Summer Brings the Chance to Re-gain Your Balance

How will you spend your summer?

Summer offers us the chance to “sharpen the saw.”  Stephen Covey encouraged us to seek balance in our physical, social/emotional, mental, and spiritual lives.  When all four dimensions are in balance, the result is personal and professional synergy.  The sum of synergistic living is always greater than its parts.  When all four dimensions are balanced, everything falls into place.

The modern educator can easily be overwhelmed by the challenges of teaching and leading.  If we don’t take the time to renew ourselves on a personal and professional level, we won’t be effective in supporting the growth of our students.  The greatest gift of being an educator is that every school year starts anew.

What will you do to sharpen your saw this summer?  What books will you read for personal and professional pleasure? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment or posting your ideas on Twitter.  See below for a few summer reading ideas.

The Ultimate Summer Reading List for Teachers via Scholastic:

The best books about educational leadership via

Top Ten School Leadership Books via @AngelaMaiers:

Social Media In Schools: Why bother?

I am excited to present at the Maryland Association of Elementary School Principals conference later this month.  The focus of my session is on how social media can be used to enhance adult and student learning.  If you’re a social media regular, this is a message that you are more than likely familiar with.  However, we still have a large number of educators and leaders who are hesitant to capitalize on social media for the benefit of their schools.

I think this hesitancy comes from a lack of confidence with technology and worries about the potential negatives of social media.  If we are to harness the possibilities of social media, we are going to have to get over those feelings of inadequacy.  No one is truly a social media expert.  Technology and social media are changing and growing at such a rapid pace that no one can really keep up.

Motivation also seems to be a factor keeping educators from using social media.  Is it really worth the effort to use social media in our schools?  Will using social media improve academic achievement?  I think the answer to those questions can be found in a meta-analysis conducted by Waters, Marzano, and McNulty in 2003.  This study is often cited in journals and papers that examine the relationship between leadership behaviors and student achievement.

Waters, Marzano, and McNulty looked at 30 years of educational research and uncovered the leadership qualities that lead to improved academic achievement.  Here are a few of the qualities and behaviors they identified:

  • A willingness to actively engage the status quo
  • Quality contact and interactions with teachers and students
  • Establishment of clear goals while keeping those goals in the forefront of the school’s attention
  • Fostering of shared beliefs and a sense of community

Ultimately, school leaders are responsible for raising student achievement.  When developing school improvement plans, teachers and principals must ask whether their initiatives will lead to improved student performance.  Each school must be confident in choosing what to include and what to exclude from their plans.  Will the four behaviors above lead to improved student achievement?  The research suggests so.

Can these behaviors be enhanced by using social media?  If I am a school leader who capitalizes on social media, can I better engage the status quo?  Will social media improve my interactions with teachers, students, and parents?  Would social media be an effective way to keep my school’s goals in the forefront of everyone’s attention?  Can social media help me foster shared beliefs and a sense of community cooperation?

Educators tend to have strong feelings about where their priorities should be spent.  What if the answer to each question above is yes?  School leaders owe their students, teachers, and parents the opportunity to at least explore the potential of social media.  Perhaps George Couros said it best in his blog, The Principal of Change:

“There can no longer be an “opt out” clause when dealing with technology in our schools, especially from our administrators. We need to prepare our kids to live in this world now and in the future. Change may feel hard, but it is part of learning.  We expect it from our kids, we need to expect it from ourselves.  This is not optional anymore.”

Are you a resilient educator?

Are you a resilient educator?  How do you respond when things don’t go your way?  This week was challenging for me.  I’ll spare the specifics, but I’m finishing the day wondering where things went wrong this week.  The most alarming part of having a bad day or week is the feeling of losing control.  How can you get that control back?  Here are a few suggestions that might help.  I’m going to try and take my own advice.

Put Your Day or Week in Context

Everyone has their moments.  Was this day or week an anomaly?  Unless you’ve started a new pattern of behavior, next week will be better.  It has to be.

Keep Your Sense of Humor

If you can still laugh at yourself, you’ll be okay.  Humor doesn’t fix everything, but it signals the start of turning your bad mood around.

Re-center Yourself.

Take some time to reflect on what went wrong and why, but don’t get stuck there.  Make a conscious decision to get back on track.  Think of a few strategies that you can use next week to steady the ship.

Face the Music

If your week went wrong due to relationship issues, decide if you need to directly address someone.  Nothing keeps your stomach turning more than unresolved conflict.  Pick the right moment and have a heart-to-heart with those who are connected to your stress.

Get Some Me Time

Do something for yourself.  Go shopping, go for a walk, a run, a bike ride, or just go somewhere!  Time alone helps clear your thinking.  If you’re comfortable being alone with your thoughts you will always have a way to cope with stress.

Get Back on the Horse

Start the new week believing in a fresh start.  Avoidance is a poor strategy for anyone who wants to have a better day.  Hold your head up, smile, and say something positive to the first few people you see.  You’d be surprised how quickly you can build the momentum you need to have a great week!

Educators and school leaders can and should model resilience.  If we want students to respond appropriately to stress, we should show them how.  We don’t have to discuss every detail of our personal lives, but sharing anecdotes that illustrate the times we have overcome stress can help students develop their own strategies.  It’s okay to show your humanity.  Your students will be all the better for it.

3 Tips for Building Teacher Leadership

Good schools have good leadership.  Great schools have great teacher leadership.  We can all think back to the day when the single heroic leader model was the norm.  This was the era of the authoritarian principal who ruled with a firm hand.  They were the only “expert” in the building and they used their influence in every aspect of management.  Some of those dinosaurs remain, but much like the dinosaurs, they are headed for extinction.

The postmodern principal recognizes that schools have no chance of success unless leadership is a shared commodity.  The job is just too big.  The need to develop teachers as leaders is a generally accepted premise in most school districts.  The challenge, of course, is how to do it.  How can school systems and individual schools harness the skills of their teachers to improve instruction and raise student achievement?

Here are three thoughts that school leaders may want to consider when developing teacher leaders:

Include Everyone

School leaders who select the teacher leaders in their building automatically limit the potential for success.  Everyone can lead in some way.  If teachers aren’t considered part of the leadership team, then they are unlikely to be a part of a school’s success.  Principals who are perceived as having “their people” create a climate of acrimony that leaves many on the outside looking in.  Leadership opportunities must be given to everyone.

Identify and Capitalize on Strengths

We expect teachers to know the strengths and challenges of their students.  School leaders must do the same with their teachers.  This can be done formally (surveys) or informally (conversations/observations).  Either way, school leaders can capitalize on that knowledge when developing their school improvement plans.  Every teacher should be offered and encouraged to have their moment to shine.


School leaders must take a leap of faith and trust teachers.  Sometimes, that trust must be given before it is earned.  Most principals want control over the sharing of information in their buildings.  They want to make sure that instruction is consistent and focused.  Trusting teachers and their expertise will actually enhance quality instruction.  Teachers want to be included in the important decisions related to instruction.  When school leaders exclude teachers, they eliminate the potential for innovation.  Innovative teaching comes from a school climate that fosters risk-taking.  If principals are willing to trust their teachers, the ideas will come pouring out.

Building teacher leadership is one way that school leaders may be able to ensure long-term success.  School leaders come and go.  Turnover and change are inevitable.  When leadership is shared, the transition to new leadership is much smoother.  We owe it to our students and their families to utilize the knowledge of our teachers.  Let’s replace those dinosaurs with a new generation of resilient and inclusive leaders.

Are you a dynamic leader?

What is dynamic leadership?  How do you know if you have it or not? Why is it important?  School leaders continue to take on a range of daily responsibilities. Dynamic leadership may be the singular approach that allows schools to meet with success.  Our students and teachers cannot afford to be led by those who lack the skills to ensure that every minute of their day is spent meaningfully.  Are you a dynamic leader?  Let’s look at the arguable qualities that make a leader dynamic or not.

Dynamic​​​                           Not
Fearless                  ​​​          Fearful
Inclusive​​​                           Isolated
Failure as opportunity​ ​      Failure as disaster
Innovative​​​                        Traditional
Proactive​​​                          Reactive

Fearless, not fearful

Leaders who are consumed by fear are unable to make even the simplest decisions.  They are the veritable “deer in the headlights.”  On the other hand, fearless leaders are thoughtful and decisive.  They weigh all of the options while making timely decisions.  Fearless leaders operate from a mindset that focuses on what is right for students first.  They don’t allow fear to cloud their judgment.

Inclusive, not isolated

Dynamic leaders understand that you can never have enough help and support.  While they are confident in their ability, they know that the success of their school depends on many people.  They give a voice to students, teachers, and parents.  Most importantly, they trust that others are competent and capable.  They assume the best in people without being naïve.

Failure as opportunity, not disaster

Failure is inevitable.  Dynamic leaders expect failure, some even plan for it.  Dynamic leaders model their humanity by acknowledging failure and using it to plan for the next success.  Students benefit from observing school leaders and teachers who model a mature response to failure.  If we expect our students to be resilient, we need to give them the tools for handling failure.

Innovative, not traditional

Traditional thinking gets you traditional results.  Innovative thinking, however, can take you places you’ve never been before.  What is the number one quality of an innovator?  They look to others for new ideas.  Yes, some innovators create their own great ideas, but most innovation builds on the work of others.  Innovative leaders are self-aware.  They know their strengths and challenges, so they fill in the gaps by capitalizing on the human assets around them.

Proactive, not reactive

Dynamic leaders are always one step ahead of change.  They anticipate change and start planning for it before it’s necessary.  Proactive leaders are calm and cool under duress because they are rarely surprised.  They support students and teachers by contextualizing change.  In schools, proactive leaders integrate new curricula, standards, and teaching practices with those already in place.  Their “we can do this” attitude reassures others that someone is looking out for them.

While dynamic leadership can be discussed and debated, it is harder to define.  It may be one of those “I’ll know it when I see it” phenomena.  What other qualities make a leader dynamic?  Post your comments below or tweet out a response to this post and help us grow the list.

Advice from A Great PLN!

The topic for #mdeschat last night was looking toward the New Year.  While the challenges of teaching and leading are many, it was reassuring to hear the hope and energy expressed by many in last night’s chat.  The last question was “fill-in-the-blank” and the answers are a good example of the power of positive thinking.

“2015 will be a great year because…


…I will continue to avoid “the box” and create an environment where creativity is valued.”


…I am surrounded by passionate educators who uplift, encourage, empathize, understand, care, support, hope, heal and love.”


…we have amazing resources to utilize as educators! Twitter networking has no limits!”


…that beats the alternative.”


…more and more educators are stepping out of their comfort zones for the benefit of student learning and growth.”


…I will listen to understand.”


…each day my own PLN grows and I get to learn from brilliant people who have much to teach me.”


…I will continue to build strong, long-lasting relationships through social media.”


…I have family by my side, a career that’s invigorating, and a network of colleagues on Twitter to support me!”


…I have a balance between work and home and a child graduating high school.”


…I’m lucky enough to have another year in the world’s greatest profession!”


…I have decided to make it so.”

Such inspiration from people who spend every day supporting teachers and students!  Perhaps Brandon Kiser’s (@SchooLeader) last statement says it best, 2015 will be great if we only decide to make it so!  That spirit of thinking reminds us of our potential.  Is it possible to make significant change and progress just because we decide to?  I sure hope so.

Reflections by a first-year assistant principal

Elizabeth Manning is a first-year assistant principal at Richard Henry Lee Elementary in Glen Burnie, Maryland. She is hosting #mdeschat this Thursday at 8 p.m. ET.  Her topic for the night is reflecting on the calendar year.  Elizabeth took the time out of her busy schedule for a little reflecting of her own.  Her responses to the questions below provide insight to anyone interested in pursuing a career in educational administration.

Tell us about yourself.

I moved to Maryland 9 years ago when I was hired to teach at Tyler Heights Elementary.  Since then, I worked for the district Title I Office and the Elementary Network Support Team.  My current position, however, is one that I have been ambitiously seeking for a while, and I am grateful that I can call Richard Henry Lee Elementary home.  I am thankful to be back in a school setting interacting with teachers and students on a daily basis.

As a new assistant principal, what has been your biggest challenge this year?

My biggest challenge was learning how to do things the Richard Henry Lee way.  Each school has a culture that makes them unique, forming relationships with staff members early on has helped me become a quick learner as to how business is done here.  At the beginning of the school year I would say to people, “I don’t know, what I don’t know.”  As I get to know the students, the staff, and parents, it is increasingly evident that this school is student-centered with a focus on literacy and STEAM initiatives, but not to the abandonment of creating lifelong learners and responsible community members.

What has surprised you?

It always surprises me how fast both the day, and school year, is flying by.  I often feel like I’m out at morning bus duty, take a walk through the school and next thing you know, I look at my watch and its time for lunch duty!  It doesn’t seem possible that we are already well into December and will soon be writing 2015 to date our papers.  Finding the time to fit everything into our fast-paced days is something I’m working on improving.

How have relationships changed from your transition as a teacher to administrator?

As a teacher, it is easier to find a “buddy” who is going through the same things you are experiencing, within your grade level or at your school.  As an assistant principal, there is no one else with your job in your building.  I’ve had many roles as a “teacher leader,” but the dynamic shifts when the role of “evaluator” is added to your responsibilities.  Conversations are constantly about “What is best for the students?” as opposed to what is fair and equal to my grade level, my classroom, or my current role.  I am thankful to have a principal who is a great mentor and has offered suggestions on how to make the transition from, “teacher leader” to “student-growth leader.”

What advice would you give an aspiring administrator?

If I could tell an aspiring administrator anything, it would be “do your homework, don’t be complacent.” If you are prepping for the SLLA (School Leaders Licensure Assessment), then study, read books and take practice tests.  If you are prepping for an interview, read books and talk to assistant principals, principals, regional assistant superintendents (or principal supervisors) to get feedback or advice.  Then, when you are finally hired as a new assistant principal, keep pushing the envelope to try new things, read the latest research, journal about your experiences (or blog), communicate frequently with your principal and take the time to reflect!  The key is to prepare to work hard.

How do you think the second half of the school year will be different than the first?

My challenge for the first half of the year was learning the “what’s, how’s, and who’s” of the building.  Now that I’m familiar with school procedures and student names, the second half of the year will be a big push for continuous development of the action steps on the school improvement plan.  With the new PARCC assessment on the horizon, it will be important to keep our academic focus narrow so we can achieve our goals during non-testing times.  The entire school year is a time for growing our students into the kind, caring, capable learners that will be the responsible community members of the future.

Thanks, Elizabeth, your reflection skills will make you an excellent principal!

Growing Sustainable Teacher Leadership

One of the biggest challenges principals have today is hiring, growing, and sustaining teacher leaders.  In his article for Phi Delta Kappan titled, Beginning Teacher Induction: What the Data Tell Us, Richard Ingersoll discusses teacher attrition.  He noted that, “…40% and 50% of new teachers leave within the first five years of entry into teaching.”  That statistic alone should give principals pause to reflect on their hiring practices, induction efforts, and school culture.  Teacher leadership is difficult to foster when teachers are fleeing the profession.

What can principals do to ensure that the teachers they hire are successful for years to come?  Principals must develop a comprehensive and inclusive approach to growing sustainable teacher leadership in their buildings.  If principals adopt consistent practices in four key areas:  hiring; induction/support; observation/evaluation; and professional development, they can improve teacher retention and focus their efforts on growing teacher leadership.


Principals will tell you that growing sustainable leadership begins with the hiring process. Hire a poor candidate and you will spend a long time undoing your error.  Hire a great candidate and you can stand back with pride as they excel.  Simple enough, but how can you increase your chances of hiring a great teacher?  A few simple practices can dramatically increase the odds of hiring the next teacher of the year candidate:

▪ Hire by committee- Let your teachers help select their next colleague.  This immediately improves your new employee’s chances of being successful because their peers will be invested in their future.  New teachers who have colleagues looking out for them will find it hard to fail.

▪ Ask questions that are based on your school’s values- The questions don’t have to be lengthy, but they should be the same for every candidate to ensure fairness. The interview committee should get a sense of whether the candidate will fit in with the school’s culture.  Develop questions that evoke the responses you want (e.g. Give us an example of how you have collaborated with other teachers to meet the needs of your students).

▪ Call references- It is surprising how many principals skip this basic step.  Even if you already know who you want to hire, take the time to call their references.  It may take a little time, but it could save you from hiring the wrong person.

▪ Avoid hiring from desperation- Principals often end up advertising positions and interviewing at the last minute.  An unexpected retirement, a family crisis, and suddenly you are desperate to fill an opening.  This is the worst position to be in.  It’s like buying a car when yours has to be towed onto the lot.  Be patient.  Hire a long-term sub if you have to, but don’t hire someone just to check it off your “to do” list.

In her 2013 article, Teachers Hiring Teachers, Mary Clement noted that involving teachers in the hiring process strengthens teacher leadership.  She also found that when teachers are included in the selection process, schools are more likely to “make good matches.”


​Once you have your new hire, you need to provide the support to get them off on the right foot.  It can be a very helpless feeling to walk into a building and not know who your resources are.  Planning for the induction and support process shows new employees they are valued and that you recognize their needs are different.

In their 2012 Teacher Induction Discussion Guide, The National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) provides suggestions for the scope and structure of teacher induction programs.  They suggest that comprehensive teacher induction programs include the following:

▪ multi-year support for new teachers for at least two years;
▪ high-quality mentoring utilizing carefully selected and well-prepared mentors;
▪ regularly scheduled common planning time with other teachers;
▪ ongoing professional development; and
▪ standards-based evaluation of new teachers throughout the process.

As we all know, relationships are key to the achievement of our students.  They are also the key to the success of our teachers.  The success of new teachers is highly dependent on the relationships they have with their colleagues, support personnel, and their principal.  Principals can strongly influence the progress of new teachers just by being available to them.  Schools that grow skilled teachers do so through comprehensive and highly supportive methods.  When teachers feel they are part of something bigger than themselves, they rise to the occasion and grow exponentially in their skills.


​The observation and evaluation process is a critical component in growing sustainable teacher leadership.  Principals who focus on using teacher observation and evaluation to improve instruction will have more success than those who use it as a punitive tool.  When observation and evaluation conferences include honest conversations about student performance, they are much more likely to lead to teacher growth.

​Charlotte Danielson is recognized as a leader in the teacher observation and evaluation field.  Many districts have adopted her approach when developing teacher and principal evaluation models.  Her Framework for Teaching: Evaluation Instrument synthesizes her previous work and responds to the instructional implications of the Common Core State Standards.  Danielson’s framework addresses four domains essential to the teacher observation and rating process:

1. Planning and Preparation
2. Classroom Environment
3. Instruction
4. Professional Responsibilities

Danielson’s framework is comprehensive and targets the skills and knowledge that teachers are expected to master.  Her framework is based on empirical studies that connectspecific teacher behaviors to student achievement.  Teachers are unlikely to feel threatened if observation and evaluation discussions are centered on student achievement.  In order to grow sustainable leadership in schools, teachers and principals must work collaboratively in the observation and evaluation process.

Professional Development

The state of professional development in education is rapidly changing.  Professional development models that rely heavily on the expertise of outside facilitators are passé.  Just like principals expect teachers to provide instruction to meet the needs of all learners, they mustprovide the same for the developmental needs of their teachers.  Professional development should be job-embedded and inclusive of the needs of individual teachers.

In 2012, the Annenberg Innovation Lab released a report titled, Designing with Teachers:  Participatory Approaches to Professional Development in Education.  The group that collaborated on the report included researchers, teachers, and school administrators from a variety of schools and states.  The group was seeking to construct a framework for participatory professional development.  They found that there are four core values associated with participatory PD:

1. Participation, not indoctrination- collective intelligence, everyone (teachers included) has a role in PD.
2. Exploration, not prescription- teachers have a say in the scope of PD which should be individualized for their content area.
3. Contextualization, no abstraction- PD is practical, meaningful, and immediately useful.
4. Iteration, not repetition- PD is evaluated as an iterative process and the selection of PD comes from the examination of data.​

Modern principals must be innovative in all aspects of their work.  Innovation in professional development is a necessity.  Thoughtfully designed professional development can sustain teachers throughout their career.  Principals who know the strengths of their staff and design PD that is specific to their needs create learning environments that are healthy for teachers and students.

It’s About School Culture

Ultimately, teacher retention and development are products of school culture.  A culture that values the contributions of everyone is able to thrive even when typical levels of teacher turnover occur.  Principals who hire effectively, support new teachers, foster the observation process, and provide innovative PD greatly increase the likelihood that teachers will remain in, and contribute to, the profession.

Teachers want to make a difference.  They want to be the best they can.  If schools thoughtfully support their professional needs, anything is possible.  The belief system in a school that values teacher retention and leadership is the same value system that will support student learning and growth.  That creates the ultimate win/win opportunity for schools.

This article, written by Christopher Wooleyhand, was published in the September/October 2014 issue of Principal magazine. Copyright 2014 National Association of Elementary School Principals. All Rights Reserved.

Retreating to the Chesapeake Bay

“A kid today can likely tell you about the Amazon rain forest- but not about the last time he or she explored the woods in solitude, or lay in a field listening to the wind and watching the clouds move.”

Richard Louv
Last Child in the Woods

I had the pleasure of spending three days last week on a principals’ retreat sponsored by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.  We gathered at Somers Cove Marina in Crisfield, Maryland for introductions and orientation prior to boarding a CBF vessel for Tangier Island, Virginia.  Our three days were filled with exploration, discovery, and hands-on learning; the kind of teaching and learning that all children and adults should be exposed to.

The CBF principals’ program promotes using environmental education to boost academic achievement and get students involved in improving their community.  It offers participants a chance to network with other principals, to share ideas, and to learn from each other in a truly unique setting.

We canoed, scraped for soft crabs, set out and pulled in crab pots, visited the Tangier Combined School, fished, progged (beach combed) and ate local fare.  Maryland elementary, middle, and high school principals from Harford, Anne Arundel and Montgomery County participated.  It was obvious that each shared a passion for being outdoors and, most importantly, for involving their students and teachers in learning that promotes the value of environmental education.

One of the outcomes of the experience is that the participants develop an environmental education action plan.  Each principal creates a plan to pay their learning forward.  This aspect of the principals’ retreat has led to many schools in Maryland expanding environmental education opportunities for students.  Several of the principals are spreading the word to their districts on the benefits of getting their students outside.

Why does any of this matter?  It matters because we are raising a generation of students who spend little to no time in the outdoors.  While research supports the benefits of environmental education on learning, our motivation should be simpler.  We need to get our children outside because it’s good for them.  It makes them well-rounded individuals.  It makes all of us better people.  Don’t let this generation miss out on the value of knowing the woods or lying in a field listening to the wind and looking at the clouds.

Summer Renewal

Summer offers educators the chance to, as Stephen Covey taught us, sharpen the saw.  Covey touted the need for balance in our physical, social/emotional, mental, and spiritual lives.  When all four dimensions are balanced, the result is personal and professional synergy.  The sum of synergistic living is always greater than its parts.  When all four dimensions are attended to, everything falls into place.

The modern educator can easily be overwhelmed by the challenges of teaching in the 21st century.  If we don’t take the time to renew ourselves on a personal and professional level, we won’t be effective in supporting the growth of our students.  The greatest gift of being an educator is that every school year starts anew.

What will you do to sharpen your saw this summer?  What books will you read for personal and professional pleasure?  I’ve included some links below to potential summer reading lists.  Here are responses to those questions from a few colleagues and PLN members:

I am planning on reading, Falling In Love With Close Reading as well as articles etc. on arts integration since we are in the exploratory stages.  I’ll be sharpening the saw at the beach as much as possible.

-Donna Usewick, @dsusewick

For recreational reading, I hope to read The English Girl by Daniel Silva and The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd.  For professional reading, I plan to read Engaging Students with Poverty in Mind by Eric Jensen.  I am traveling to Ireland as soon as school is out and taking a short trip to St. Michael’s, Maryland at the end of July for some golf.  I hope to get some more golf in on the Fridays that schools are closed.  I am also attending the NAESP conference in Nashville this July.

-Theresa Zablonski, @tzablonski

I will be reading The Homework Myth by Alfie Cohn, Positive Discipline by Nelsen, as well as Sue O’Connell’s book on math practices.  This summer, I plan to reflect on the school year and think about each aspect of our school and how to make improvements.  For myself, I will spend time with my family and hit the beach!

-Cheryl Cox, @CoxCherylcox628

The Ultimate Summer Reading List for Teachers via Scholastic:

The best books about educational leadership via

Top Ten School Leadership Books via @AngelaMaiers: