to build teachers’ capacity to incorporate these skills is the work of all school leaders. As each division considers how it will begin to implement the Profile, consider having teachers review the strands and/or goals of the various disciplines to determine where the 5Cs are mentioned in the standards of their own discipline as well as in others. Such a task should provide a good starting point for teachers to develop operational definitions of this language and will give them insight into how they are working in tandem with their colleagues to ensure that all students are developing these critical skills. Because reading, discussing, and writing with purpose in every discipline is fundamental to developing the 5Cs, further faculty conversations might center on how to offer instruction rich in these opportunities.

5cs

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!

EPPL Goes to Washington

By Sarah P. Hylton, SURN

EPPL students take part in a policy field trip to Washington, D.C.

EPPL students take part in a policy field trip to Washington, D.C.

At SURN’s Board Meeting on Wednesday, Dr. Mike DiPaola promoted William and Mary’s EPPL cohort and its goal to develop capable school leaders. The EPPL acronym stands for educational policy, planning, and leadership, and students in the program take courses in each of these areas, ultimately synthesizing those classroom experiences during comprehensive examinations. The natural extension, of course, is how these areas will interact in their professional lives as school leaders. Students in the program are reminded often of the necessity of leaders being conscious of the policy process in order to be able to engage positively and intentionally in that process.

Students currently doing policy coursework, including SURN Graduate Assistants Jamon Flowers and Sarah Hylton, took part in a policy field trip to Washington, D.C. on October 27, 2017. The trip, organized by Dr. Pamela Eddy, provided us with the opportunity to meet with K12 and higher education interest groups and with congressional education legislative aids and staff. We were reminded of how critical it is for school leaders to envision themselves as policy actors and to foster relationships with a broad swath of individuals and organizations. Those we spoke to urged us as school leaders to know our own narrative and to use it to shape our policy goals and aspirations. Faithful commitment to the organization’s best interests framed consistently and positively serves schools leaders well as they navigate policy issues at the local, state, and even federal levels.