Shoes on the Wrong Feet

As days go by, the 2020-2021 school year continues to challenge, exhaust and even thrive despite the pandemic. It may not look like what we thought improving schools would be this year and it may not feel as positive and rewarding as other years. Some schools have been open with mostly face to face learning since fall, others are a blend of virtual and in person learning and some are still 100% virtual. We all know that none of this is perfect or what educators want for their school year. In this week’s blog, I want to share some stories from my week of leadership coaching and bring a smile to your face…

Let’s start with first-year teachers. WOW. I mean really WOW. So this is the year you start your career? This is the first experience you have as a teacher? I want to let you in on a little secret. If you are new to our profession…. please hang in there with us. It isn’t always this messy, difficult or exhausting (well, maybe exhausting). I have to say that I love the energy and positivity that these brand new teachers bring to our schools. Despite a global pandemic, they are so eager to grow as professionals. I have had so many great conversations with them this year.

One I loved in particular was with Brittany. She is a born leader and doing an amazing job of leading her collaborative team through the PLC process at Rivercrest Elementary School. Imagine the trust and confidence shown by her principal by asking this young, new teacher to be a team lead. We want to share ownership and leadership of the work of improving schools. And, this energetic, young teacher is hard at! She understands her role and is able to focus her team on deep discussions about student learning. If she can do this with all the distractors a pandemic brings, what will she accomplish when even more attention can be focused on learning?

The other conversation that made my heart warm was with a very accomplished principal, Sarah Stobaugh, who leads her school with passion, commitment and all the heart and soul that you can pour in to your job. When I was talking to her this week, she was sharing how hard it was to stay connected to everyone in her building this year. Because of COVID restrictions, they cannot meet together often and they also have such a limited number of substitute teachers that it is very hard to release teachers for professional learning or leadership opportunities. She gets that this year is different but she misses what they cannot do-both for the adults and the students. At one point in the conversation, she said, “Some days, I am not sure if my shoes are even on the right feet.” That was her sweet, southern way of saying, there are times, things are a bit much… even for her.

My week ended with an opportunity to talk with her leadership team. We focused on what they are accomplishing, identified challenges and we ended with suggested immediate actions. It was a “so what, now what” conversation. What are you going to do to help address the challenges that you identified? Most importantly, the ones that you can control. Their list included celebrate more student successes; taking time to acknowledge the small wins. They know that it is a year that we really need to notice the positives and they are committed to doing more of that with their students. They also addressed the emotional well-being of their students and know that it is time that they, collectively, consider how increase this aspect of their culture. As with all my conversations with this group of teachers, their care and concern for their students is evident. They have an unwavering desire to meet the needs of each student in their school. They are evidence-driven and are working extremely hard to grow their students. Honestly, they could have signed on with me and complained about how so many things are different and difficult this year but they didn’t. No excuses made. It is about continuously working through their challenges and digging deep to collectively have the energy needed for this difficult work. They know that to continuously improve their school, they have to tirelessly move learning forward- whatever it takes. Even the days their shoes are on the wrong feet.

Your Intention

As the ball dropped in Times Square and we said good bye to 2020,  the ‘new year’ felt hopeful and full of possibilities. With renewed energy and enthusiasm, we embrace 2021. We talk excitedly about resolutions and set intentions. Common sense and realism keep us grounded; we acknowledge that we are living through a pandemic. Times are still difficult; our worries, struggles and frustrations did not end with the the flip of the calendar however, there is  room for optimism and renewed sense of purpose. This week felt good for  many reasons. Here are a few…

In my role as a school improvement coach, I have learned to respond and adjust my work as needed. It is about figuring out what the current reality is and doing all I can to provide timely support. For most of 2020,  adjustments included only being able to provide virtual coaching rather than face to face and not having the opportunity to work side by side with others. I have missed the personal school and district visits; seeing first hand the transformation that takes place when continuous, targeted improvement strategies are implemented. I have missed working with other coaches, shoulder to shoulder, to support a school. And, by the middle of December, I was honestly worried about the principals and district leaders who I have the privilege to work with.  Leading through this pandemic was more than any of them signed up for. They had not received a course at college titled “Here is how to keep a school safe and healthy and make sure learning takes place during a pandemic.” By December, the wind was out of their sails. it wasn’t their intention to run out of energy- it just happened.

As I reconnected with leaders the past two weeks, I was so pleased to see personal energy and enthusiasm return. I heard about goals and we developed plans.  Intentions were set and school improvement continues. They are still adjusting as needed; spending hours doing contract tracing, reminding students and staff to wear masks, monitoring health and safety protocols and following other public health practices. This has not gone away; these leaders are just not allowing a pandemic  to be in the way of focusing as much time and attention as they can on student learning.

I was asked a great question this week- “In your opinion, what is the biggest obstacle to  successful leadership?” I love being asked that question. It doesn’t seem to matter how many years I work at leadership coaching; my answer remains the same. In my opinion, the biggest obstacle to being a successful leader is struggling to commit to intentions ( or, perhaps, truly knowing what your intentions are).  I am confident that I learned this the hard way (in fact, I still can make a mess of this at the best of times). Distractions come and go in our lives and it is what we do with them that creates (or doesn’t create) obstacles to successful leadership. It is about understanding what you intend to accomplish and how you must go about your business to get there. It is about positively impacting others to do the same.

Sometimes it is the “aha” moment when you, the leader, has clarity about what you envision your school or district to become. This vision becomes the foundation for establishing collective commitments of how you (and others) will work. It might mean that you establish “tight” expectations- the non-negotiable actions that align to vision.   It is an opportunity to revisit how we actually know if we are staying intentional -what will we use for artifacts and evidence to progress check our own goals?  It means celebrating our small and big wins.

But first, it has to start with an intent. “This term, I intend to spend more time doing___________________”  “Next week, I will intentionally_do this -_______________________________to improve student achievement.” During several coaching calls this week I felt the intention of school and district leaders to take specific actions to improve the academic lives of their students. I heard commitment to students and I felt strong support for the professional development of teachers.

Challenge yourself to have intention in 2021. Take time to consider what is really important to you. If I check in with you a few months from now, what evidence of your intentions will you share? How will we know that you have kept distractors away and stayed the course?  If you are leading a school, know that your intentions will make the difference in the lives of your students. If you are leading a district, never underestimate your impact on student success.  Use this complimentary book study to motivate you: https://www.solutiontree.com/leading-with-intention-book-study.html.  And, if I can help in any way, please reach out. You’ve got this.

Words Matter

I have started and stopped this week’s blog post a hundred times. I want to continue to write about school leadership and improvement. I want to help others stay focused and encouraged through these challenging leadership times. I want to say the right things. I know that words matter. What we say to others, how we say it and when we say it has impact. In our personal lives for sure. And, when we are given the honor and responsibility to lead others, words critically matter.

This week, I had planned to write about setting intentions. You know, reflecting on your goals and what you want to focus your time on in this new year. The book that I coauthored in 2018 is called “Leading with Intention” for a reason; knowing what your intentions are and how important it is to stay focused on the right work is a significant part of successful leadership. If you follow this blog, you are acutely aware that my writing often centers around this theme. I can’t help myself.

This week, however, we are taking a slight detour. Let’s call it a “teachable moment”. You know, when you are in the classroom and a student asks a question or something happens when you just have to pause and use the opportunity for teaching and learning. On Wednesday, January 5, watching the news in Washington unfold, I felt so many “leadership” teachable moments. And, in my own Canadian province of New Brunswick, I watched and listened as government and health leaders made quick decisions and provide consistent and clear messages about behavior expectations to contain the spread of COVID-19 here. This week’s experiences definitely reminded me that “words matter”.

Let’s backtrack for a minute. Do your remember a time in your life when someone’s words significantly impacted your life? Perhaps caused you to truly change your actions? Set you on a career path? Created a “teachable moment” for you that has had major impact? I can and often talk about a one of these times in particular. It doesn’t matter that 40 years have now passed, I will always remember what was said to me. It was a student by the name of Edward and he changed the course of my life forever.

I had another one about ten years ago. I was sitting in a restaurant having lunch when the waitress asked me if I remembered her. Apparently she was the student that I had found under my desk when I returned to my office as as a young school administrator. She had a tendency to misbehave and found herself in the office many times as a young kindergarten student! Once she told me that, I did indeed remember her. And, twenty years later, she reminded me that “words matter” by reciting exactly what I said to her when I found her under my desk. Apparently, I told her- “I like you but I am not liking what you are doing right now.” She said that she now says that to her young toddler all the time. I have no recollection of saying it but she remembers. As a school leader I did that without truly knowing the life long impact I could have. It is a bit scary to think what other impact, good and bad, my words have had throughout my life.

Once we are in positions of authority- of responsibility for the lives of others, we become role models. As a leader, whether we think about the “modeling” we do everyday with our actions and words, it happens. And, when we lead, others follow. They wait to see the direction that we will set, the culture that we will create, the expectations (high or low) that we will have for their own behaviors. With our positions of leadership comes positional power. It doesn’t matter if we personally accept this responsibility and respect our own position for what it is, the power comes with it regardless. Others accept it. And follow our lead. Good or bad.

As a consultant, I mostly work with school and district leaders. My goal is to help them be stronger, courageous and more effective leaders. Without great leadership, it is impossible to have great school systems. Their actions matter. Their words matter. I learned many of my lessons in life the hard way. I wish I had treaded more carefully as a leader. I wish I had always, every second, thought about how my words would matter. In a perfect world, leaders are perfect. That is not realistic but it is very realistic to understand the impact that we have. It is important to speak with intention. We can intentionally influence others negatively or positively. We can set direction in the right way or wrong way. And, we have to understand that we always are having impact.

We saw great examples of how words matter this past week. Good and bad. We witnessed how others follow leaders. We have teachable moments that we can grow from as leaders. Edward and my waitress are my reminders of my own impact and have helped me grow as a leader. I know that my words matter. What I write here matters. How I coach others matters. How I personally build relationships matter. I have to continue to accept that responsibility. How can you use life’s teachable moments to build your own leadership skills? What will you do to acknowledge your personal impact on others?

With Hearts Wide Open

“Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.” (Brené Brown, 2018). Leading with hearts wide open, showing up day in and day out and courageously doing “whatever it takes” has been the mantra of educators in 2020. “Showing up” has meant figuring out how to teach virtually from home or pivoting from virtual to face to face to virtual; whatever learning had to look like this year. Leading this work are the courageous district and school leaders who had to put their hearts and souls in to ensuring the health and safety of their students and staff. It has not been easy to lead through a pandemic and it isn’t over. As the holiday season is upon us and schools are closing for a much needed break, it is a good time for reflection and consideration of what comes next.

During a school improvement coaching call this week, I asked a principal what she was looking most forward to over the next two weeks. Without hesitation, she told me that she could relax knowing that the responsibility for the health and safety of everyone in her building would be off her shoulders- well, at least not a 24/7 worry as it has been for the past ten months. She admitted that she would still think about her staff, students and families but it would be nice to be on vacation from the brave, courageous, organized and problem-solving administrator expected of her everyday. She reflected that she felt so vulnerable so many times this school year; knowing that behind her mask she wasn’t always smiling and in fact, she was nervous and fearful that she wasn’t doing all she could to keep her building safe from COVID and being closed.

Zooming in with another school administrator, I was greeted with her always pleasant smile and endless energy. I asked her how she was doing that this year; keeping her energy up when everyone else seemed so exhausted. She told me that she was “faking it” and that extreme exhaustion had taken over. And the one thing that really stuck with me was this, “I am mad at myself because I let my vulnerability show too often this year.” You can imagine what a great opener that was for me as her leadership coach. Through our conversation, we explored why she felt that being vulnerable was something others shouldn’t see. We talked about the courage that it takes to truly connect with others by allowing them to see our needs. She told me that she was worried that her staff would think less of her or that she would be seen as weak because they knew that this year was hard for her as their leader. And then the conversation turned to what is the most difficult part for her, the worry she has for students and their learning this year. This is where she feels the most vulnerability and needs the most courage to continue to lead.

It goes without saying, that student learning is why we teach and lead. Ensuring each and every student learn at grade level; in other words, have every opportunity to develop the skills needed in each grade to successfully move to the next grade is what our learning goals are based on. And, I am confident as I write this, educators, school and district leaders are extremely worried about many students who are struggling this year. COVID can not be an excuse but the reality is that learning has been disrupted and for some students, this disruption is creating an even steeper uphill climb. The good news is, when teachers come together to truly understand the needs of their students and collaborate to plan next steps, that steep climb is not so daunting. This has been my experience as a school improvement coach this year; where districts and schools have continued to support a professional learning community model; in other words, focused on collaboration, learning and paying attention to results, it has been less of a challenge to stay the course and focus on the needs of students. In schools that I haven’t seen as strong a commitment to shared ownership that develops through collaboration, schools are less successful in prioritizing learning during this pandemic.

As we move in to 2021, how will you courageously increase your focus on student learning despite the distractors? What can you do to know where your students are, right now, on their learning journey, and most importantly, what are next steps to help them succeed? What action can you take, to engage or reengage them in their learning? Will you find the courage to look at the data; despite what it says the current reality might be, and create a plan to move each and every student along as learners? Can you be vulnerable enough to seek support and guidance when you do not know what to do next in the service of your students?

Improving schools is about saving lives of students. With my heart wide open, I thank you for doing so much to serve and protect students this year. It has been a challenging year to teach and to lead. It is ok to say that you are tired and need a break. It is really just fine to say it is a difficult school year. And, it is admirable to courageously be vulnerable as you go about the business of deciding what needs to be done next. We don’t always know but together can figure it out.

The Pressure of “Normal”

We hear the phrases, “the new normal” or “try to normalize things”. Or, we see operational plans and expectations laid out by politicians, bosses and/or leaders that demand “normal practices”. How can any organization or business manage as if things are normal in 2020? Why could this possibly be an expectation? Especially of schools? How can it be “business as usual” during a pandemic?

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “normal” as characterized by that which is considered usual, typical, or routine. What is typical of staying six feet apart from everyone you work with or go to school with? How can sitting with a mask on and never seeing the smile of a friend be “normal”? What is “normal or routine about “virtual hugs” versus real hugs? Of families, who have never gone without food, lining up at a food depot? Of worrying, minute by minute of loved ones who are very ill in the hospital? Or entire families falling ill together?

School leadership coaching in 2020 has open the doors to new challenges and opportunities. During the first few months of the pandemic, principals were creating ways for teachers to reach as many of the students with on-line lessons. Opportunities were found to maximize the time that we were all home and to do what could be done so students finished their school year with as much learning as possible. The 2019-2020 school year ended with teachers and school leaders feeling proud of their ability to be flexible and manage even while they were all home in a lock down situation.

Over the summer months in North America, principals and teachers attended virtual trainings and spent hours and hours preparing for the 2020-2021 school year. Plan A was made for if students could be face to face, Plan B was made if it was a blend of both, Plan C if everyone was home and so on and so on. School started with whatever plan seemed best for the district/state/province and then came fall and a second wave of COVID-19.

And with this wave, I have felt the confusion, exhaustion and stress of leaders who are trying to do the right things. They may or may not agree with the direction being given by decision-makers but are taking steps to take care of the students and adults in the building. They know that it is not easy right now for many to attend school or come to work. They are doing with less staff and they are devastated that so many students are not engaged and participating in learning. However, they acknowledge that, in the homes of many of these students, there is sickness, unemployment, essential health care workers and very high levels of anxiety. Students are not coming to school from “normal” situations right now. COVID fatigue is real however, the pandemic is not giving us time to rest and school and district leaders are well aware that the fight continues.

While decision-makers at every level are dealing with the on-going need to put health and safety first, they are being pressured by outside influences and expectations to ensure school goes on as “normal”. In every coaching conversation, I hear a story of a parent or politician or local leader who makes a demand that just doesn’t make sense right now. What does make sense, always, is keeping the student at the center of all decisions. What is “normal” is student-centered thinking and for right now, the decisions being taken to ensure student learning may not be the usual decisions made.

It might mean that students are not physically in the building every day or that their lessons have to be more self directed. It might mean that student ownership of their learning has to be increased and that they accept more responsibility for participating in learning. It means that teachers have pivoted with every decision made about how they will work this year and they will continue to do this as needed. The worry that students will drop out and a very large learning gap will occur during the pandemic is real. And, I know that every educator cares about this and wants learning to feel normal. It just doesn’t right now.

For my school and district leaders reading this, I challenge you to accept that this is not a normal year. To take a breath and know that your work is important in the lives of students, families and your staff. To take the time to watch a sunrise or sunset, or notice a full moon or rainbow in the sky. To find a way to keep the student as the center of all decisions, especially when health and safety needs must come first. I hear your exhaustion and worry about others; I know that you are trying to take care of every small detail to ensure learning continues and thrives in your buildings. Celebrate your great accomplishments this fall. So many students have learned a great deal despite a world-wide pandemic and under those masks, there are many smiles because of you.

Green or Red?

What will I remember from October 2020? Conversations- both personally and professionally that challenged and caused me to reflect on how important relationships are. We are living in a time when “seeing others” might still mean by video or at least a phone call. It is not possible for me to travel and visit with family and those I work with (yet) and I am missing my people. This is also the time of the year that I would normally say good bye here at home and head south as one of the many, many Canadian snowbirds. All of this feels different. And, there are days that I feel selfish for even voicing what I am missing since so many in the world are suffering with the pandemic and its side effects. Health, death, job loss, financial and housing issues- these exist in real time and I know that my losses are nothing compared to so many. How can I ever complain?

In my school improvement coaching this past month, a very wise principal put it all in perspective for me. She said that she is working hard to keep her thinking, visioning and reflecting in the “green”. As she so beautifully stated, she can see the problems of the day, the worries of tomorrow as green or red. They either present problems to solve, actions to take, thoughts to work through or they stop her in her tracks. Similar to what happens when you quickly come to a red light. You have to come to a full stop and wait. Sometimes the wait is long but once the light is green you move on. Unfortunately, when we let “red” influence our thinking, we often stay stalled or stuck for too long.

As I continue to work in schools and districts, I have seen wonderful examples of “green” thinking. Despite feelings of exhaustion and a sense that this year and pandemic may never end, forward “green” thinking is alive and well. What can we do next to help a student? How can I support a teacher during a particular difficult time? What will it take to keep learning as the focus no matter what? These are my green thinking people and they are a dream to work with. I am so appreciative of their willingness to work through the challenges and ensure learning for each student is the goal.

One of my “green” thinking principals is new to me and my very first coaching session was this past month. Logging on to Zoom, I wasn’t sure what to expect and I was anxious and excited to meet her. When her camera came on, I found a very sick lady in her bed. She was home with COVID and had some severe symptoms. DESPITE this, she wanted to talk about her school. She has a vision, dreams and goals of what her school will become. She knows what the work has to be and she is passionately engaging her staff in authentic school improvement. I am blessed to have the opportunity to meet her and work with her and thankfully, our second session found her much better. Lessons learned- if she can be a “green” thinker despite her situation, I sure need to keep my focus on green.

One other great conversation that I had this month was with four principals who volunteered an hour of their precious time to meet with me. Through video, we connected from the Pacific coast to the Atlantic coast with two southern belles in between. My goal was for these seasoned principals to meet and hear how each of them were keeping the focus and sustaining the work that they had achieved before COVID at their schools. They are all keeping things “green” and I knew that they could learn a great deal from each other. Most importantly, they all understand the importance of relationships and taking care of their people. They are focused on both the adults and students in their buildings and they understand their own personal impact in ensuring student success. I know that they are tired and I know that they all feel overwhelmed. They are working through daily challenges and the stress of the current reality is real. However, they are not letting the red light hold them back.

My reflective question to you is this- are you able to keep your thinking through a green lens? When you are faced with complications and/or you are feeling anxious or overwhelmed, can you see the positive in your life? In your work? What can you do to help see the positive? What can you personally do to find the time and support to help? A constant theme in school improvement this year is self-care. School and district leaders need time and support to be able to stay the course and the first step is to be able to identify when you are spending too much time at the stop light. Intentionally noticing this is a nice starting point for personal self-care.

Thank you for always reading and thinking. You continue to inspire me as a school improvement coach. Have a great week.

In Celebration…

It is all around us. More important than ever. We need it and want it during this challenging 2020 year. We are acutely aware of it. Others provide it or you provide it. Both happen simultaneously. Leadership… that is what this is about and with or without it, we are working through the challenges of a year we will not forget.

As I work with schools and districts, people are stepping up to lead when and where necessary no matter what their “title” is. Positional power we call this, when you actually have a leadership title. We know that doesn’t necessarily make you a leader but it does make you responsible. Day in and day out, those who have the position AND those who might not, are leading in schools and districts. Why? To get the job done. To make sure students are safe and learning occurs despite all the noise and roadblocks to this happening.

It doesn’t matter what country you are in when you read this or what your title is in the education system, you are leading. I am sure you could send me a story of leadership that has warmed your heart this school year. I am confident that that story has impacted the life of a student. You would tell me about a teacher who is not letting COVID be an excuse for his or her students not learning; the expectations are high and instruction is being adapted to meet the needs of the student. That is leadership. Or you might send in a tale of a school administrator who, despite exhaustion and many changing situations, just gets the job done… day in and day out, roadblocks are removed so teachers can teach and students can learn. That is leadership. Or you might want me to know about the district that is collaborating and ensuring that everything stays aligned and focused on the right priorities. They are protecting the schools from the everyday struggles just so students come first and learning is the goal. That is leadership.

Some make it look easy. Others struggle to lead. Many accept the need to be brave and courageous and rise to the challenge. Or… feel so vulnerable that it is difficult to be confident in decisions made. Whatever you are feeling, it is ok. Leadership does not follow a straight line. There are twists and turns and opportunities for success and failure. It is about continuing the journey despite the falls. Transforming a school or district is not a “walk in the park” and many days will feel difficult. Especially this year.

The important path to follow is sharing the load. When we build efficacy and empower others around us to lead, it somehow it seems less challenging to own the responsibility. When our energy is low, we need the synergy of a team; of collaborative efforts to transform. This may not be the year to add more projects or take a different direction, but it definitely is the year to lead. And, everyday that you or someone else provides steady, confident leadership, continuous improvement can happen. Your impact might not be obvious right now or even tomorrow. School and district improvement takes time and this year, more than ever, requires a relentless focus on the right work.

This blog is in celebration of you. Where ever you are and whatever you do in an education system (or in life in general), you lead through example. You lead with your words, your actions and your intentionality. Each new day is addressed with a renewed sense of purpose. Develop your skills, model, practice and honor others through your leadership. You matter. It matters. We need you. Thank you.

Lessons Learned this September

Every September since 1980, I started a new school year as an educator; different roles but it always felt as the best time to have freshly sharpened pencils, clean notebooks and, if I was lucky, a new book bag to carry my treasures back and forth. This past month, was different for me and other educators and, more importantly, for students. In Canada, most students returned face to face to start the school year but schedules are adjusted and not every student is in school everyday. In the United States, it varies from state to state with some schools hosting only virtual classes while others are working through a face to face model. Many schools are boldly trying to hold both simultaneously.

Luckily, I was still able to provide leadership coaching to several schools and districts from my home. It isn’t the same as sitting side by side with a teacher or walking the hall and classrooms with a principal however we are all making the best of it. And, as always, there were lessons learned from the inspiring educators who I am so fortunate to spend time with. Here are a few of my take-aways this month.

First of all, despite the complications of opening schools in 2020, school and district leaders have amazed me with the successful plans and problem-solving that continues to be part of day to day operations. They are building the plane as they fly it and ensuring that students feel safe and welcome in a new learning environment. Classrooms, cafeterias and hallways may look different but the relationships and support to students is what comes first and I am so proud of how they are keeping this at the top of their priorities, no matter what.

Secondly, as the dust has settled in the first few weeks, conversations about student learning deepened. Through collaboration, teachers and leaders are using evidence to ensure that they understand the learning gaps students have come back with and they are working diligently to meet them where they are at, moving learning forward and at the same time, providing interventions to support what is needed. Sounds like quite a balancing act, right? Yes, it is and it is what teachers do! It was so energizing to spend time with collaborative teams and school leaders as they looked at student work to decide what to do next. There were so many conversations about root cause that my heart was singing! I know students are getting the best from their teachers when the conversations are that intentional.

One of my very favorite “lessons” this month actually came from several schools. More than once I heard a principal or teacher say, “COVID may be challenging us and changing how we work, but it is not an excuse! Student learning has to be our priority.” Leaders have the important responsibility to keep this as a focus and at the same time, look after the health and safety of the students and adults in the building (s). All a tall order in 2020 and I am thankful that so many have risen to the challenge.

As we head in to October, I can not help but think that an intentional focus on a few priorities will be the most important task for teachers and leaders this year. In the classroom, this means that teachers truly understand what the most essential learning outcomes are; what they absolutely need students to master in their grade and this is where time and energy must be spent. Leaders have to keep distractors away from this work and support with intentionality. It is not the year for brand new shiny coins; in other words, we do not need new initiatives and programs… just lots of time spent deepening the work of improving schools. It seems to be a great year to really get good at a few necessary instructional and leadership strategies that focus on collaboration, learning and results. These are the three big ideas of the process of professional learning communities and, in my opinion, never has it been more important for schools and districts to be clear on what is important and work together.

In our book, Leading with Intention, we end chapter one with a reflection tool to help leaders stay focused on the right work. Here is the link to the template- https://www.solutiontree.com/ca/free-resources/plcbooks/lwi#. It might be a great time to refocus and clarify your intentions. Thanks again to all who are teaching and leading in these challenging times! I have never been so proud of our profession.

Back to School

This time of the year brings back a flood of memories of so many “first days” of school for me. As an educator, the excitement and nervousness of the new year was symbolized by the new freshly sharpened pencils, clean, crisp notebooks and the wonder of who would be in my class. In fact, I can still remember my first day of school as a teacher in 1980. I remember what I wore that day and the moment that I met my class for the first time at Riverview Junior High. Last week, I walked in to a store with a smaller than usual display of school supplies. colored-pencils-686679__340The aisle looked sad rather than enticing and quickly reminded me that the start of 2020-2021 is different. Yes, school is starting however, for many, feelings of anxiety and fear have replaced the excitement and wonder that this time of the year traditionally brings.

One principal recently told me that she is frustrated by the many posts and reminders to “be prepared”.  In fact, she asked me, “How do you prepare for something that we have never faced before and never had the experience to overcome?” In our conversation, however, it was clear to me that she had spent the past several weeks doing all she could to be just that- as prepared as possible for whatever this fall brings. What I mostly love about her direction is her focus on her students. In every decision that she is making, she is putting the care and attention of her students first. And, as long as she keeps this at the forefront of all of her actions, she will be ok this year.

As a leadership coach, I have to pay attention when leaders lose their focus. It is easy to have great plans and intentions as school begins, but distractors can quickly creep in and take time and attention off the real work. Minimizing priorities so what you determine to be essential has always been important to leaders and I believe, more than ever, this year has to be about only the essentials. Consider making time for yourself to reflect  with these questions-  What is absolutely essential to spend my time doing? What is absolutely the most important learning for our students this year?  What can I do to ensure my staff, students and parents understand our “why” and see it in how I make decisions and communicate? What are the essential needs of the adults who I work with and how do I support these needs? How can I lead from a place of confidence and support rather than fear and anxiety?

Through the weeks of COVID -19 challenges, educators adjusted quickly to virtual platforms and now as school has started or will start for you, more changes are needed. In some places, school and district leaders are being told what the current reality will be and in other places, these very difficult and important decisions are left to them.  And, we know that that even more adjustments might need to be made in the coming weeks. Over the summer months, conversations with school and district leaders have reminded me of the value of relationships and humility in our work. Putting people first, having empathy and creating every opportunity to share leadership with others goes a very long way in building respect as a leader. Couple this with a focus on the student and this year will not seem quite so daunting.

I have always found that creating time and space to reflect and focus on my own leadership skills helped me be energized and ready for the next challenge. This year is a “whatever it takes year” and it is ok to lean on others for support. Take a breath and recharge when you can and know that an intentional focus will help you in so many ways. It is ok to be distracted…just recognize when you are and do what you can to return to what you know to be essential. This will help you lead with confidence and a sense of purpose- something I know to make a huge difference in how I lead.

Over the past three weeks, I have had the great fun of being part of a book study focused on leading with intention. Tuesday, August 25 is our last session and it is all about communicating and building relationships. School and district leaders, give yourself the gift of 45 minutes of professional and personal development and join us  (complimentary) by registering at https://solutiontree.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_V6GAnQv7STeMR0MyA9GD5A.

Thanks for reading, leading, teaching. I appreciate you.