Posts Tagged With: leadership

The Principal Affect

Last Spring we completed perhaps the largest re-configuration of school administrators in the history of our District. Sixteen of the twenty-four principal and vice principal positions will have new individuals assigned to them as students return to school in September. We are very excited about this significant change to our leadership team. Some are transferring in from other administrative positions within our District while others are taking on leadership roles for the first time in their careers. Based on the qualities and skill sets each one of them is bringing to their new role, our hope is for a significant positive impact on our schools and students.

I recently came across a 2013 research paper called School Leaders Matter where the impact of effective principals was measured in relation to school and individual student success. It was found that highly effective principals raise the achievement of a typical student in their schools by between two and seven months of learning in a single school year;IMG_0092 ineffective principals lower achievement by the same amount. Much of that work was attributed to management. And by that I don’t mean the management of the school but rather the management of teacher quality. The research supported the fact that “management of teacher quality is an important pathway through which principals affect school quality.” The findings went on to point out that “less effective teachers are more likely to leave schools run by highly effective principals.”

The work, then, of our new leaders (and all school leaders for that matter) is not so much with the students but with the teachers. Building a culture of continual improvement and teaching excellence will ensure that the best possible teachers are impacting our students every day. 


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Moving to Central Office & Staying Student Centred

Over the summer I will be transitioning from my role as a school based administrator and moving into a system wide, central office position. After 14 years as a principal I feel up to the new challenge, however along with all the normal feelings associated with any significant job change comes the realization that my new assignment will take me one step further away from direct contact with kids. This is not settling well with me because the reason I entered the teaching profession in the first place was to work (directly) with kids and to make a difference in their lives. Many would say that district level administrators, far removed from daily classroom life, are no longer in the best position to make important decisions that directly affect the students they serve. In the past I’ve remained tight-lipped as those in the trenches complained about directives being forced on them by the higher-ups who “Don’t know what it’s like to teach anymore.”


This leaves me worried that it may be difficult to maintain a focus on student learning as I fall deeper into the role of Assistant Superintendent. What if the “administrative” stuff overwhelms me? What if I slowly but surely entrench myself under piles of paperwork in an office? What if I become exactly what those disgruntled were talking about not so long ago? That’s not going to happen to me! So, I’ve come up with a couple of lists that I will endeavor to live by in the coming months and years. The first is a list of the big ideas I hope to stay focused on and the second is a list of the little extra things I hope to do day in and day out.

List 1 – My Professional List

  1. Recruit and hire the most forward thinking, innovative teachers who will effectively engage todays students.
  2. Work with principals and teachers to develop collaborative and reflective instructional supervision and evaluation programs in order to build capacity in all teachers.
  3. Provide in-service to principals and teachers on ways to better engage today’s learners, focussing on the Framework for Student Learning.
  4. Model and demonstrate broad involvement and collective responsibility for student learning.
  5. When directing resources always consider the most at-risk students first.

List 2 – My Personal List

  1. Switch from a Dell to a MacBook Air because that’s what most students are using.
  2. Attend celebrations, assemblies, sporting events, concerts, and graduations.
  3. Conduct classroom walkthroughs in every school consistently throughout the year, talking to students about their learning.
  4. Consult with my two daughters (11 and 13) often and always.
  5. Keep Tweeting. Keep blogging.

I’m not sure exactly where the future will take me. I can only hope and pray that I leave this profession some day in the same way I entered it; making a difference in the lives of kids.

Categories: Capacity Building, Education Transformation | Tags: , , , , , | 10 Comments

Principals – Try Team Teaching

“What better way to model learning and pedagogy than to actually teach?”

This quote comes from an excellent article written in 2010 by , a school principal in British Columbia and key member of my PLN. The article, titled Principals ARE Teachers, suggests that school leaders need to find ways to cut down on managerial type tasks and spend more time actually teaching. In his case, teaching also provided him with the opportunity to collaborate with and learn from the excellent teachers in his school. “True leadership”, he says, “happens in the classrooms, hallways, and playgrounds; management happens in our offices.”

I think most principals agree with this statement and would welcome the opportunity to spend more time as the instructional leader of their school. The problem, of course, is that increasing responsibilities and limited resourses stretches principals in many different directions, making it difficult to place an emphasis on any one aspect of their school leadership role. Below, for example, are the areas in which principals are expected to provide effective leadership in the province of Alberta.

Full version – principal quality standard 

1. Fostering Effective Relationships
2. Embodying Visionary Leadership
3. Leading a Learning Community
4. Providing Instructional Leadership
5. Developing and Facilitating Leadership
6. Managing School Operations and Resources
7. Understanding and Responding to the Larger Societal Context

Most princiapls who teach, I suspect, don’t really do so for the reasons Chris speaks of above. I have always taught since becoming a principal 14 years ago, but mostly as a budgetary measure in order to provide prep time for my teachers. I’ve enjoyed teaching subjects like Phys. Ed., Health, Religion, Library, and Guided Reading but have definitely fallen short in the areas of co-planning and collaboration. It always felt more like managing resources than it did instructional leadership.

Well this year things have changed. I’m team teaching. This, I think, is the best growth as an instructional leader I have ever experienced. Here’s how it works. Each class, along with their teacher, joins me in our Library/Media Centre for a 45 minute block of what I like to call “21st Century Learning Time.” I work with the teacher to plan, carry out and assess the projects completed in each block. Each project addresses learner outcomes from a variety of subject areas. The teacher and I both bring something to the table. I bring my passion for technology integration and 21st century competencies and they bring their expertise and knowledge of their grade level curriculum. It’s a win for me because I’m gaining a much better understanding of curriculum, pedagogy, and teaching styles. It’s a win for the teachers because they transfer many of the tools and strategies to their daily practice. And most importantly, it’s a win for the students because they are better engaged in their learning. Often, the 45 minute periods turn into an hour or more. Some of the Web 2.0 tools introduced includ iMovie, Storybird, Glogster, Tagxedo, Twitter, Voki, Audioboo, Kidblog, and Skype.

If you’re a principal reading this I’m sure you’re thinking about time. Teaching, and all the important activities that go along with it, takes time. Time that must be shared with all the other responsibilities required of a school administrator. Well, I’d ask you to consider this – how many of the 7 areas of effective leadership listed above do you think I’ve addressed by team teaching this year?

Categories: Capacity Building | Tags: , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

My Spin on Leadership

Leadership is taking on a very different look in schools everywhere; and if it’s not, it should be. As a matter of fact, school administration plays a very different role than it did when I first became a principal in the 1990’s. The culture of the time pretty much told me that I was an island unto myself, unilaterally charged with making decisions that I believed were in the best interest of the school community and individual students. My staff, whether they agreed or not, were expected to support my decisions and I was usually credited with school successes or blamed for failures. Even if I wanted to work more collaboratively with stakeholders, it was a foreign concept to most. Teachers mostly stayed behind the safety of their classroom doors, students followed a structured schedule and detailed set of rules, and parents volunteered at the school only if they were invited to do so.

Over the last few years, with the education landscape quickly changing, I’ve come to realize that my role as a school leader is less about leading by myself and more about developing a culture were distributed leadership can blossom and thrive. Through credibility and trust, leaders must enlist school communities in joining them on a journey toward a shared vision for their school. And letting go of control is an important part of that. Leadership can and should happen at all levels of any system and the formal leader sometimes needs to just get out of the way and let it happen. So, in trying to practice what I preach, I’m supporting my teachers, parents, and students in taking on leadership roles. The formula, as I see it, is really quite simple.

1. Stop saying ‘yes, but…’; and start just saying ‘yes.’

2. Show others that you trust them.

3. Value a culture of risk-taking and learning from failure.

4. Collaborate ‘with’ others and not ‘to’ others.

5. Smile, encourage, and have fun every day.

As the distributed leadership model takes hold in my school, I am encouraged with the number of innovative new practices that are emerging. There is a sustained positive energy and everyone seems to be happier. I am seeing in action, Carol Dweck’s growth mindset and Daniel Pink’s motivation 3.0. In many ways I feel like I’m just going along for the ride.

Another spin-off is that I’ve had a lot less “managing” to do and therefore can join in the exciting new learning that is taking place every day. My job is easier and more relevant than it has ever been.

I once read that the best legacy of any leader is to have left many leaders behind when they move on. I now understand the importance of this statement.

Categories: Capacity Building, Education Transformation, Human Resources | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Bucket Filling is Shepherd Leadership

This past week my staff gathered for our annual retreat where the theme of “Bucket Dipping” challenged us to reflect on how we interact with others every day. How Full is Your Bucket?  by Rath and Clifton provided us with the following theory of the dipper and the bucket:

“Each of us has an invisible bucket. It is constantly emptied or filled, depending on our daily interactions with others. When our bucket is full, we feel great. We are productive. We make a positive impact on our workplace. When it is empty, we feel down. We are deflated.  Each of us also has an invisible dipper. When we do or say things that increase positive emotions in others, we are using that dipper to fill their buckets. Conversely, when we are negative, we are using that dipper to decrease others’ positive emotions by dipping from their bucket.”

It was a well-organized day that provided each of us with many opportunities to think about the ways in which we approach our individual roles in the school. I’m sure every staff member will take what they learned and apply it in the future.

For me, as the school principal, my attention was drawn to shepherd leadership, something I learned about a couple of years ago. Bucket filling, I thought, was a lot like shepherd leadership. At that time, the presenter outlined the differences between bad shepherding and good shepherding:

Bad Shepherds take care of themselves while Good Shepherds take care of the flock.

Bad Shepherds worry about their own health while Good Shepherds strengthen the weak and the sick.

Bad Shepherds rule harshly and brutally while Good Shepherds rule lovingly and gently.

Bad Shepherds abandon and scatter the sheep while Good Shepherds gathers and protect the sheep.

Bad Shepherds keep the best for themselves while Good Shepherds give their best to the sheep.

Then, to connect it to our work in our schools he suggested 4 elements of shepherd leadership that I live by to this day.

  1. Keep an eye on everything. (Know the heartbeat of your school.)
  2. Ignore most things. (You can’t solve all the problems.)
  3. Stand firm on a few things. (Choose your battles.)
  4. Praise a lot.

The theory of the dipper and the bucket is a lot like shepherd leadership, don’t you think?

Categories: Capacity Building, Education Transformation | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

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