Sunday, July 25, 2021

The Change Leader

Everyone seems to want change. While this, in essence, is a good thing, the reality is that many people don't want to actually go through the complex process.  If this wasn't challenging enough, the individuals needed to lead it is even less.  Thus, there must be a combination of willingness, planning, and action that results in improvement when any idea is put forth.  There are many pathways to initiate and sustain change, but efficacy must be the goal no matter the chosen path.  Change for the sake of change is rarely successful. Hence the need for clarity when time and resources are put forth to move a system in ways that produce better learning outcomes for all students.  

Leadership isn't telling people what to do. That is a dictatorship that often results in frayed relationships, animosity, and the cultivation of those who constantly try to undermine any new initiative.  Leadership is taking people where they need to be by empowering them to want to be part of the solution. What I mean here is that if people see and understand the value that the change will have on their professional practice, they are more prone to embrace what the leader is setting out to achieve collaboratively.  Did you catch the pivotal component here?  As the saying goes, there is no 'I" in team. The change leader understands that they might be the initial catalyst, but staff need to play an active role for any new idea or initiative to take hold. 

To better understand the intricacies of being a change leader, I created the following graphic. Keep in mind that this image is meant to align with any specific path (transformational, instructional, pedagogical, managerial, inspirational) that you decide to take. 

Vision and Purpose

Clarity begins with a well-defined vision and an over-reaching sense of purpose that helps others understand why change is needed. Consider this a roadmap of sorts where the destination is outlined in a way that people want to go on the journey.  The seeds for change will only germinate if a coherent vision is established that instills a sense of purpose.  Before going full steam ahead, gather key stakeholders to develop a shared vision that includes rationale, goals, expected outcomes, expectations, and means to assess the initiative's effectiveness.  


The real work and testament to outstanding leadership is moving past the visioning process by developing a strategic plan to turn vision into reality. Begin by aligning to research that will help to validate why the change is needed. I found this particularly useful as a principal when we worked to transform grading in my school. The planning process should also involve some consensus from key stakeholders as this will increase embracement of the change being pursued. The planning process should lead to the development of goals, preferred outcomes, and success measures.  Efficacy can only be achieved if these are in place.  A great strategy empowers people to take action.


You won't find an effective leader who is not a masterful communicator. It's about getting the right information out at the right time using the right means. Communication is vital in accomplishing tasks and getting things done, passing on important information, acquiring information, developing a shared vision, reaching decisions through consensus, building relationships, and moving people to embrace change. The use of body language, multi-faceted means of delivery, and listening intently are also essential when it comes to communication. Change leaders understand this and use each strategically.

Professional Learning 

Change will only succeed if the right supports are in place.  Vision, purpose, and strategy become wasted efforts if job-embedded and ongoing professional learning is not in place. Establishing this is crucial, but change leaders also learn side-by-side with their staff to illustrate a team commitment to the process.  When appropriate, they also jump at the chance to lead the professional learning or bring in outside experts to help build capacity.  Learning is the fuel of leadership. 


While this might be intertwined with the previous elements listed, there are some points worth fleshing out.  Change leaders don't aspire to reinvent the wheel outright.  They are keen to ensure what's working remains in place while simultaneously identifying other aspects that need to be addressed. As change takes hold, they have fun celebrating the successes of staff and students.  Nothing moves change along better than showing people how proud you are of their hard work.  This will also assist in motivating others to embrace the change effort while creating an environment people want to be part of and help to contribute to its success. 


The most precious resource a change leader has are the people who will implement the changes being championed. Without them on board and taking action, the status quo will reign supreme. Successful change initiatives rest on moving the masses, but you must begin at a foundational level. Hence, this is the reason why this group is the foundation of the pyramid image above. This can best be accomplished by building positive relationships at the individual level.  Empower staff to embrace change by putting them in a position to experience the value firsthand for themselves.  Provide autonomy to those who are already on board while focusing more time and effort supporting staff who are not yet willing to change.

Those who step up to the plate to lead change understand it is a process, not an event.  They also realize that many different styles need to be embraced, such as transformational, managerial, instructional, inspirational, and pedagogical.  No matter the path taken, success relies on clarity and commitment to the process as well as empowering the masses to work together to achieve shared goals. Are you a change leader? Where is there an opportunity to grow and improve?

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Blending with the Station Rotation Model

Blended learning is something that is near and dear to my heart. For me, the journey began back in 2011 when we first introduced the flipped approach at New Milford High School, where I was principal, with resounding success. As I transitioned from the principalship to supporting districts and schools, I learned that blended learning was a powerful pedagogical strategy that could unleash students' potential while meeting their diverse needs.  Over the course of many years, my work with Wells Elementary School provided a foundation that I pull from to this very day. It's one thing to talk about blended learning, but another to actually illustrate the many ways it can be implemented effectively and at scale. Wells did the latter exceptionally well.

Technology is a significant component, but not every activity has to incorporate some type of tool. The key is to find strategic ways to use it as a means to improve learning, something that is emphasized in Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms. There are many ways to blend, but it is vital to have a firm understanding of the underlying premise of this strategy. Hence, the definition I created a few years back:

Blended instruction is what the teacher does with technology. Blended learning is where students use tech to have control over path, place, and pace. 

In the past, I have penned detailed posts on choice boards, playlists, and the flipped classroom while only touching on the station rotation model. Thus, I thought it might be appropriate to dedicate a post just to this strategy.  With station rotation or centers as it is often referred to at the elementary level, the overreaching goal is to use valuable class time more effectively.  Following a short period of direct instruction with the entire class, the teacher breaks students into groups using data where the class engages in a series of activities during a set period of time.  Each learner will visit all the stations, and a timer is used to let them know how long they have to engage in the activity.  Typical stations include the following:

  • Targeted instruction or support
  • Collaborative experience
  • Personalization through the use of adaptive tools
  • Independent work

There is no set number of activities that a teacher can develop for this model.  However, I most commonly see three or four.  A modified two-station model could be used at the secondary level, where half the class works with the teacher while the other completes independent work using technology.  We need to get past the perception that this is just an "elementary" strategy. To assist in setting up station rotation, I have created a pedagogical framework, which you can view below.  What you will see are traditional elements of effective instruction at the front and back end.  It is essential to use a good data source for groupings so the learners get the most out of the targeted instruction or support rotation.  It is here where achievement gaps are closed, and the kids who are already at or beyond standard attainment can be pushed. 

The image above can be adapted based on the length of the class period. In addition to the use of data for groupings, a timer for pacing is also essential as it aids in self-regulation and time management.  An important aspect is to build in activities that promote collaboration. Here is where an interactive whiteboard (IWB) can be used to unlock its true potential.  Below you will see two examples from Corinth Elementary School that meet all the requirements for an effective station rotation.

Keep in mind that there are many ways to set up this model.  Overall efficacy relies on data being used to continuously group and re-group students, strategic use of adaptive learning tools, independent work that is rigorous and relevant, and the opportunity to collaborate actively. There is only one thing educators can control: the time with students in the classroom.  Station rotation, when used strategically, can be used to differentiate while also building essential competencies such as time management and self-regulation. It's a win-win at any level.  

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Pedagogical Leadership

Leadership is leadership. The same essential qualities and characteristics that exemplify what great leaders do have pretty much stayed the same. What has changed are the tools, research, and societal shifts that impact the work. Leadership is both an art and science with the goal of moving the masses towards achieving a common goal. Leading is not easy, and being effective at it is easier said than done. You don’t have to be perfect nor always on your game. You do, however, have to help others achieve a common goal that gets results. There is no more important goal than to improve learning for kids. Hence the need to look at different aspects or styles to improve outcomes.  

Pedagogical leadership encompasses all the many ways to support effective teaching and learning. Instructional design is a significant component as teachers need continuous feedback on how to implement the curriculum in innovative ways that result in improved outcomes. While instruction is important, it is only one of many aspects that need attention.  Instruction is what the teacher does, whereas learning is what the student does.  Here is where a sole emphasis on instructional leadership might not lead to efficacy at scale. Pedagogical leadership focuses on numerous responsibilities and roles that work to ensure a vibrant learning culture that helps to meet the needs of all students.

The main differentiator here is a broader view that includes more attention to what the learner is doing and the supports needed for success. The pedagogical leader works to create collaborative benchmarks that lead to continuous improvement across the system.  It requires a deeper understanding of how the brain works and research-based strategies that teachers can readily implement in their classrooms. Observations, both evaluative and non-evaluative, still have immense value. However, the pedagogical leader doesn’t stop here. The use of data is extremely important. Efforts are made to help teachers analyze and use it effectively while the pedagogical leader is doing the same to find ways to close achievement gaps, scale differentiation, and create an equitable culture.  

The work doesn’t stop with the above. Investments in time and resources are made to establish ongoing and job-embedded professional learning for staff.  One-and-done, drive-by, the flavor of the month, or substanceless sessions are seen, not entertained.  Pedagogical leaders are constantly trying to ensure learner success by employing effective strategies to improve family engagement.  While working directly with teachers is of utmost importance, empowering parents and guardians to assist in the process is vital. 

The pedagogical leader…..

  • Develops relationships based on trust and mutual respect through mentoring and modeling
  • Provides research and resources to support sound pedagogy
  • Makes time to consistently be in classrooms while providing timely, practical, and specific feedback in collaboration with teachers
  • Learns alongside teachers and administrators
  • Collects and analyzes evidence to improve implementation of effective strategies

Talking the talk must be accompanied by walking the walk. It’s relatively easy for people to tell others what they should do. However, true pedagogical leaders go through the challenging work of showing how it can be done. Here is some sage advice that I learned long ago as a new principal – “Don’t ask others to do what you are not willing or have not done yourself.” If you want to improve pedagogy - and outcomes – it all starts with you.

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Your Lasting Legacy

No one goes into the education profession for accolades or to make big bucks, although I wish the latter were a reality.  The choice one makes to teach and lead is almost always grounded in the innate desire to make a positive difference in a child's life.  On some days, this might seem like an impossible task as a myriad of challenges makes it difficult. While these may vary, the result can lead to questioning the chosen career path. However, when the dust settles, educators can take solace in the fact that the actions they do take to help kids learn do make a difference in both the short and long terms. 

Culture, in a classroom or school, is built on a strong relational foundation.  Without trust, there are not relationships. Without relationships, no real learning occurs. While achievement often gets the most attention or scrutiny, it's the interactions with kids that set them up for success and often have the most impact well after they have left a classroom. In the final chapter of Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms, I highlight the following areas to make this a reality:

  • Show you care
  • Believe in ALL kids
  • Work to unlock potential 
  • Impart trust
  • Focus on "what if" instead of "yeah but"

If the goal is to get students to think disruptively, then the right culture has to be in place.  Hence, the importance of developing powerful relationships that have the potential to withstand the test of time. Steve Goodier shared a brief story titled "A Teacher's Hand," which speaks to the immense impact educators have when they embrace the tenets above:

Thanksgiving Day was near. The first-grade teacher gave her class a fun assignment—to draw a picture of something for which they were thankful. Most of the class might be considered economically disadvantaged, but still, many would celebrate the holiday with turkey and other traditional goodies of the season. These, the teacher thought, would be the subjects of most of her student's art. And they were.

But Douglas made a different kind of picture. Douglas was a different kind of boy. He was the teacher's true child of misery, frail and unhappy. As other children played at recess, Douglas was likely to stand close by her side. One could only guess at the pain Douglas felt behind those sad eyes. Yes, his picture was different. When asked to draw a picture of something for which he was thankful, he drew a hand. Nothing else. Just an empty hand.

His abstract image captured the imagination of his peers. Whose hand could it be? One child guessed it was the hand of a farmer because farmers raise turkeys. Another suggested a police officer because the police protect and care for people. Still, others guessed it was the hand of God, for God feeds us. And so, the discussion went—until the teacher almost forgot the young artist himself.

When the children had gone on to other assignments, she paused at Douglas' desk, bent down, and asked him whose hand it was. The little boy looked away and murmured, "It's yours, teacher." She recalled the times she had taken his hand and walked with him here or there, as she had the other students. How often had she said, "Take my hand, Douglas, we'll go outside." Or "Let me show you how to hold your pencil." Or "Let's do this together." Douglas was most thankful for his teacher's hand. Brushing aside a tear, she went on with her work.

The story speaks of more than thankfulness. It says something about teachers teaching and parents parenting and friends showing friendship, and how much it means to the Douglas's of the world. They might not always say thanks. But they'll remember the hand that reaches out.

Never underestimate your vital role in impacting the life of a child. Students might not realize it now, but later in life, many will thank you in their own way for your belief in and commitment to them. To fully prepare all learners for their future, we must create classrooms in which disruptive thinking is a major component of the learning pro¬cess. However, disruptive thinking in the classroom will only become a reality when priceless relationships are in place. With these in place, your impact will be felt for generations as the learners you influence today disrupt the bold new world in ways that change it—and us—for the better. This is your lasting legacy.