Ten School Leadership Lessons Inspired by The Godfather

The Godfather is arguably one of the best books and movies ever produced.  While the violence associated with the film should never be glorified, there are many messages in the movie that can be used to inspire thoughtful leadership in education.  My wife, Debbie, and I collaborated to bring you the following ten lessons inspired by the Godfather:

1.  “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”

Leave the hostility. When working with families and staff you will get farther with patience and tact.  Give yourself a buffer of time if you feel emotion creeping into your decision-making process.

2.  “Someday, and that day may never come, I will call upon you to do a service for me.”

This reflects the importance of building a strong community.  We should rely on each other- teachers, parents, and the community. Teaching is still a service industry and when we treat it that way our customers truly benefit.

3.  “Never tell anybody outside the family what you’re thinking again.”

A staff should have common goals, a philosophy that drives decision-making.  When we speak to parents, we need to speak with one voice.  Differences should be handled behind closed doors, when we exit, we should present a united front.

4.  “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.”

School should be a welcome place for all.  This includes school staff, children, parents, and families. Strong community schools are the heart of education.  We want our schools to be so engaging they can’t refuse to come.

5.  “Mr. Corleone is a man who insists on hearing bad news immediately.”

Ignoring the “bad news” in education keeps us from proactively making changes. Responding in an efficient manner to potential negatives gives us time to react, time to let it sink in, time to strategize, and most importantly, time to respond.

6.  “A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.”

To keep your saw sharpened, you need to be connected to people and passions outside of work.  Spending time with family and friends helps keep things in perspective. It makes you a better person and a more able leader.  Establishing family-centered values provides reassurance to your staff which will make them better at what they do.

7.  “What’s the matter with you? I think your brain is going soft.”

Though sometimes uncomfortable, leaders need to hold people accountable.  Ignoring employees who are unable to work up to the accepted standards only adds to the burden of those around them.  Establish consistent expectations for everyone and speak up when it’s important.

8.  “It would be a shame if a few rotten apples spoiled the whole barrel.”

There are great things happening in classrooms every day.  Don’t let media coverage, or poorly informed public opinion, distract you from the amazing job teachers do every day for kids.  School leaders should shine the light on all of the great things going on in their buildings.

9.  “Never get angry,” the Don had instructed. “Never make a threat. Reason with people.”

We need to remember that when it comes to children, parents are protective.  We all want to believe our children are bright and capable and when someone tells us differently we can get angry.  In the schoolhouse, it is especially important that we keep our emotions under control.

10.  “Great men (and women) are not born great, they grow great . . .”

Every day we are fortunate to be part of the growth of children and witness the evolution of the greatness that is within every student in our school.  Despite the challenges that our students face, we CAN make a difference.  If we maintain that belief, our students will reach the highest heights!

Who knew?  So much wisdom in a classic film.  What movie quotes can you connect to teaching and leadership?

Debbie Wooleyhand (@ppw78) is a veteran educator and pupil personnel worker for a large Maryland school district.

Showing Up Is Important- Guest Blog by Debbie Wooleyhand

Promises and resolutions mark the start of the calendar year.  January is a great time for schools to review behavioral expectations with students and families.  One of the most important expectations a school can set is regular attendance.  Habits form early and parents are a child’s first teacher.  Educators need to empower parents and encourage them to teach their children about the importance of going to school.

Showing up is the greatest contribution a child can make to the classroom.  Typically, when a student is absent, the teacher will send home “make up” work.  Yet, there are events that occur in a classroom that can’t be sent home.  The calm that falls over a class when the teacher reads a story aloud, the spontaneous song that breaks out occasionally, or the shared laughter when something silly happens in the classroom- these are intangible moments.  They are the events that help create a special bond between teacher and students.  They are the moments that move a classroom from school-like to family-like.  No matter how hard we try, we can’t put those feelings in a backpack and send them home.

What message can school leaders share?  Tell your teachers about the power of a phone call home when a child is absent.  It lets the parent and child know you care and that it matters when they are not in school.  Let parents know that we really do want the best for their children, not just today, but every day and that begins by building good habits.  Other messages to share about attendance include:

  • Good attendance helps children do well in school and eventually on the job
  • Attendance matters as early as kindergarten
  • Sporadic absences matter. Before you know it, a child has missed 10 percent of the school year
  • Don’t let your child stay home unless he is truly sick.  Complaints about a headache or stomach ache can be a sign of anxiety and not a reason to keep your child home from school
  • Avoid medical appointments and extended trips when school is in session

Lastly, attending school regularly helps children feel better about school and themselves.  My resolution for 2014 is to share the message of the importance of school attendance.  I resolve to talk about it every day. See you in school!

Information contained in this blog came from www.attendanceworks.org.

Debbie Wooleyhand is a veteran educator and pupil personnel worker in a school district with over 70,000 students.  She can be followed on Twitter @ppw78.

Education- A Thankful Profession

As Thanksgiving approaches, I have many reasons to give thanks for being in the education profession.

Teachers Still Matter

No matter what changes have come, or will come our way, teachers still matter.  In fact, they matter now more than ever.  Teaching is about relationships.  The best teachers are those who figure out how to connect with each and every student.  Changes in curricula, pedagogy, technology, and standards will never supersede the critical role of teachers in making learning meaningful. The best indicator of student success is still the teacher who stands in front of the classroom every day.  I am thankful for that.

Principals Still Matter

Effective leadership remains central to the success of our schools.  Principals must provide support to students, families, and teachers.  When they do, there is no limit to the good things that can happen.  The role of the modern principal is complex. The changes taking place in education can make one’s head spin.  Good principals ensure that teachers are not overwhelmed by the external pressures placed on them.  They provide stability and reassurance when they are needed most.  I am thankful for that.

Parents Still Matter

The partnership between schools and families is as important today as it was fifty years ago.  Parents send their best to our schools everyday.  They trust us to protect and educate their children.  That trust is humbling when you think of the challenge it presents.  Nevertheless, when parents and schools collaborate, students achieve at higher levels.  Parent involvement remains a key indicator of student success.  I am thankful for that.

Students Still Matter

Watching students enter the building every day is one of the most satisfying parts of my day.  At the elementary level, students run and even skip to the front door.  They say good morning (most of them).  They smile, they hug you, and they tell their teachers how much they love them.  The other day one of our second grade students sent out this tweet:

“i love this school and i will never forget my time i love my teacher…shes the most awsome teacher in the world.”

Does it get much better than that?  The hopes and dreams of our students are as strong today as ever.  I am thankful for that.

Education Still Matters

I am blessed to work in a field that serves as the starting point for all professions and careers.  I get to see children learn and grow every day.  When teachers, principals, parents, and students work together it’s like a symphony concert.  The “music” that is made in these schools is passionate and enduring.  The education profession still matters.  I am most thankful for that.

Extending the Edcamp Philosophy to School-based PD

I recently attended EdCampBmore at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. This was a wonderfully organized and attended event.  There were educators from Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and even New Hampshire in attendance.  These committed professionals gave up a Saturday to share their expertise with like-minded peers.

If you are unfamiliar with the edcamp philosophy, the following explanation appears on edcampbmore’s website:

“An unconference is an open, participant-driven conference. The content is proposed and provided by the participants, and is often determined on the day of the event. This style of learning is not new. It stems from the model of barcamps, which were originally focused on software, web applications, and open source technology. Unconferences rely heavily on the passions and interests of the participants. Because of this, unconferences have become an extremely popular form of professional development.”

The website also includes this table that explains the differences between traditional conferences and edcamps:

Conference vs Edcamp

Baltimore’s edcamp was organized by Shannon Montague (@montysays), Molly Smith(@historyfriend), Jenna Shaw (@teachbaltshaw), Jen Filosa (@jafilosa), Chris Shriver (@ccshriver), and Margaret Roth (@teachingdaisy).  These amazing ladies pulled together the resources to provide an exceptional professional development experience for those in attendance.

The range of topics covered included:

  • flipping professional development
  • project-based learning
  • school leadership
  • chromebooks
  • student behavior
  • standards-based grading
  • school culture
  • social media community building
  • CCSS
  • early childhood technology
  • blended classrooms
  • engaging students through gaming
  • genius hour
  • STEAM/STEM
  • maker spaces
  • the role of the school counselor
  • student entrepreneurship
  • thinning the classroom walls

I had trouble getting to sleep that evening because it occurred to me that the edcamp philosophy could easily be translated to school-level professional development.  As a firm believer in the collective intelligence of schools, it concerns me that we don’t always tap into the knowledge of the teachers in our buildings.  In fact, one of the most popular forms of PD over the past 30 years has been the use of outside experts to train teachers in the pedagogy du jour.

The edcamp philosophy eschews this approach in favor of professional development that is created by, and shared with, those working in the field.  Our teachers have interests and strengths that can be enhanced when they are given opportunities to discuss their practices.  So much of the time that we give teachers for planning is taken by the functional aspects of teaching.  Very little of it is spent in fostering creativity and improving the profession.

The edcamp approach to professional development could be a great way to inject excitement back into the profession.  How much stronger could our schools become if the teachers in the building were given the chance to share their knowledge with their peers in deep and meaningful ways?  I don’t know the exact answer, but I plan to find out.  Don’t tell my teachers, but we’re about to plan our first school-based edcamp.  Now I’ll never get to sleep!

Sharpening the Saw- Ode to Stephen Covey

Stephen Covey would have celebrated his 81st birthday on Thursday.  His passing in 2012 left a void that few can fill.  I often return to his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  It provides comfort and wisdom that stands the test of time.  With the stress that comes with being a modern educator, Covey’s thoughts on “sharpening the saw” are worth re-reading.

According to Covey, sharpening the saw means, “preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have–you. It means having a balanced program for self-renewal in the four areas of your life: physical, social/emotional, mental, and spiritual.”

Covey cites the following as examples of activities in each area:

Physical:  Beneficial eating, exercising, and resting

Social/Emotional:  Making social and meaningful connections with others

Mental:  Learning, reading, writing, and teaching

Spiritual:  Spending time in nature, expanding spiritual self through meditation, music, art, or service

School leaders need to spend as much time in supporting their teachers with sharpening their saws as they do in developing their pedagogical skills.  Not that the two are mutually exclusive, but not all staff development needs to be focused on the act of teaching.

Our teachers work hard.  They balance the demands of family life with a profession that seems to be more challenging every year.  As they attempt to be the best teachers they can be, they often ignore their own needs for the benefit of their loved ones and their career.

Principals not only have an obligation to remind teachers about the importance of sharpening their saws, they must provide opportunities and activities that lead them in that direction.  When principals promote the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health of their teachers they strengthen their learning community. Teachers are better at what they do when their lives are in balance.

What can you start doing tomorrow to help your teachers sharpen their saws?  Here are a few simple ideas:

Monthly birthday celebrations

Fitness activities led by staff (yoga, Zumba, volleyball, kickball, etc.)

Running Club

Book studies (voluntary)

Staff hikes

Social hours outside of school

Weekly recognitions

Dress down days

Dress up days

School spirit days

No meeting days

The possibilities are only limited by your creativity.  If you run out of ideas, ask the teachers.  I bet you’ll get some interesting suggestions.