Category Archives: Leadership

My Storify for Summit 6: Vulnerable Readers

Check out my Storify for Summit 6: Vulnerable Readers!

This was an excellent conference with many great experts on literacy instruction:

Dr. Richard Allington

Dr. Janet Mort



Pat Johnson: @PatJ222




Appreciate Strength & Just do it

Appreciate strengths (1)


Photo by Delaney Schlemko & the story behind the photo


As I reflect on my Connected Coaching experience, I can solidly use many of the protocols and activities in my own practice to assist in teacher growth.  I have been trained as a 7Habits trainer and a Cognitive Coach. Connected Coaching gave me new ways to think about coaching in all three pathmarkers: Trustbuilding, Questioning and Design Thinking.  As an administrator, I have opportunities to coach a variety of stakeholders at any given time and the more tools I have in my toolbox the better. This gives me better opportunity to choose the right tool for the right situation.


Although there are many new possibilities in using the Connected Coaching knowledge and skills, in this reflection I will discuss possibilities in two of the three major pathmarkers: Trustbuilding and Design Thinking. As I reflect on these pathmarkers, I share possibilities that have been generated due to significant “ah-ha” moments.  These possibilities are my own thoughts and will be brought to our design team.



Two things that continue to resonate for me in this pathmarker are: Building relationships using the Appreciative Inquiry approach and the power of story. A few weeks ago I shared some of my thinking about these here.  I continue to think about the possibilities…

Relationships built on trust have always been the number 1 foundational piece in every aspect of life–personal or professional. Some examples that are related to my previous coaching experience are: Effective reflective practice requires you to trust yourself first according to York-Barr, et al, effective coaching can not occur in Cognitive Coaching  unless rapport is established and, Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is based on the belief that one must master the Private Victory  (including self-trust) before one can operate in the Public Victory (trusting others). Here I also talk about how Monty Roberts describes the importance of relationships; no learning happens if there is no relationship:

“As with horse whisperers, we, too, want to “Join-Up” with teachers rather than to break them down.  We want teachers to work out of willingness, not out of fear.”

From: Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time by Tschannen-Moran & Tschannen-Moran.


Appreciative Inquiry 

The significance for me is how the Appreciative Inquiry Approach (video here and article here) within the Connected Coaching model can continue to powerfully build trust throughout the process. It has the potential to consistently build trust because of the way this approach makes the coachee feel. People feel empowered and motivated…not defeated.  Trust does not just happen over night and this approach constantly works at it and, at the same time, moves people forward. Tschannen-Moran & Tschannen-Moran state:

“ AI does not pretend there are no problems; it rather assumes that people will outgrow their problems the more they focus on their strengths, vitalities, aspirations, and possibilities.”


 Story Empathy

Don’t underestimate the power of story is still a significant “ah-ha” for me. Powerful stories bring about emotions and when people are emotionally moved in a positive way, they remember and can become motivated. 

“Stories can be the best way to package meaning and spur others on to achieve.”

(Hattersley, 1997)

From: Tales for coaching: using stories and metaphors with individuals & small groups By Margaret Parkin


When people are hesitant in relationships, stuck in their thinking or have challenges with change, then the power of story can positively find ways to overcome these challenges.


The AI approach and using the power of story within this model has brought about some possibilities for me to use in my practice:


  1. Rethink how we assist teachers with their professional growth plan:  

Although we currently use a coaching model to assist teachers in their reflection of their own classroom walk-through data, we still require goal setting based on what they think they need growth. It just seems defeating to always have to focus on what needs improving instead of focusing on building up what is going right.  We might be able to change not only our coaching conversations but also making sure processes align by using this design thinking template.


  1. Rethink interview questions within the evidence-based hiring proces:

Stop asking interview candidates their areas of growth!! Leave it at: “What are your strengths?”. We spend a half an hour talking about their strengths, successful experiences, etc. We look at their portfolio (which is a showcase of their best work) and we talk to references who describe best highlights. Yet, we still feel the need to ask what are their deficits.  It’s like we did not listen or see all the great strengths for the first 27 minutes!!


  1. Rethink how we look at our values and beliefs:

Digging deeper to examine our values and beliefs can help facilitate change.  Paradigms and paradigm shifts through the 7 Habits are summarized here.  The way we think, act and change is also explain here as the Ladder of Inference. Knowing how we think can help bring about change. The Appreciative Inquiry approach also assists in this examination in a positive way.


  1. Rethink how to move forward through the change process:

Requesting stories and reframing the positive in stories when people are stuck in their thinking or having challenges with change can bring about new energy.


  1. Rethink new possibilities on developing Habit 2 – Begin with the End in Mind:

The Connected Coaching model with the Appreciative Inquiry approach and design thinking has great opportunities to create the “end in mind” in an empowering way.


  1. Rethink the way we help kids:

As schools, are being forewarned that 40% of kids will have mental health challenges in the near future and then we are asked “how will you deal with it?”. I see potential to align the AI approach when working with our kids as well:  Strength-based Approach for kids.


Design Thinking

My “ah-ha” moment for me with design thinking is that we do it all the time. We may not be consciously aware of it and we might not have an official process to follow but teachers are always designing to meet the needs of students.  This structured process and the variety of activities that go along with it can really bring design to a new level! It’s an effective process for “learn to do by doing” (the 4-H motto is true!).  The process can help alleviate fear of failure and promote the “do something” and “just do it!” attitude!

The design thinking ‘big possibility’ for me right now is that our PLTs (professional learning teams) are design teams. Using the design thinking process will help staff to understand that our response to intervention within the Collaborative Response Model will be a prototype.  This process will help generate more ideas, develop prototypes and help them to realize it won’t be perfect the first time and that we will continue to build on it.


The past 8 weeks of learning in collaboration with new colleagues through Powerful Learning Practice has brought on many new possibilities foe me.  Now the work begins…

5 Ways Leaders Can Promote Schoolwide Learning for Restructuring



Photo credit

“There is so much to learn…we need to be in a continuous learning mode.”       Fullan, 2013

Before taking a look at these the suggestions below, we must always be reminded about relationships, relationships, relationships! These 5 ways are built on a foundation of trust.  Relationships must continuously be nurtured and strengthened. Leaders and teachers must trust themselves in order to trust others. As Costa & Garmston (2002) state: “Self-trust is prerequisite to developing trusting relationships with others.”.  One way this can be developed is posted here and to help decide what balance leaders may need is posted here.

After considering the relationship piece, these 5 ways can help bring about innovation and learning that can translate in improved student learning.

1.Provide many opportunities to learn, explore and experience new knowledge and skills. Time to learn and experiment with colleagues can help change behaviours. Leaders need to plan to spend money for resources and to get creative with scheduling for on-going, embedded collaboration. Learning in community can change attitudes and beliefs that, ultimately, change behaviour and practices. Continued support for teachers along the way such as coaching is essential.

2.  Loose-tight leadership:  Change is messy.  Often we can end up with pockets of innovative teaching and the entire staff is at different places in the journey. To develop consistency in all classrooms, leaders can decide on areas that they are willing to be “loose” on and areas that they need to be “tight”on (Dufour, 1998). For example,  the school’s collectively agreed upon mission/vision must be a “tight” area.  Any decision is based on the question: Does it align with our mission/vision/values & beliefs? The areas that leaders can consider to be “loose” with are areas of discovery and exploration of new pedagogy/resources/tools. Other examples might be “tight” with the guidelines of digital citizenship & “loose” on finding innovative ways to teach it.  Once exploration has been done by the early adopters, then a collective decision can be made as a staff on some common practices/best pedagogy for the school.  This can create effective learning environments for students year after year with common language and effective pedagogy.

3.  Honor where people are at, provide generous support and remove barriers. In this  article by Schlechty (1993), he describes five roles people play in the change process and how they can be supported. He also defines the difference between school improvement and restructuring which is significant for where educational change is at currently and continuing to go.

4.  Develop teacher capacity to create teacher leaders by “making learning personal” (Bray, 2012) not just for students but for teachers too. Change is personal! Leaders can personalize learning by providing training and resources for self-improvement that is meaningful (see first paragraph above) and, by providing high-quality professional development at every staff meeting–directly and indirectly.  Directly meaning on-going PD during a portion of your staff meeting day. Indirectly meaning embedding the learning in everyday things.  For example, if the goal is to help staff learn about a highly effective strategy or tool, then use it in a meaningful way during your meeting. Something as simple as putting the staff meeting agenda in Google Docs and staff using mobile devices to see the agenda to follow the links will go a long way in staff learning.

5. On-going reflective practice that includes individual and school wide reflection. To keep reflection at the forefront, provide opportunity for personal reflection time during staff development time, develop reflection mechanisms for professional learning communities and, implement activities during professional development days to reflect as a whole staff. Promoting reflection at all stages of organizational change will assist in riding through the implementation dip. A great resource for individual and school wide reflective practice is here.

In what other ways can leaders lead successful restructuring?

Why 7Habits?

Recently, I had another school approach me about the 7Habits initiative we have implemented at our school.  Some of the questions asked were “Why 7Habits?” and  “What makes it different from other character education programs?” My response involved going back to what my initial thoughts were when I first stumbled upon The Leader in Me book in Chapters one Saturday afternoon. After reading this book at that time, I knew it was different from programs that were known to me for the following reasons:

1. It Personally Develops All Stakeholders

The training process has a high level of personal reflection.  It’s not a “program” that train staff how to teach the 7Habits.  It’s a process that staff go through to reflect how they are living and can live by these timeless principles to improve relationships and productivity in their personal lives.  It also gives staff tools to deal with difficult situations personally and professionally, and above all, it helps people deal with change.  The biggest challenge that I have as an administrator is helping staff (and myself!) deal with change.  Everyone hates change because it’s uncomfortable. I have read many books about change (thank you Michael Fullan et al.) but it is very difficult to follow through as a whole group.  As a leader, it’s finding a balance between moving the organization forward and not overwhelming people. At that time, I believed that the 7Habits would help people in all areas of their life…not just professionally. The education profession can be very demanding on personal time.  This was one way to “give back” personally and, ultimately, when people are personally happy then it pays back tenfold professionally.  The staff are living the 7Habits and that in turn has made the learning more real and deep for the students and their families. It’s very powerful because staff have ownership


2. It’s Sustainable

Another key feature is that it’s effectively sustainable due to the official and extensive training.  When administrators are trained as trainers then:

  • Whole staff can be officially trained in-house

  • On-going training can happen at every staff meeting to keep it in the forefront

  • New staff can be trained as they are hired

  • Parents and community members can also be trained to develop community  buy-in

Three years later, I’m reflecting upon this decision and I’m happy to report that it has made a difference!  How do I know?

  • Staff are walking the talk

  • Students are internalizing the habits and teaching it to their families

  • Parents report how their children are referring to the habits at home

  • Kids have the skills to lead conflict resolution on their own

  • School council request training

  • Staff have committed to high expectations aligned with our mission/vision and have made huge gains

  • We continue to to connect it to everything we do (i.e. digital citizenship)

It’s still going strong!  As a leader, I hope that it continues well after our team leaves.  That will be the ultimate indicator.

Makes Me Think…

Photo by Life Inspired Photography

I recently finished the book Outliers by Malcom Gladwell.  In this book he argues how opportunity and time on task result in success and that it’s not always the “best and the brightest”.  He gives a wide variety of examples from birth dates to lucky breaks.  Here are some of my thoughts in relation to students, staff and  instructional leadership for the 21st century:

1. Gladwell suggests that if your birthday is within 3 months after any sports cut off date, you have a very high chance at getting to “the show” in that sport.  He gave hockey as an example.

This makes me think about our students who have “late” birthdays.  We often forget what a difference a few months can make developmentally.  When we think about infants, a few weeks can be the difference between walking and not walking yet.  We cannot forget this as they get older.  Kids need to know that they might not be ready for some concepts and we cannot let them think that they will never “get it”.  One size does not fit all.

2. Gladwell reveals that studies show how low-income kids start school academically similar to middle – high income kids.  However, the academic gap increases by the time they are in grade 5 due to fewer opportunities during the summer months.

This makes me think how important it is to continue to support students all year.  What can we do to increase awareness and support for these kids?

3.  Gladwell discusses how 10,000 hours of practice is needed to master a skill. It does not depend on natural talent.

This makes me think:  Are we giving our students enough time to practice skills.  For example, we expect our students to be proficient readers but do we give them enough time to practice reading silently or to someone during the school day?  Are we instructing 80% of the time and only giving students 20% of the time to practice when it should be 20% instruction and 80% practice?  What about math?  It takes time and practice to solve problems.  Are we assuming the best students are the ones who can solve problems quickly?  Are we giving others opportunities to solve even if they take longer or prefer different ways to show what they know ?

This also makes me think about the time we give our teachers to master new skills as well.  As leaders, have we created built-in time for teachers to collaborate and master teaching in a 21st century environment?

4.  Gladwell states that opportunities are a huge factor in success.  Bill Gates would not be where he is today if he did not have the opportunity to have unlimited access to a time-sharing terminal to master computer programming when he was 13 years old.

This makes me think:  Are we giving our students opportunities to learn how they want to learn and with the tools that they prefer?  As leaders, have we given opportunities to our staff to master technology integration in the classroom?  Have we created even the smallest opportunities to have procedures such as signing up for a whole school activity using a collaborative web tool instead of circulating a sign up paper at the staff meeting or having 25 copies of the sign up sheet going around via emails?   As leaders, have we neglected opportunities that have been given to us to improve our 21st century skills or have we pushed them aside due to time, fear, beliefs, hoping it will go away,…etc.?

If success = opportunities and time, what opportunities can we continue to create for staff and students?  Check out our school’s journey.

Shift: “How Can We?” to “This Is What We Can Do!”

It is amazing to the see the mind shift of our teachers since starting our IREC Pedagogy First Project in September!  Our plan was :

Year 1

1. Teach the 7Habits of Digital Citizenship that our staff created so the filter can be opened

2. Assist teachers to create a class blog using the Gradual Release of Responsibility model

Year 2

1. Continue with class blogging

2. Invite students to bring their own devices

Well!  Plans are meant to be changed! It’s only January and half our classes are ready to start exploring BYOD!  It’s so exciting that our teachers are “chomping at the bit” to open up the filter and solidify our BYOD policy.  The conversation has shifted to “How can we?” to ” This is what we can do…!”.

The Pedagogy Project

Let’s improve learning one slide at a time!

                                                  Flickr photo by aforgrave

Please add your slide to this Google Doc !

My goal with this project is to gather global exemplars of what pedagogy looks like and sounds like in effective 21st century learning environments. This project will be organized into five areas of teaching.  I believe that change will happen in small chunks.  Just like good teaching and coaching, chunking skills for educators can result in mastery little by little.  My hope is that change will be less overwhelming and paralyzing for educators if they see exemplars in smaller chunks.  They will feel confident and say “Hey, I can do this…”.

The slide should include a picture or document or video, link, etc. of a great example in the areas below.  Please also include the age/ grade level for your exemplar and your twitter handle.

Area 1: Formative Assessment

What formative assessments do you use for 21st century learning such as:
  • inquiry-based learning
  • student self-directed projects
  • writing using contemporary literacy
    tools such as blogging
  • …etc., etc. ?

Area 2:  Collaborative Culture and Routines

How do you establish an effective collaborative culture and set of routines for 21st century learning?

Area 3:  Planning

What are some examples of effective planning or planning tools you use for 21st century learning?

Area 4:  Evidence of Learning

How do you know the students have mastered the intended outcomes of learning?

Area 5: Interventions and Inclusion

How do you engage all students in the learning?

What strategies and/or tools do you use to assist students with different learning needs?

Don’t Forget the Management

                                         cc licensed  photo shared by Life Inspired Photography

There is a lot of literature out there about being a leader and the importance of leading not managing. This solid advice includes building trust and relationships but let’s not forget about the management of 21st century learning environments. I am not talking about making sure there is heat in the building…although heat is good.  I am talking about the structures that need to be in place for effective 21st century learning environments and the skills that go with developing and nurturing these environments.  Sometimes we don’t have the right balance of both and this can cause barriers in organizational/school/classroom change. This balance does not necessarily mean 50/50. At times, you may need 90% leadership and 10% management which could mean that you have not yet established solid trust and relationships and, therefore no learning will move forward for anyone in the organization/school/classroom. It could be 20% leadership and 80% management which may mean you have established trust and relationships and now it’s more about facilitating the teaching of skills and/or structure for effective learning. For example, when we think about 21st Century pedagogy which includes providing individual learning in a variety of formats for all children in a classroom, we think about how great that would be. I have not met an educator that did not agree with the fact that facilitating personal goals for all students and allowing for many choices in the learning process would be best for students. BUT…. where the resistance comes in is the “how”…how can that possibly be done? It’s the “how” of letting go of that control in an effective way.  Just the thought of following through with this kind of environment can be overwhelming and paralyzing for educators. However, if the management structures of the change are examined and broken down into manageable chunks then organizational/school/classroom change could be more successful.

Recently, @jimknight99 tweeted out about a book by Monty Roberts  that is a recommended read for instructional coaches. In this book Roberts (2001) writes about 0-10 learning. If all learning is from 0-10 then the 0-1 learning is building trust and relationships. If this 0-1 piece of the learning is not solid then no learning will happen. When I think about organizations/schools/classrooms, this is also true.  I would then add to this idea and say the 1-2 learning is managing this type of environment. This 1-2 piece includes explicitly modeling and teaching the routines and structures of the learning environment before the content. The 21st Century learning structure is new to many educators and students (unfortunately we have trained them in a traditional structure for years and the majority of them comply!).  Often this piece of professional development for educators is left out because we assume that educators can figure out how to manage this structure of learning for themselves once they change their pedagogy but, in fact, that is usually where they become paralyzed resulting in one of two things: end up going back to old ways or not feeling like they can be successful and do not even begin.
Think about your situation… What leadership/management balance do you
need to do for organization/school/classroom in order for effective change to
move forward?

Making Connections: Ask yourself…

                      Flickr Photo: Press Factory Juggling Group by chamsin

As leaders, we often hear from our staff that we have “too many balls in the air” and we are just “adding one more thing to our plates”.  We need to listen to this feedback and recognize that we may have too many school goals or these goals might not align with what we really want to accomplish in regards to student learning.  When too many goals are in front of us or when goals do not align then staff will get overwhelmed and, as a result, feel like they do not do anything well or only skim the surface.

Part of being a leader is making strong connections and alignment between school goals and what staff is actively doing to move towards reaching those goals.  In the book The Leader in Me, Covey adds a visual on page 179 that resonated with me.  It is a picture of arrows pointing to stakeholder needs (student learning) and inside the arrows are things/actions that a school is doing such as mission, vision, strategies, etc.  Some arrows are pointing all in the same direction… some are not.

Alignment Diagram pg. 179, Covey, 2008

As a leader in your school, ask yourself:

If the things we do as a school are put into each arrow, would all of the arrows point towards improving student learning?

Do I, as a leader, develop and facilitate meaning processes to align school goals and actions?

Do some arrows need to be taken way because they do not align?

Are some arrows actually barriers that hinder student learning for the 21st century?

If our arrows do align, what can I do as a leader to help make connections for my staff?


“Leadership is communicating to people their worth and potential so clearly that they come to see it in themselves.”

 Stephen Covey, The 8th Habit