Sunday, April 30, 2023

Hire People That Will Make You a Better Leader

Being a leader is not a solo endeavor but a collective effort that involves everyone in the organization, school, or district. While a leader may occasionally have to make critical decisions that require going against consensus, such instances are rare and insignificant in the larger scheme of things. To succeed, it is crucial to foster a culture of open-mindedness where people are motivated to change on their own accord rather than being coerced into it. This entails a two-way relationship where effective leaders rely on the knowledge and expertise of all members, regardless of their hierarchical position.

The most successful leaders are those who surround themselves with self-motivated individuals who not only perform exceptionally well but also challenge the leader to grow and learn constantly. A crucial decision that leaders make is choosing the right people for the job and empowering them to take on leadership roles, even without a specific title. It is essential to recognize that the best ideas and solutions may not always come from the leader but from the team. Therefore, authentic leadership requires humility and a willingness to put aside one's ego for the organization's greater good. The bottom line here is that influential leaders hire people smarter than them with unique talents and then stay out of their way.

It is essential to surround oneself with individuals who will help you create a thriving learning culture for all students. For innovative change to occur, it requires relinquishing some control and placing trust in others. Great leaders recognize the importance of stepping aside and allowing empowered individuals to utilize their respective expertise. As a former principal, I made a conscious effort to embody this principle. When I needed to fill a math position, I hired someone who shared my vision for blended learning. She was then empowered to find the best way to implement her chosen strategies. The end result was the effective implementation and modeling of flipped learning in a pedagogically-sound way that demonstrated to me as a leader that I needed to support the rest of the math department in this area.

Another excellent example was hiring a new librarian. I needed an innovative leader who could quickly transform the space. The new hire had complete control over her budget and the autonomy to make any decision that would benefit our learners. While her successful launch of a makerspace was noteworthy, her real impact resided in empowering learners, regardless of their labels or perceived abilities, to find success in ways they had never before experienced. Her actions and determination transformed not only the space but also the entire learning culture of the school and district. She created a micro-credential platform well before any companies began to monetize them, pushing our teachers to learn in different ways, regardless of time or place.

Receiving feedback can manifest in various ways. These two hires were just two of the numerous educators I employed as a principal, and their actions indirectly told me what I should do to support them better. Additionally, many other teacher leaders and members of my administrative team, who were not only intellectually brilliant but also leveraged their professional relationships with me to guide me in the right direction, were also instrumental in my growth. Depending on others for counsel and insight is not an indication of feebleness; instead, it is a clear indication of strength. Competent leadership necessitates astute decision-making. Simplify things for yourself. Recruit or encircle yourself with gifted individuals, step aside, and do not be apprehensive about letting them "guide" you. If you want to succeed as a leader, commit to surrounding yourself with people who will positively push you.

When it comes to leadership and people:

  • Hire or surround yourself with intelligent people.
  • Listen to them
  • Get out of their way
  • Leverage their expertise

Enough said.

Monday, April 24, 2023

#EDvice: Choosing an Edtech Framework

When it comes to technology in education, there is a natural tendency to see it as just another thing that somebody must do. In other cases, it is viewed as being more work. Let me tackle the second issue first. When we try implementing anything new, there is always a learning curve. It is important to remember, though, that the time and effort put forth will reap the rewards when it comes to improving practice and, in turn, learning outcomes. I have learned from firsthand experience that figuring out how to use a new digital tool is the easy part. The more difficult mental hurdle is that using any digital tool is just another thing added to an already crazy workload.  

While I firmly believe in the merits of digital learning, it comes with a caveat, which I recently shared on social media:

Technology is just a tool and is definitely not a silver bullet. On its own, it WILL NOT lead to learning or improved outcomes. The focus must be on how the LEARNER is using it to LEARN in alignment with sound strategies and pedagogy.

My statement above is meant to reassure all educators that the tenets of good teaching, sound pedagogy, and research on learning are of the utmost importance. Clarity is also essential when it comes to purposeful use. This is why the Rigor Relevance Framework is a sound option compared to SAMR, TPACK, TIMS, and other tools that emphasize tech over learning. I dive a bit deeper into the concept in this piece of #EDvice.

As you look to refine or improve digital learning in your classroom, school, or district, consider keeping the RR Framework handy. I summed up its value in a previous post:

The overall goal, both with and without technology, should be to empower students to work and think. Another critical strategy is to focus on the purposeful use of technology when appropriate. Just because it is available doesn’t mean it can or will improve every lesson or project. Thus a focus on pedagogy first, technology second, if appropriate, will help ensure success, something that I emphasize extensively in Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms. While SAMR is a solid starting point, it is not the end-all or be-all. The multi-dimensional aspects of the Rigor Relevance Framework can be used to guide you in developing better questions and tasks as part of good pedagogy.


Sunday, April 16, 2023

5 Clear Ways Digital Benefits Learners

The education landscape is undergoing a continuous transformation, something I elaborate on in detail in Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms. While not new in any sense, digital tools continue to play an immense role as they are constantly evolving. By understanding how these tools impact teaching and learning, educators can determine which ones to use and how to implement them effectively.

Innovative assessments

The changing formats and contexts of assignments have necessitated a corresponding evolution in assessment methods. With the online environment's openness and the integration of game elements and real-time feedback, a wide range of assessment options have materialized. There are many options to create and implement various forms of formative assessment, which measures progress in ongoing learning rather than endpoints. With instant data reporting and analysis, educators can respond more effectively to learner needs.

Improved collaboration

Similar to how social media has redefined the notion of community, digital tools are also changing the dynamic between students and teachers, affecting how they interact and collaborate. For instance, online platforms for discussion threads and learning management systems (LMSs) alter how students engage in writing and project-based assignments. Collaborative exchanges among peers, teachers, authors, and mentors can turn a simple student writing product into a multifaceted and informative artifact. Moreover, when used appropriately, digital tools can also foster various dimensions of disruptive thinkers by empowering students to be creative scholars, reflective learners, active engagers, self-directed managers, and autonomous inquirers.

Instant Access 

Once connected to the Internet, the opportunities to access information and resources are limitless. While projects still require substantive research, relevant synthesis, and audience-oriented approaches, students today can access tools that help them analyze and understand various representations from diverse disciplines and subjects, including texts, data, and photographs, in a world overflowing with information. While acquiring knowledge is plentiful, digital literacy is a must.

Ownership of Learning 

John Dewey once stated that activities that truly engage students "give pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking or the intentional noting of connections; learning results "naturally." The availability of numerous free digital tools now allows students to engage in such activities. By selecting appropriate tools, students can create artifacts that demonstrate their conceptual mastery while acquiring and applying essential skill sets. This process of choice not only increases engagement and authenticity but also adds value to the learning experience. When aligned with personalized pedagogy, harnessing the power of digital tools can help students take charge of their learning and become more self-directed in their education.

Flexible Use of Time 

In many cases, digital tools provide an asynchronous response and inquiry platform, which is impossible in traditional brick-and-mortar classrooms. Whether written or video-based, online discussions offer diverse perspectives, collaborative opportunities, and time for contemplation and planning before responding. There is an array of personalized strategies where digital tools can be used to maximize the available use of time, including station rotation, choice activities, playlists, flipped lessons, and virtual courses. To learn more, check out this post.

While this list is not comprehensive, it provides a clear rationale for how digital tools can support and enhance learning in and out of the classroom. Purposeful use by the learner is vital. The Relevant Thinking Framework is a fantastic resource that can be leveraged when planning lessons, tasks, and assessments.

Don’t get caught up where a particular tool in the image is located. While a Word Doc can be used in a low rigor, low relevant way, it can also be used in a high rigor, high relevant fashion. It is how the tool is used to construct new knowledge and demonstrate understanding in various ways that genuinely matter.

Sunday, April 9, 2023

#EDvice: Moving from PD to Professional Learning

When it comes to education training, the main pathway to improvement is through professional development. Depending on where you reside or your school system, this typically consists of a few days to begin the new academic year and a few random days going forward that are often associated with student holidays. While the premise is positive, the result doesn’t always lead to sustainable change. I have a theory as to why this is sometimes the case.  

Professional development (PD) is something that is typically "done" to educators. On the other hand, professional learning is something they actively WANT to engage in to grow. The latter involves choice, context, and practicality driven by an intrinsic desire to grow.

Think about this for a second. Most “PD” days are often scripted and, in some cases, dictated” based on mandates from various levels. What often results is little personal connection to the concepts or a feeling that there is no alignment with one’s specific role. When this happens, many people are naturally disinterested from the start. That’s not a good thing. Another glaring issue is that “PD” days often consist of one-and-done or drive-by sessions that offer little in terms of reflection, diverse perspectives, time to apply, and needed feedback afterward to see progress in the implementation of strategies covered. In this piece of #EDvice below, I dive into a mindset shift from professional development to professional learning.

Now I am not saying that PD doesn’t have value. My point is to reflect to determine if the resources and time allocated lead to evidence that educator practice is improving. It is essential to view adults just like learners in our classrooms. Thus, any professional learning should be personalized, interest-based, and aligned with a sound body of research. Below are three pathways to consider that meet these criteria:

  • Create or advocate for job-embedded coaching to complement any workshops of stand-alone days.
  • Develop a Personal Learning Network (PLN)
  • Attend events such as the Model Schools Conference, where the program focuses on educators and schools who are doing the work and have results to illustrate efficacy.
  • Move to well-structured Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) where data, research, and effective strategies are the focus. 

Learning is a process, not an event or day. Keep that in mind when developing, implementing, or participating in any growth opportunity. 

Sunday, April 2, 2023

10 Ways to Grow as a Pedagogical Leader

I have vivid memories of my early days as an assistant principal and principal, where overseeing instruction was just one of many duties that came with the job. Managing budgets, developing memos, attending meetings, responding to emails and phone calls, and other tasks also consumed a significant portion of my time. The advent of social media introduced yet another responsibility into my already packed schedule: digital leadership. As a school administrator, one must be proficient in many different areas, but it's essential to maintain sight of the most crucial aspect of the role: pedagogical leadership.

Despite my best efforts, I couldn't visit classrooms as frequently as I would have liked, and the feedback I provided in written reports could have done more to enhance teaching and learning both inside and outside the classroom. If our ultimate goal is to improve, we need to prioritize the aspects of our job that impact student learning most. Pedagogical leaders recognize that management is a necessary part of the job, but it shouldn't come at the expense of cultivating a positive learning culture to boost academic achievement.

It's simple to offer advice on improving in this area or anything else, but putting it into practice can be a constant challenge. To help you get started, I've compiled ten specific strategies that I used during my tenure as a high school principal and now help other leaders with during coaching cycles. 

Visit more classrooms

Firstly, begin by increasing the number of formal observations conducted each year and sticking to a schedule to ensure that all teachers are observed three times annually, regardless of experience. Secondly, develop an informal walk-through schedule with your leadership team, mandating at least five walks per day for each member, and track visits and improvement comments on a color-coded Google Doc.

Establish norms

Establishing a shared vision and expectations for all teachers is crucial. You can do this by utilizing the Relevant Thinking Framework to provide them with consistent, concrete elements to focus on when developing lessons and deciding which high-effect strategies to use. Abolishing the routine of announced observations, having teachers provide artifacts of evidence to show the bigger picture since you can never see all that is done in a single observation, and prioritizing the collection assessments over lesson plans can also be effective.

Increase feedback

When observing lessons, always provide at least one practical suggestion for improvement, no matter how excellent the lesson was. These suggestions should be clear, straightforward, actionable, and timely. For learning, consider curating data weekly and present at an upcoming staff meeting. Feedback is critical to encourage growth and development.

Adopt a scholarly mindset

Improving professional practice as a leader is not the only benefit of being a scholar. It also enables you to have more effective conversations with teachers about their own growth, adding credibility to post-conference feedback. You can align critical feedback to current research by keeping a document of effective pedagogical techniques found in your readings. This approach saved time when writing up observations and improved relationships with staff as the instructional leader. When in doubt, lean on Google Scholar. Another key aspect of a scholarly mindset was brought to my attention by Thomas William Miller and that is to get curious and ask questions. When it comes to leading pedagogical change, questions are often more important than answers. 

Model expectations

As I shared in Digital Leadership, leaders should lead by example and not ask teachers to do anything they wouldn't do themselves, especially regarding technology integration and improving practice. When a teacher struggles with assessments, provide or co-create an example assessment. Developing and implementing professional learning is also an effective way to lead by example and build better relationships with staff.

Prioritize growth

Attending at least one conference or workshop a year that aligns with a significant school or district initiative and reading one education book and one from another field, such as general leadership strategies or self-help, can yield powerful lessons and ideas. Creating or further developing a Personal Learning Network (PLN) is also essential to access 24/7 ideas, strategies, feedback, resources, and support.

Teach a class

One can achieve this regularly throughout the year or by co-teaching with both struggling and exceptional teachers. I personally taught a high school biology class during my first few years as an administrator, which is an excellent example of leading by example. This approach also provides a better understanding of teachers' changing role in the disruption age. When a pedagogical leader sets an example, it strengthens relationships with staff and puts them in a better position to discuss and enhance learning.

Reflect through writing 

As a connected educator, writing has been a valuable tool for me to process my thoughts and critically reflect on my teaching, learning, and leadership work. Our reflections aid in our personal growth and serve as a catalyst for others to reflect on their own practice and develop professionally. Encouraging teachers to write brief reflections before post-conferences can foster a more collaborative conversation on improvement.

Leverage portfolios

Incorporating portfolios into our observation process was a helpful way to provide more detailed insight into pedagogical practices over the course of the school year. Portfolios can showcase personalized learning activities, assessments, unit plans, student work, and other forms of evidence to enhance instructional effectiveness and validate good practice.


During the first quarter of each year, I collaborated with members of my administrative team to co-observe lessons. This allowed us to benefit from each other's perspectives and expertise and provided opportunities for us to improve our pedagogical leadership skills and reflect on our observations. In my role as a coach, I have K-12 leaders visit classrooms beyond the grade levels they serve when working with districts. For example, elementary will conduct walks in secondary to provide feedback and vice versa. We then share collective insight while processing the feedback. Gaining a perspective of strategies used at various grade levels is invaluable. 

Ultimately, ensuring quality learning takes place in our classrooms is of utmost importance. These ten strategies can be implemented immediately to improve pedagogical leadership, but there may be additional strategies that others find effective. The image below provides further insight.