Tuesday, 31 May 2011

More on Courageous Conversations about Race

As a leader, are you comfortable with the four agreements?  If so, how is this apparent in your leadership?

Four Agreements of Courageous Conversations

  1. Stay engaged
  2. Experience Discomfort
  3. Speak Your Truth
  4. Expect and accept non-closure

STAY ENGAGED: To stay engaged is to not let your heard and mind "check out" of the conversation.  ...Collective disengagement also exists in schools.  When a dramatic racial achievement gap persists, the children of the school pay the ultimate price for the adults' unwillingness to engage in difficult interracial dialogue.

EXPERIENCE DISCOMFORT:  The Courageous Conversation strategy...asks participants to agree to experience discomfort so that they can deal with the reality of race in an honest and forthright way. 

SPEAK YOUR TRUTH: Speaking your truth means being absolutely honest about your thoughts, feelings, and opinions and not just saying what your perceive others want to hear.

EXPECT AND ACCEPT NON-CLOSURE:  ...the solution is revealed in the process of dialogue itself.  ... If people expect and accept non-closure in racial discourse, then the more they talk, the more they learn; and the more they learn, the more appropriate and promising will be their actions and interventions.

From:  Courageous Conversations about Race by Glenn Singleton and Curtis Linton
Published by: Corwin Press

Monday, 30 May 2011

Moral Imperative of School Leadership

As a leader, what is your commitment to the moral imperative of school leadership?

Waiting for Superman captures the moral imperative writ large, and writ deep.   But in my view, this is not the moral imperative if only a handful of disadvantaged kids get a chance.  The first two-thirds of the film is as brilliant as it is alarming.  Unfortunately, the last third relies on moral outrage as its sole strategy and fails to identify any way out other than to say we need more schools with passionate leaders and teachers.  Of course we do.  But moral purpose, even deeply felt, is not a strategy.  We need moral purpose actualized, and on a very large scale.  The latter is the essence of this book. 

Moral Imperative As Strategy

So the question is not just how deep is your moral imperative, but equally, what is your strategy to enact it.  Just as moral imperative is not a strategy, neither is being "right." .....but let's establish some basics here for making the moral imperative a strategy. 

  1. Make a personal commitment
  2. Build relationships
  3. Focus on implementation
  4. Develop the collaborative
  5. Connect to the outside
  6. Be relentless (and divert distracters)

From:  The Moral Imperative Realized by Michael Fullan
Published by: Corwin Press and OPC (the Ontario Principals' Council)

Friday, 27 May 2011

Facilitative Leadership

As a leader, are you facilitative or directive?

Facilitation is a way of providing leadership without taking the reins.  It's the facilitator's job to get others to assume responsibility and take the lead. 

Here's an example:  Your employees bring you a problem, but instead of offering them solutions, you offer them a method to guide the members with which they can develop their own answers.  You attend the meetings to guide the members through their discussions, step-by-step, encouraging them to reach their own conclusions.

Rather than being a player, a facilitators acts more like a referee.  That means you watch the action, more than participate in it.  You control which activities happen.  You keep your finger on the pulse and know when to move on or to wrap things up.  Most important, you help members define and reach their goals. 

From: Facilitating With Ease! by Ingrid Bens
Published by: Jossey-Bass

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Moral Leadership and You

As a leader, would you be seen by your followers as meeting the standards of moral leadership?

Are you a moral leader?  Do you act out of a relentless commitment to improve the quality of something or someone?  Do you carefully consider what is the right thing to do?  Do you have a moral purpose - wanting to make a difference that matters most? 

Leaders must have the highest standards and ethical strength.  Their character is always on display - followers ask, "Did she do what she said she would do?" Do his actions reflect what we value in our culture and conform to the highest professional principles?"  They are quick to point out when the leadership behaviour is inappropriate, self-serving, and misaligned with the values of the organization. 

Moral leaders stand for something - and use every opportunity to communicate their  stand to others.  ....They don't quit when it gets tough - when they hit a roadblock, they find another way.

From:  Leading Every Day by Joyce Kaser, Susan Mundry, Katherine E. Stiles, & Susan Loucks-Horsley
Published by: Corwin Press

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Building Sustainable Capacity

As a leader, how do you build sustainable capacity in your staff?

It was probably Peter Senge who first introduced capacity building into the organizational and management literature.  In attempting in 1990 to demonstrate a logical link between the concepts of knowledge society and organizational development, Senge asserted that two conditions must be met in the work of 21st century organizations: first, the notion that the professional learning community must become accepted as integral to organizational development and, second, professional learning communities, once in operation, must accept that their core purpose involves the creation and sustainability of significant "new knowledge". 

It was out of these dual premises that the concept of educational capacity building was born.  For, according to Senge, when the professional community of an organization such as a school creates significant "new knowledge", and sets in place processes to ensure the ongoing refinement and dissemination of that knowledge, the organization's "capacity" to achieve and sustain success is greatly enhanced.

In the two decades since Senge's pioneering thinking, capacity building and its two key subordinate concepts - knowledge creation and professional learning community - have become fundamental organizational constructs. 

From:  From School Improvement to Sustained Capacity by Frank Crowther
Published by: Corwin Press

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Habits of Mind & Leading

As a leader, do you invoke the habits of mind in your leadership? 

Habits of Mind:  modelling, coaching, scaffolding, articulation, reflection, exploration

Modelling - Modelling of leadership behaviours.  If we want others to be leaders, we need to demonstrate what leadership looks like.

Coaching - Helping others to think through what they are trying to do.  Teachers raise questions with each other rather than telling others what to do.

Scaffolding - Providing the content bridges necessary for the task, raising the necessary questions, and giving others, particularly new teachers, the opportunities to explore and perform the task.

Articulation - Explaining what you are thinking about so that thinking is visible to colleagues, parents, and students.

Reflection - Being reflective and thoughtful about the work.  Raising evaluation questions:  What went well today?  Why?  If I did this again, how would I do it differently?

Exploration - Modelling risk taking so others understand that uncertainty is involved in all new learning.

From:  Leadership Capacity for Lasting School Improvement by Linda Lambert
Published by: ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development)

Monday, 23 May 2011

When Motivation Reduces Effectiveness

As a leader, do your motivating actions actually result in reduced effectiveness? 

In environments where intrinsic rewards are most salient, many people work only to the point that triggers the reward - and no further.  So if students get a prize for reading three books, many won't pick up a fourth, let alone embark on a lifetime of reading - just as executives who hit their quarterly numbers often won't boost earnings a penny more, let alone contemplate the long-term health of their company.  Likewise, several studies show that paying people to exercise, stop smoking, or take their medicines produces terrific results at first - but the healthy behavior disappears once the incentives are removed.  However, when contingent rewards aren't involved, or when incentives are used with the proper deftness, performance improves and understanding deepens.  Greatness and nearsightedness are incompatible.  Meaningful achievement depends on lifting one's sights and pushing toward the horizon.

From:  Drive by Daniel H. Pink
Published by:  Riverhead Books

Friday, 20 May 2011

The Change Process

As a leader, how do you understand the change process?  What is your comfort level with complexity?

...it is essential for leaders to understand the change process.  Moral purpose without an understanding of change will lead to moral martyrdom.  Moreover, leaders who combine a commitment to moral purpose with a healthy respect for the complexities of the change process not only will be more successful but will also unearth deeper moral purpose.  Understanding the change process is exceedingly elusive.  Management books contain reams of advice, but the advice is often contradictory, general, and at the end of the day confusing and nonactionable.  ...six guidelines that provide leaders with concrete and novel ways of thinking about the process of change:

  1. the goal is not to innovate the most
  2. it is not enough to have the best ideas
  3. appreciate early difficulties of trying something new - what I call the implementation dip
  4. redefine resistance as a potential positive force
  5. reculturing is the name of the game
  6. never a checklist, always complexity

From: Leading in a Culture of Change by Michael Fullan
Published by: Jossey-Bass

Thursday, 19 May 2011

What Choices are you Making?

As a leader, do the choices you make align with what you need and want?

Choose.  Choose often - hundreds of times a day, in fact.

Choose.  Choose based on what you desire - what you truly want for yourself and others.

Choose.  Choose deliberately and consciously.  Choose, if you want to move forward.  Don't choose, and you stay stationary or fall back.

One of the key characteristics of leaders is that they consciously make all kinds of choices - not just the big ones, such as instituting new policies or restructuring schools.  They make medium-sized choices, such as choosing not to blame themselves for failure or not being deterred from their mission by adversaries.  They also make small choices: choosing to check in on a colleague who has a serious illness in the family or picking up the coffee cups at the end of a meeting.  And each of the choices leaders make says something about what they stand for and what they want for themselves and their organizations.

As a leader in your organization, there are two choices that are essential for you to make:

  1. Choose to know what you want.  Oftentimes, people cannot move ahead because they don't know what they want.  They are stagnant, often waiting for some external force to push them in a direction.  Although it is not easy, you can develop a conscious habit of knowing what you want and pursuing it.....
  2. Choose to act to achieve what you want.  How much of your time to you spend doing what you want to do to achieve your goals? 

From:  Leading Every Day by Joyce Kaser, Susan Mundry, Katherine E. Stiles, & Susan Loucks-Horsley
Published by: Corwin Press

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

What Effective Leaders Do

Kouzes and Posner propose 5 leadership practices.  As a leader, to what degree do you engage in these practices?

According to an extensive database compiled by Kouzes and Posner (2002), leaders who accomplish extraordinary results with others use five leadership practices.  Their actions contribute to their effectiveness and the success of those with whom they work.  Effective leaders use these five leadership practices:

  1. Model the way - It is no surprise that effective leaders are credible.....They are clear about their own personal values and views and build a consensus among others about the values that will guide all of them.  Leaders 'model the way' by checking to make sure their actions are consistent with their values...
  2. Inspire a shared vision - Effective leaders care deeply about what they want to accomplish and work with their colleagues to identify common, shared goals and aspirations for the future
  3. Challenge the process - Effective leaders question and work to change the status quo.  They take on challenging projects that help them learn something new.  They learn from their failures as well as their successes...
  4. Enable others to act - Leaders foster collaboration and teamwork.  They share power and responsibility.  They actively remove hierarchy and other roadblocks to increase interactions among people who need to work together. 
  5. Encourage the heart - Effective leaders build a strong caring community in which people praise and recognize success.  They know success breeds success and celebrate each small milestone.  They support and encourage everyone when the going gets tough.

From:  Leading Every Day by Joyce Kaser, Susan Mundry, Katherine E. Stiles, and Susan Loucks-Horsley
Published by: Corwin Press & NSDC (National Staff Development Council)

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Starting Point for Improvement - Part 2

As a leader, how do you determine what is important when determing your starting points for improvement?

In another study of four successful high-poverty districts, Snipes, Doolittle, and Herlihy (2002) found that these districts in comparison with other districts

  1. Focused on achievement, standards, and instructional practice
  2. Created concrete accountability systems in relation to results
  3. Focused on lowest-performing schools
  4. Adopted districtwide professional development and support for consistent implementation
  5. Drove reform into the classrooms by defining the role for central offices of guiding, supporting, and improving instruction at the building level
  6. Committed themselves to data-driven decision making and instruction
  7. Started the reform at the elementary level
  8. Provided intensive instruction in reading and math to middle and high schools students

From: Leadership & Sustainability by Michael Fullan
Published by: Corwin Press & OPC (Ontario Principals' Council)

Monday, 16 May 2011

Starting Point for Improvement - Part 1

As a leader, how do you establish your starting point for improvement?

Nearly all of the success stories involve improvements in literacy and numeracy at the elementary level, with some closing of the gap between high- and low-performing schools.  The findings are consistent across many studies.  Togneri and Anderson's (2003) study of success in five high-poverty districts identified six strategies for improvement.  These districts

  1. Acknowledged publicly poor performance and sought solutions (building the will for reform)
  2. Focused intensively on improving instruction and achievement
  3. Built a systemwide framework and infrastructure to support instruction
  4. Redefined and redistributed leadership at all levels of the district
  5. Made professional development relevant and useful
  6. Recognized there were no quick fixes
From: Leadership & Sustainability by Michael Fullan
Published by: Corwin Press & OPC (Ontario Principals' Council)

Friday, 13 May 2011

Reflective Practice

As a leader, do you engage in reflective thought for the purposes of learning? 

Learning is the foundation of individual and organizational improvement.  Learning requires reflection.  From an individual perspective, "It can be argued that reflective practice...is the process which underlies all forms of high professional competence."  From an organization perspective, reflective practice is a powerful norm that is required for continuous improvement of teaching and learning practices that results in high levels of student achievement.  Reflective practice is the means by which learning, renewal, and growth continue throughout the development of career educators. ...

Most educators - both teachers and administrators - experience a continuously hectic pace in their daily and professional lives.  Such a pace is not conducive to reflection and learning.  The dominant culture in many schools is one of doing, with little or no time for reflection and learning.  ...

Educators routinely juggle multiple tasks, process information on many levels, manage a continual stream of interruptions, and make on-the-spot decisions to meet the changing needs and demands in the teaching environment.  ...

To change our practices, to change our beliefs, and to alter our own theories of change, we must slow down and have reflective conversations that allow us to think through possible changes.  ... Shifting from a culture of doing to a culture of learning and doing, however, is not easily accomplished.  ...

Reflective practice cannot be done in the fast lane.  Although much of educational practice occurs in the fast lane, educators must locate a rest area to reflect on past practices and to determine adjustments for future practice.

...the seeds of reflective practice begin first within individuals and then, with continuous nurturing, spread and take root in the broader educational community. 

From:  Reflective Practice to Improve Schools by Jennifer York-Barr, William A. Sommers, Gail S. Ghere, and Jo Montie
Published by: Corwin Press

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Motivating Staff

As a leader, how do you motivate staff?  Does the motivation come through some form of reward such as recognition or praise - or something more tangible? 

The Russian economist Anton Suvorov has constructed an elaborate econometric model to demonstrate this effect, configured around what's called "principal-agent theory".  Think of the principal as the motivator - the employer, the teacher, the parent.  Think of the agent as the motivatee - the employee, the student, the child.  A principal essentially tries to get the agent to do what the principal wants, while the agent balances his own interests with whatever the principal is offering.  Using a blizzard of complicated equations that test a variety of scenarios between principal and agent, Suvorov has reached conclusions that make intuitive sense to any parent who's tried to get her kids to empty the garbage.

By offering a reward, a principal signals to the agent that the task is undesirable.  (If the task were desirable, the agent wouldn't need a prod.)  But that initial signal, and the reward that goes with it, forces the principal onto a path that's difficult to leave.  Offer too small a reward and the agent won't comply.  But offer a reward that's enticing enough to get the agent to act the first time, and the principal "is doomed to give it again in the second."  There's no going back.  Pay your son to take out the trash - and you've pretty much guaranteed the kid will never do it again for free.  What's more, once the initial money buzz tapers off, you'll likely have to increase the payment to continue compliance. 

As Suvorov explains, "Rewards are addictive in that once offered, a contingent reward makes an agent expect it whenever a similar task is faced, which in turn compels the principal to use rewards over and over again."

From:  Drive by Daniel H. Pink
Published by:  Riverhead Books

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Courageous Conversations about Race - Part 3 ...and Equity

As a leader, how do you engage your staff in Courageous Conversations and conversations about Equity?

All students can benefit from a focus on equity because an equitable school system is one that works to address the needs of each individual child.

We have developed the following definition for equity:

Educational equity is raising the achievement of all students while:

  • narrowing the gaps between the highest- and lowest-performing students; and
  • eliminating the racial predictability and disproportionality of which student groups occupy the highest and lowest achievement categories

Equity is far more than a state of being or an abstract ideal.  Rather, it is an operational principle that enables educators to provide whatever level of support is needed to whichever students require it.  In the classroom, this means providing each and every student with what each individually needs to learn and succeed. 

Equity is not a guarantee that all students will succeed.  Rather, it assures that all students will have the opportunity and support to succeed.

From:  Courageous Conversations about Race by Glenn Singleton and Curtis Linton
Published by: Corwin Press

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Courageous Conversations about Race - Part 2

As a leader, how do you engage in conversations about race?

Many educators struggle to take personal and professional responsibility when it comes to meeting the needs of students of color who are not succeeding.  Instead, they tend to focus on factors external to the school for explaining why students' low achievement rather than examining their own instructional practices.

Addressing the impact of race in education is not a "feel good" experience.  Nor is it an attempt to make White educators feel guilty, promote pity for people of color, or extract revenge on their behalf.  The use of Courageous Conversation provides the foundation for a systemic strategy to build responsibility through more thorough and authentic personal inquiry and engagement by educators, students, families, and the broader community.  Educators participate in this difficult work for the sake of their students.  Schools need to become places where effective education is guaranteed to every child. 

From:  Courageous Conversations about Race by Glenn Singleton and Curtis Linton
Published by: Corwin Press

Monday, 9 May 2011

Courageous Conversations about Race - Part 1

As a leader, how comfortable are you with conversations about race?

We believe that the racial achievement gap exists and persists because fundamentally, schools are not designed to educate students of colour, and educators continue to lack the will, skill, knowledge, and capacity to affirm racial diversity. 

We have labelled the formal structure that exists for this type of dialogue Courageous Conversations, defined as utilizing the agreements, conditions, and compass to engage, sustain, and deepen interracial dialogue about race in order to examine schooling and improve student achievement.

Specifically, a Courageous Conversation

  • engages those who won't talk
  • sustains the conversation when it gets uncomfortable or diverted
  • deepens the conversation to the point where authentic understanding and meaningful actions occur
If we understand the need for dialogue about the racial achievement gap, the question becomes how we open ourselves up to have a Courageous Conversation about these questions:

  • Why do racial gaps exist?
  • What is the origin of the racial gaps?
  • What factors have allowed these gaps to persist for so many years?

From:  Courageous Conversations about Race by Glenn Singleton and Curtis Linton
Published by: Corwin Press

Friday, 6 May 2011


As a leader, how do you build collaborative professional learning communities?

Being a team is not the same things as forming a team.  If I have learned anything about implementing authentic PLCs (Professional Learning Communities) it is that the hard work of looking at student and teacher work, designing quality common formative assessments, and reviewing and responding to to data cannot be done well without first building a strong collaborative team.  There is no bypassing this.  Time spent team building, learning about each other's styles and preferences in working as part of a team, norm setting, and constructing community knowledge is never time spent in vain.  Quite the contrary; failure to do these things promotes dysfunctional, ineffective PLCs with members who, at best, go through the motions of engaging in the requisite Essential Tasks with little or no impact on student learning.  With no real gains observed, inauthentic PLCs soon revert back to the old ways of the comfortable, if ineffective, status quo. 

Once a solid, collaborative foundation is established, PLCs are ready to do the heavy lifting of looking at student and teacher work, designing quality common formative assessments, and reviewing and responding to data, and they stand a good chance of doing them with fidelity so that student learning can actually improve.  Well-established teams can tackle any obstacle that may arise as they pursue....

From:  The Practice of Authentic PLCs by Daniel R. Venables
Published by: Corwin Press

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Capacity Building

As a leader, how do you build the necessary capacity in your staff to meet the demands of the work that needs to be done?

Two key principles should permeate your capacity-building work:

1. Minimize blame and focus on improvement.  If people fear blame, there will be less transparency and less insight into the root causes of problems, which will inhibit capacity-building.  Instead, build a culture in which struggles or challenges are viewed as opportunities to learn and further improve delivery.  It is important to communicate that people are being judged in order to strengthen performance and not for the sake of laying blame.  In practice, a culture of no blame needs to exist alongside a culture of taking responsibility, so plain speaking and honesty will be crucial.  As Michael Fullan (2008) explains in his book The Six Secrets of Change, "This doesn't mean that you avoid identifying things as effective or ineffective.  Rather it means that you do not do so pejoratively."

2. Create a culture of continuous learning.  To truly sustain the capacity to implement change, all system actors responsible for delivery must be constantly going through the cycle of acting, reflecting, making adjustments, and trying again, each time refocusing their efforts on the actions that are found to be most effective.  In this culture, all contributors to delivery are constantly increasing their effectiveness.  As Michael Fullan (2008) put it, "Learning on the job, day after day, is the work".

From: Deliverology 101 by Michael Barber
Published by: Corwin Press, EDI - U.S. Education Delivery Institute, OPC - Ontario Principals' Council

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Technical or Adaptive?

As a leader, are you engaged in technical or adaptive work?

...it was Ron Heifetz (1994) who focused attention on the concept of an adaptive challenge.  An adaptive challenge is a problem situation for which solutions lie outside current ways of operating.  This is in stark contrast to a technical problem for which the know-how already exists.  This distinction has resonance for educational reform.  Put simply, resolving a technical problem is a management issue; tackling adaptive challenges, however, requires leadership.  Often, we try to solve technical problems with adaptive processes or more commonly force technical solutions onto adaptive problems.  ...

Almost by definition, adaptive challenges demand learning, as progress here requires new ways of thinking and operating.  In these instances, it is 'people who are the problem', because an effective response to an adaptive challenge is almost always beyond the current competence of those involved.  Inevitably, this is threatening and often the prospect of adaptive work generates heat and resistance. 

Mobilizing people to meet adaptive challenges is at the heart of leadership practice.  In the short term, leadership helps people meet an immediate challenge.  In the medium to long term, leadership generates capacity to enable people to meet an ongoing stream of adaptive challenges.  Ultimately, adaptive work requires us to reflect on the moral purpose by which we seek to thrive and demands diagnostic enquiry into the realities we face that threaten the realization of those purposes. 

From: Every School a Great School by David Hopkins
Published by: McGraw Hill

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Constructivist Leadership

In what ways are you a constructivist leader?

...leadership can be understood as reciprocal, purposeful learning in a community.  Reciprocity helps us build relationships of mutual regard, thereby enabling us to become colearners. And as colearners, we are also coteachers, engaging each other through our teaching and learning approaches.  Adults as well as children learn through the processes of inquiry, participation, meaning and knowledge construction, and reflection.

As leaders, we must bear in mind the learners' views, challenge their beliefs, engage them in assessments that take into account the complexities of the broader context (e.g. learning beyond the classroom), and construct meaning and knowledge through reflection and dialogue.

Constructivist Leaders
  • Seek and value teachers' points of view
  • Structure the concept of leadership to challenge teachers' belief systems
  • Construct meaning through reflection and dialogue
  • Structure the life of the school around the Big Picture, not a singular event or small piece of information
  • Assess teacher learning in the context of the complexity of the learning organization, not outcomes of isolated events

From:  Leadership Capacity for Lasting School Improvement by Linda Lambert
Published by: ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development)

Monday, 2 May 2011

Problem Resolving

As a leader, do you have a process for resolving problems? 

Change the game.  At the Harvard Negotiation Project we have been developing an alternative to positional bargaining: a method of negotiation explicitly designed to produce wise outcomes efficiently and amicably.  This method, called principled negotiation or negotiation on the merits, can be boiled down to four basic points. 

These four points define a straightforward method of negotiation that can be used under almost any circumstance.  Each point deals with a basic element of negotiation, and suggests what you should do about it.

People:  Separate the people from the problem.
Interests:  Focus on interests, not positions.
Options:  Generate a variety of possibilities before deciding what to do.
Criteria:  Insist that the result be based on some objective standard.

From:  Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher, William Ury, & Bruce Patton
Published by: Penguin Books