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/).

 

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

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.

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!