Sunday, August 28, 2022

Leading Through Windows and Mirrors

There is no shortage of ways to reflect on how we lead in an effort to initiate and sustain change. Culture is everything. Establishing and maintaining relationships is paramount, which Is why I detailed research-based ways to improve morale in a previous post and in Digital Leadership. Another way to help ensure success in this area is to hold ourselves accountable through a self-efficacy lens. Windows and mirrors can be incredible metaphors when it comes to effective leadership.   The essence of leaders who embrace this concept is crediting others for success and taking responsibility when things don’t go right. If mistakes occur, and they will, they are of the belief that it is their fault. Such leaders believe it is their fault if mishaps happen on their watch. We can refer to this as leading with a mirror in hand and looking out the window to see what matters most. 

In Good to Great, Jim Collins shares the following:

Great leaders look out the window to apportion credit to factors outside themselves when things go well (and if they cannot find a specific person or event to give credit to, they credit good luck). At the same time, they look in the mirror to apportion responsibility, never blaming bad luck when things go poorly.

 Windows and mirrors can be powerful leadership tools.

 As you reflect on your practice, consider the following:

  • Do my actions inspire change?
  • Do I lift others up?
  • Am I open to feedback?
  • Do I seek opportunities to grow?
  • Do I seek the input of others when making certain decisions?

Peer through a window and see who is most responsible for implementing and leading change that results in improved outcomes. The collective is bigger and more influential than one person. Be proactive when it comes to eliciting praise so that proper credit is given to those who are playing their part to ensure success for the system. It is essential to understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses and give credit accordingly where success is achieved (Brock et al., 2017). In the end, this will pay dividends not only for overall morale but also for your reputation as a leader. 

When something doesn’t go right or as planned, take a look in the mirror to own the outcome. Trust erodes when others are blamed publicly. Research has found that people are reluctant to admit they have failed because of a general desire to avoid negative social evaluation and disapproval from others (Leary, 2007). The buck stops with the leader, plain and simple. Without trust, there is no relationship. Without relationships, no real, meaningful change will occur. If the leadership team or staff falters, look in the mirror and reflect on what you, as the leader, could have done differently. Then pick your people up and begin anew. If an individual(s) is the cause of a problem, speak with them directly behind closed doors to rectify the issue. 

Leading through windows and mirrors can develop more humility and empathy, which will serve you well as you strive to support your staff. Both of these attributes are integral in developing relationships that underpin culture and are also necessary for leading change.  

Brock, S.E., McAliney, P.J., Ma, C.H. and Sen, A. (2017), "Toward more practical measurement of teamwork skills", Journal of Workplace Learning, 29 (2): 124-133.

Leary, M.R. (2007).  Motivational and emotional aspects of the self. Annual Review of Psychology. 58(1):317–344.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Addressing SEL and Behavior Challenges with Relationships

One question that is posed to me often by districts and schools is how their staff can be proactive when it comes to student behavior and addressing their social-emotional needs. It comes as no surprise to anyone that the pandemic, in the eyes of many, has led to an uptick in issues that not only disrupts precious learning time but also results in more discipline referrals, tardies, and absences. There is no silver bullet as many behavioral challenges manifest themselves outside the school day. However, practical mitigation steps can be taken by doing what we all know is of utmost importance to learning and that is developing relationships, something a dive into great detail in Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms

So, where do we begin? It is essential to realize how vital social-emotional learning (SEL) is when it comes to student behavior and academic success. A meta-analysis of 213 school-based, universal social and emotional learning (SEL) programs involving 270,034 kindergarten through high school students showed promising results. Compared to controls, SEL participants demonstrated significantly improved social and emotional skills, attitudes, behavior, and academic performance that reflected an 11-percentile-point gain in achievement (Durlak et al., 2011). 

The relationships model above was developed in partnership with Dr. Stephanie Jones at the Harvard EASEL Lab. It can be utilized by administrators and teachers to create vibrant learning cultures. As this model shows, the impact of rigorous and relevant teaching and learning relies on strong student-educator relationships. The way to shape these relationships is through purposeful behaviors tied to three key indicators: Connection, Compassion, and Vulnerability. When you reflect on this above, consider what current practices support the main elements listed. In a past post, I outlined some specific SEL strategies that can be used at any time to aid in the process of addressing SEL needs and behavior, including daily meeting, digital surveys, and family engagement.

While there is a wealth of resources out there, I would be remiss if I didn’t outline some practices that can be employed regularly. For each, I attempt to highlight the clear benefits. 

  • Classroom Management: Co-create rules and consequences with students. Acknowledge positive behaviors regularly. Admin should look to work daily meetings into the schedule as a way to help teachers with management issues. 
  • Relevance: There is a great deal of research out there on the importance of relevance in the classroom and school, which you can read HERE. Students want purpose in their learning. Integrate interdisciplinary connections, authentic contexts, and real-world applications regularly to help convey meaning.
  • Personalized Pedagogy: Moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach to equitable strategies can seamlessly align with RTI/MTSS, which are designed to address behavior proactively. Consider station rotation, choice activities, playlists, and flipped lessons to free up time to work with students who really need in-class support.
  • Empathy: Using an empathetic lens by placing yourself in your students' shoes can help reduce knee-jerk reactions. It is always important to remember that forces beyond our control impact kids.

Adam Drummond shared a comprehensive article on developing relationships by leading through compassion, embracing vulnerability, and making connections. You will find not only applicable relationship-building strategies here but also an array of visuals to focus on areas of growth. Venola Mason explains that supporting students’ social and emotional wellness is a catalyst for building strong teacher-student relationships that can ensure they are better adjusted, have more confidence, and perform better academically. In a recent article, she details five tips to assist with this process:

  1. Be personable with students
  2. Get to know students
  3. Set stretch goals
  4. Make learning fun
  5. Reach out to students in need

Without trust, there is no relationship. Without relationships, no real learning occurs. 

Durlak, J.A., Weissberg, R.P., Dymnicki, A.B., Taylor, R.D. and Schellinger, K.B. (2011), The Impact of Enhancing Students’ Social and Emotional Learning: A Meta-Analysis of School-Based Universal Interventions. Child Development, 82: 405-432.

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Boost Morale with These Simple Strategies

Morale can best be defined as the confidence, enthusiasm, and discipline of a person or group at a particular time. Thriving cultures that produce results make every effort to keep this on the positive side. However, this is easier said than done. While the pandemic has undoubtedly played a monumental role in decreasing morale, other factors continuously play a role, such as leadership, mandates, lack of time, systems that are in place, a toxic culture, inadequate pay, or trying to maintain a work-life balance. No matter the cause, it’s up to the leader and their team to constantly be proactive to combat low morale.

Below are some simple strategies that you can use immediately and long-term, many of which are research-based.

Pile on the positive feedback

Sometimes there is never enough of a good thing when it comes to building up culture. Research has shown that feedback is vital in establishing good relations as it can enhance relationships, strengthen loyalty and commitment, and increase morale (Smith, 2009). When it comes to feedback, make sure it is timely, specific, practical, facilitated in a positive manner, and is a dialogue as opposed to a monologue. Actively look for opportunities to provide feedback through diverse means such as phone calls, paper notes, technology, and face-to-face conversations.

Actively inquire about how people are feeling

While this might seem like a no-brainer, it is not easy at times to know how people really feel unless diligent efforts are made to find out. Listening is one of the best tools that can be leveraged to gather crucial information on the pulse of a culture. Creating a roundtable for staff to share what is on their mind is another solid option, but digital forms that allow anonymous responses could very well be the best route.

Provide autonomy

Micro-managing never ends well. Using self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 2008), a study involving 735 workers was conducted to examine autonomy's impact on overall morale. Results revealed that work motivation was significantly related to both intraindividual (global motivation) and contextual factors (organizational support and supervisor autonomy support). It can be concluded that perceived organizational support and work autonomous motivation was positively related to work satisfaction (Gillet et al., 2013). As a principal, I created the Professional Growth Period (PGP) to grant unconditional autonomy to my staff.

Gift appropriate rewards 

The key word above is appropriate. While I am a massive proponent of intrinsic means to improve motivation, that does not mean we cannot leverage extrinsic rewards as a means to boost morale. Examples include release time, professional learning opportunities off-site, a premium parking spot, tickets to school events, books, and school supplies. If you really want to boost morale, try eliminating as many after-school meetings as possible. The bottom line is that people want to be recognized, but morale will be most positively impacted by using authentic rewards that your staff value and do not see as disingenuous (White, 2014).

Celebrate publicly

It is hard to argue the fact that people want to have some semblance of fun and feel appreciated. A study using a large email survey of managers found overwhelming support for having fun in the workplace. Respondents reported that having a fun work environment will increase the levels of enthusiasm, satisfaction, creativity, communications among staff and enhanced feelings of group cohesiveness (Ford et al., 2004). Some schools have large-scale team-building events both on and off-site. If you go this route, elicit feedback from staff on what options they think will be best. You can also share stories across social media as a way to share successes more broadly, something I dive into deeply in Digital Leadership

Sustaining and improving outcomes relies on good morale. It also plays a pivotal role in retaining our most precious people…those who commit themselves to serve kids.

Deci, E. & Ryan, R. (1994) Promoting Self‐determined Education, Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 38:1, 3-14.

Ford, R.C., Newstrom, J.W. and McLaughlin, F.S. (2004), "Making workplace fun more functional", Industrial and Commercial Training, Vol. 36 No. 3, pp. 117-120.

Gillet, N., Gagné, M., Sauvagère, S. & Fouquereau, E. (2013) The role of supervisor autonomy support, organizational support, and autonomous and controlled motivation in predicting employees' satisfaction and turnover intentions, European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 22:4, 450-460.

Smith, D. C. (2008). Teaching Managers To Relate: Using Feedback To Bolster Commitment And Morale. Journal of Diversity Management (JDM), 3(3), 7–12.

White, P. (2014), "Improving staff morale through authentic appreciation", Development and Learning in Organizations, Vol. 28 No. 5, pp. 17-20.

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Identifying the Best Supports for Personalization

We know for a fact that everyone learns differently. While a one-size-fits-all approach served its purpose for some of us, it doesn’t meet the diverse needs of kids today. It also doesn’t provide teachers and administrators with valuable insight on how to best support learners no matter where they are in relation to standards and critical competencies. Thus, educators need not only a vision for how to personalize learning effectively but also essential supports that will help to ensure success.  

The most crucial aspect when it comes to personalizing learning is the teacher in the classroom. While mindset and relationship building work to form the foundation for a more personal approach, leveraging sound pedagogical practice to assist all students in getting what they need when and where they need it ensures equity in the classroom. In chapter 5 of Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms, I dive deeply into these practices while providing numerous examples. You can read a summary of the most used strategies with a high degree of fidelity HERE

Personalized pedagogy sets the stage for the purposeful use of technology to better assist in meeting students' learning needs while providing educators with timely data. While there are many K-8 tools on the market, many have shortcomings such as no research base, difficulty in pulling useable data, no clear alignment to standardized tests, and students finding the tasks to be boring. Naturally, this can be quite frustrating when large sums of money are spent on purchasing these programs. Don’t fret, though, as a fantastic support option is available to districts and schools in the form of Waggle

Waggle is a tool that K-8 educators can use to support the successful implementation of a more personalized approach.  Below are some specific highlights and features that set it apart from tools such as i-Ready and IXL. 

Differentiated Learning

A hallmark of personalization, Waggle provides:

  • Auto-assigned appropriate practice and instruction, or teachers can play an active role and assign additional content that supports their core instruction.
  • Teacher access to K-8 content. 
  • Adaptive functionality that analyzes beyond proficiency. Based on 13 data points, it continuously adjusts to offer true personalization, including behavior and prerequisite knowledge.
  • Instruction and practice on prerequisite skills within the grade level and from earlier grade levels.

Student Motivation through a Gaming Environment

Students can:

  • Learn in an immersive, game-based environment. 
  • Access a dashboard that allows them to track their own progress toward mastery of skills and learning.
  • Choose age-appropriate worlds to visit.
  • Personalize their avatar.


Waggle leverages research-based techniques to enhance students’ knowledge and accelerate learning. Waggle provides Retrieval, Interleaving and Spaced-Out Practice and Feedback, which yield long-term retention and optimal performance.

  • Retrieval is the act of recalling what has been learned and is essential for creating long-lasting memories. Retrieval best enhances retention when practiced early and often in a low-pressure context. 
  • Interleaving involves switching up the types of problems students solve when practicing. Changing the order or type of activity increases the effort and may create more cues for memory. Waggle Practice is comprised of multiple related skills. A student must have mastery of all these skills and be able to apply them simultaneously to be successful. 
  • Spaced Out Retrieval across multiple shorter sessions, days, or weeks is more effective than one long session for long-term retention because it requires more effortful processing. 

Hints & Feedback 

Feedback is information provided to learners about their current level of knowledge and what they can do to progress to the next level. It is an essential step in making formative assessment as meaningful as it does in Waggle. Feedback only works if it is received and acted on by the learner, so both the content and the delivery of feedback matter. Waggle has robust hints embedded in every practice assignment and immediate feedback for every learning activity. Waggle provides a safe, supportive environment through scaffolded hints, support for English learners, explanatory feedback, and optional instructional lessons. Mistakes are embraced as learning opportunities.

The premise of personalization is all learners getting what they need when and where they need it to learn. When utilizing a pedagogy first, technology second lens, Waggle can become your tool of choice to improve student outcomes aligned with job-embedded and ongoing professional learning facilitated by Aspire Change EDU.