Friday, July 30, 2010

Effective Leadership Course - The Journey So Far

I am in week 3 of the Effective Leadership course for the Johns Hopkins University/ISTE certificate program.  People kept telling me about the level of rigor, and I am now a true believer.

How has what you have learned so far in this course shaped your concept of an effective leader?

The first week of the class, the readings seemed to present an effective school leader as a superhero.  According to Kelley and Peterson (2007),
[Principals] must set goals and develop plans; build budgets and hire personnel; lead the organization of structures and coordinate time use; evaluate staff and assess student learning...organize improvement efforts and develop processes for working with clients, customers, and community; and understand and reinforce positive cultures. (p. 358)

Oh, is that all? 

It seems that in many cases, we look at successful leaders and attempt to duplicate what they do, but we can’t duplicate who they are.  I do not feel that I am a “born leader.”  I am envious of people with that seemingly effortless charisma that causes people to flock to them. I recognize that I lack that “it-factor” and will have to make up for it with hard work.   While there was definitely a “leaders are born, not made” component in some of our readings, I was comforted by the fact that there are specific characteristics that I DO have (see previous post), and can strengthen or develop.

Based on what you have learned so far, what are the top 3-5 characteristics you believe a successful principal must possess?

A study called "Teachers' Perceptions of Principals' Attributes," by Mike Richardson, Ken Lane and Jackson Flanigan surveyed thousands of teachers to find out what they looked for in a leader (cited in Stronge, 1996).   The top four characteristics according to those teachers were honest, competent, forward-looking, and inspirational, and can be used to summarize the clusters of attributes/behaviors that have appeared again and again in our leadership study so far.  

Honesty can be grouped with integrity and ethics.  A leader must “walk the talk” or lose all credibility.  Also, being up front about weaknesses can ensure that those weaknesses are addressed.

Competence can be defined as knowledge about education, including curriculum, instructional methods, and school organization, along with the ability to apply that knowledge.  Teachers are unlikely to respect a leader who is not an accomplished educator or is perceived to be unable to “get the job done.”

The importance of vision (being forward-looking) has come up again and again.  With the demands of the job, a principal has to be able to see beyond the small (or large) crisis of the day to an overall purpose.  This higher purpose is necessary to foster motivation and hope, both in oneself and in faculty/staff: 

“[Teachers] need to be reminded that they are connected to a larger purpose and to others who are struggling to make progress. Articulating and discussing hope when the going gets rough re-energizes teachers, reduces stress, and can point to new directions.”  (Fullan, 2010).

Inspiration” can mean different things to different people, from fostering new ideas to giving someone “warm fuzzy feelings.”  For the type of inspiration I am talking about here, imagine th school as a literal ship, of which the principal is the captain.  The captain may have a destination (vision) and know how to set a course toward it (competence), but that does not do any good if the captain is the only person on the boat. Inspiration is being able to get others to join the “crew.”  The first three attributes will go a long way toward inspiring others to get on board, but inspiration takes direct and distinct effort in and of itself.


Fullan, M. (n.d.). Leadership for the 21st Century: Breaking the Bonds of Dependency. Center for Development and Learning. Retrieved July 14, 2010, from

Kelley, C., & Peterson, K. (2006). The Work of Principals and Their Preparation. The Jossey-Bass Reader on Educational Leadership (2 ed., pp. 351-401). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Strong, J. (1998). Leadership Skills in School and Business. School Administrator, Oct. Retrieved July 20, 2010, from;col1

Leadership Characteristics -- do I have what it takes?

This week I did a self-assessment (giving myself a 1-5 rating for each) and an online assessment that asked me questions to give me rating (you can find it here).  I based my ratings and answers on my current actions as a teacher/team leader/trainer when possible, but there were some I had to answer hypothetically.  It’s definitely not a scientific process, but it is an interesting one.

I compiled my seven strongest and seven weakest on both assessments, then compared them and pulled out the ones common to both assessments to check the correlation to student achievement. 

Where am I strongest, and how do those traits correlate to student achievement?  Being a change agent (one who is willing to challenge the status quo), having knowledge of curriculum and instruction, and resources (providing teachers with materials and professional development necessary for the successful execution of their jobs) all have average .25 correlation, which is in the midrange compared to the other responsibilities.

The responsibilities on both assessments’ “worst” list were communication, culture (fosters shared beliefs and a sense of community and cooperation), optimizer (inspires and leads new and challenging innovations),  and situational awareness. (is aware of undercurrents in the school and uses this info to address potential problems).  I believe I do most of these well in my classroom, but not so much with other teachers.  While the correlations with student achievement for the first three ranged from .20 to .25, I am in trouble with situational awareness.  It was my lowest score on both tests, and has the highest correlation to student achievement of ANY of the characteristics, .33. 

Obviously, this is one I’m going to need to work on.  As a teacher, I know there are many issues that are not directly voiced to leadership.  In a leadership position, I would need to spend extra effort on reading between the lines, paying attention to both verbal and non-verbal cues, and asking about a tense situation if I perceive one. Those are things I can start on now. 


Balanced Leadership Profile. Retrieved July 25, 2010, from

Marzano, R. J., Mcnulty, B. A., & Waters, T. (2005). School leadership that works: from research to results. Alexandria, VA: Association For Supervision and Curriculum Development. 

Monday, July 26, 2010

Transformational School Leadership

As teachers, why do we work as had as we do? Why do we get to school early, stay late, pore over test scores, make those extra parent phone calls, spend hours fine-tuning lesson plans?  For most of us, the answer is not to get a bigger paycheck or a pat on the head.  It is because we know that what we do matters, and we are passionately devoted to making positive change.  We are focused on transformation, not quid pro quo. 

Transformational leadership is a leadership philosophy focuses on bringing about change by tapping into individuals’ values and by activating the motivation they already have. Teachers are especially, and maybe uniquely, suited to transformational leadership styles.  A transformational school leader is characterized by four major characteristics, as defined by leadership theorist Bernard Bass (1985):

  • Individual consideration.  The leader seeks out those who are on the margins and recognizes the strengths that each teacher has to offer.
  • Intellectual stimulation.  A transformational leader involves teachers in the problem-solving process and encouraging “followers to think of old problems in new ways” (Marzano, Walters, & McNulty, 2005)
  • Inspirational motivation. The leader communicates high expectations using personal charisma and projection of a confident presence.
  • Idealized influence.  The transformational leader is an exemplary model for teachers, a person to whom teachers can look and see a master teacher as well as an administrator.

School leaders can use technology in the shift toward transformational leadership.  When engaging in the problem-solving process, why not connect with administrators and teachers at other schools around the work who are dealing with the same issues?  The data that is at our fingertips can be sorted and reinterpreted more easily than ever before. The Internet provides endless opportunities for professional development.  At large, busy schools where “face time” is at a premium, a school leader can use blogs or Twitter to connect with teachers and to highlight the accomplishments occurring in classrooms.

We know transformational leadership works in education. “A compelling body of recent evidence tells us that successfully implementing local change of the sort that accountability policies advocate requires transformational forms of leadership—at the least” (Leithwood, 2007).   The problem is that proposed educational “reforms” are becoming more and more transactional in nature—“implement these programs and receive extra funding,” or even “produce these outcomes or else.”  District and school leaders must often attempt to reconcile transactional mandates from above with the transformational philosophy that they know is in the best interests of students and teachers.   They must work to transform not just the schools they are responsible for, but also the structure above, so that the potential for positive change is not lost with the next set of legislation. 


Bass, B.M. (1985). Leadership and performance beyond expectations. New York: The Free Press.

Leithwood, K. (2007). Transformation school leadership in a transactional policy world. In Fullan, M. (Ed.), The Jossey-Bass Reader on Educational Leadership (pp. 17-25). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Marzano, R., Waters, T., McNulty, B. (2005). School leadership that works: From research to results. San Francisco: Alexandria, ASCD.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Teach Like a Champion, Part 2

This is the 2nd post in a series reviewing Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College by Doug Lemov.

Chapter 2 is "Planning that Ensures Academic Achievement."   There are a lot of times when I hear about how schools of ed don't prepare their students well enough to teach, and I am grateful for how well I WAS prepared. (Thanks, Warner University!)  The lesson planning criteria in this chapter-- at least, the good ones-- were communicated early and often to me as an ed major, and I was required to put them into practice early and often.

Technique 6, Begin With the End in Mind-- Don't wait until the night before to plan lessons.  Start with unit goals, then break them down into lesson objectives in a logical sequence.  (Seriously, are there ed schools that don't teach this?  Or is this more directed at 2nd career teachers?)

Technique 7, the 4 Ms of objectives-- Manageable, Measurable, Made First (objective precedes instructional method), and Most Important.  Most Important to what?  "What's most important on the path to college, and nothing else. It describes the next step straight up the mountain."   (My emphasis.)

Here's where I had a "whoa, wait a sec" moment.  First of all, while the first 3 Ms are fairly  objective (pun intended), this one is very subjective.  Who says what is "Most Important" on the way to college?  Creative thinking, for example, is absolutely necessary, and we're not doing a great job teaching it-- mostly because we're so focused on kids passing standardized tests.  What about civic values?  Not on the SAT, but something that is undoubtedly part of a well-rounded education.

Educating children is not a hike "straight up the mountain" of college admission and "nothing else." This is the kind of attitude that gets music and PE tossed out of schools.  Kids need to do some meandering, some exploring.  It's not just "Input 5-year-old, output college freshman who is really good at filling in bubbles but terrible at life." What are they going to college FOR? 

Okay, off soapbox.  Technique 8, Post It, advises posting your objective in kid-friendly language.  Great advice.

Technique 9, Shortest Path.  Aaaand... back on the soapbox.  This is where Lemov takes another swipe (there have been several so far) at what he calls "clever" lesson planning.  What he appears to mean by this is any lesson with criteria other than getting the kid to spit out the appropriate answers as fast as possible.  A good lesson, to him,  is one that has the kids perform the desired objective in the shortest amount of time. Engagement, relevance, etc. are to be "thrown out" as criteria for lesson planning.  "Throw out" is not my phrase, it's his.

Absolutely, mastery of the immediate objective is the MAIN criterion, but it is NOT the only one.  I also argue that I can teach quickly and shallowly-- "yours is not to reason why, just invert and multiply" or I can take more time, teach in a more constructivist way, and have my kids actually UNDERSTAND division of fractions.  I can get them to regurgitate an algorithm, or I can get them to think.  Guess which is the shortest path?  Guess which is the BEST path?

Technique 10, Double Plan.  Meaning that you plan not only your actions during a lesson, but also your students'.  (Again, good advice, but what ed school isn't teaching this?)

Technique 11, Draw the Map. This one is about your classroom environment.  Lemov immediately explains why "pods" of desks are a bad idea. (For one, he thinks that with groups you always have some kids with their backs to the teacher--which, nope, not if you do it right.)  He "is a big fan of rows." Get this man to a Kagan Cooperative Learning workshop, stat. I'm not anti-row, and definitely rows are helpful if you have management problems, but it's not the only effective way to structure your classroom.   However, I absolutely agree that planning the physical classroom environment is a necessary element of planning. 

Last chapter, I had some head-nodding and some head-shaking moments.  This time there was a little head-nodding, and quite a bit of me wanting to bang my head against a wall.  Here's hoping that Chapter 3, "Structuring and Delivering Your Lessons," will be less frustrating.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

My (Self-Assigned) Summer Reading Assignment: Teach Like a Champion

This the first post in a summer series on Doug Lemov’s book Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College.

The first chapter/set of techniques concerns“Setting High Academic Expectations.” In each explanation of the five techniques here, I had some head-nodding and some head-shaking moments.

Technique #1, No Opt Out, means that when a student says “I don’t know,” you go back to that student later and have them give the right answer.  Either the teacher or another student can state the answer, or a cue can be given.  This is supposed to teach the student that “I don’t know” is not a free pass to doing nothing in class.  Sounds reasonable, but I could see a student feeling badgered and embarrassed if she is the target of this technique often.  Using a cooperative learning structure such as Think-Pair-Share  prior to asking a whole-class question could make reasonably sure that an “I don’t know” is less likely.

Technique #2, Right is Right, is about demanding exactly the right answer rather than an approximation.  Academic vocabulary and complete definitions of terms should be expected.  Effort should be encouraged, writes Lemov, but not confused with mastery.  I agree, but unless you’re in math class, this is a fairly limited technique in that it only applies to simple recall-type questions.   Get up into those analysis and evaluation questions, and “exactly the right answer” becomes tough to determine.

Technique #5 is No Apology.  Teachers shouldn’t apologize for something being hard or boring.  This one got me. I never apologize when something is difficult (typical response to this-is-hard whining: “Great!  That means your brain’s working!”), but I have apologized when something was boring. I think I’ve looked at is as acknowledging, yeah, this is not terribly exciting, but it’s something we have to do.  However, it gives my middle schoolers an instant mental opt-out clause (“even the teacher doesn’t like it”).  

I know a truly great teacher can make anything fascinating—I’m not there yet.  Working on it. When a lesson rehaul isn’t possible (or falls flat), I have got to use everything I’ve got to communicate that this is important, it’s valuable, it’s relevant. 

Other thoughts: The main thing I’m noticing so far is that these are very teacher-centered and assume a “teacher asks, one student answers” style.  The accompanying video clips reinforce this—rows, silent students, teacher front-and-center.   When I can help it, I don't teach that way, because such a small fraction of the class is observably active at once, and because I find that my kids need to interact and move. It's the Kagan Cooperative Learning school trainer in me.

However, there are times that even the most project-based guide-on-the-side cooperative-learning teacher has to stand up front and deliver content, and some of the ideas here, when implemented thoughtfully and tweaked when needed, can definitely help the teacher do that more effectively.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Blogging "Teach Like a Champion"

Like many teachers, I saw the NYT article "Building a Better Teacher" pop up repeatedly in my Facebook and Twitter feeds as well as my e-mail inbox.  The article featured Doug Lemov, a teacher turned charter school network director, who says he has spent years trying to nail down what behaviors make a great teacher.  His book Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College, published in April, explains these techniques along with providing video clips demonstrating them.

I'm skeptical that what works in a few specific charter schools in the urban Northeast  will apply to all or even most classrooms.  And of course, I'm skeptical that good teaching can be reduced to "49 techniques."  However, I'm always up for adding to my toolbox, so I'm replacing my yearly reread of Harry Wong's The First Days of School (which has the same nuts-and-bolts focus as Teach Like a Champion) with Lemov's book and blogging my way through it this summer to see what I can gain from it.

From my reading/blogging, I hope to reflect on what I do and what I can improve as I enter my 10th year of teaching.  I won't cover all 49 techniques-- even at one a day, that would take me into next school year, when I will have Other Things To Do. I won't be quoting extensively from the book either.  My intent isn't to duplicate the content of the book (hello copyright issues), but to review and reflect on it.

Next post, I'll be jumping right in with Technique 1, "No Opt Out."

Disclosure:  This site is part of the Amazon Associates program.  If you buy one of the books above by clicking on the link, I get something.  So they say.