Sunday, May 15, 2016

Mindful Leadership

In response first  blog post on Exit Plans, Boston College professor Andy Hargreaves encouraged me "to care of myself".   I didn't recognize the gravity of that comment until recently when I had a moment to recognize my stress and felt that my schedule was felt out of my control.  Many of these feelings are not unique to only exit, but feelings that principals report regularly.  Stress and exhaustion are common reported feelings that principals feel and often can lead to burnout.  As the school year winds down, I have noticed that these feelings are also present during my exit and transition.   When I began my exit I wanted to celebrate the remaining days of the school that I love. Since realizing this stress, here are a few ideas that I have tried to incorporate into my practice to help me regain control and feel present.

Take care of myself--These two practices are more hopes than actual practice.
-Sleep--I recently read that that adults need at least 7 hours of sleep.  This is an area where I regularly fail.  Waking up between 4:30 and 5:00 on work days makes getting 7 hours of sleep difficult if I want to spend time with my wife after my daughter goes to bed.  All of the research here is clear that more sleep makes you more productive, able to manage your emotions, reduce stress, etc.  As this exit becomes more fast paced and closer to an end, I'm setting a goal of 7 hours of sleep.   We'll see  how it goes.
--Calm--Over the past few weeks I started incorporating Calm, a Meditation App, into my regular practice.  I have come to learn that mediation as a practice to all me to stay present.  It teaches you to pay attention to your emotions and recognize how you are feeling.   Instead of shutting out my feelings, which has been a life long practice, I am working on accepting these feelings and learning to work through them.  I recently learned of other leaders using mediation as a way to help them stay present as they take on the difficulties of leadership--decision making, difficult conversations, and managing many moving parts. While I have only been able to incorporate 5 minutes of meditation into my daily practice, Calm provides you with shorter and longer practices.

Laugh--It's been said that laughter leads to a healthier life and there is no greater place to laugh than at school.
--Continuing to get into the classroom has helped me to continue to observe the amazing teaching and learning that goes on at BHS.  Furthermore, by being in classrooms I observe the spontaneous fun and excitement that regularly occurs in our classes.  Also, this Spring I plan to join our students in some of the last memorable and momentous events such as the Senior whale watch which will be fun, energizing and....wet!  Additionally, continuing to attend events such as prom will give me an opportunity to celebrate and say good bye to our seniors.

Celebrate--principal transition can be stressful and uneasy for students and staff.  The best way I can support our community is to remind and reinforce the greatest aspects of our school:  the amazing students and talented staff.  The other day I thanked and celebrated with our seniors during their last class meeting.  their leadership this year has helped our school have a successful year.  Furthermore, I have continued to go into classrooms and celebrate the great strategies that teachers are using in the class.  Additionally, I have been meeting with program leaders and department heads to discuss the progress that they have made over the last four years as well as their vision for years to come.

These strategies have also helped me to attempt to lead mindfully--feeling present in my decision making and acknowledging the stress to transition.  Since I have incorporated these practices the past few weeks, I have walked the hallways feeling present and energized.  While these strategies have been good for my transition, they have also helped me to enjoy and celebrate that last few months at BHS.  There are many stressful and challenging aspects of the exit process, but I want to enjoy these last few months and celebrate with BHS's greatest strength--the people. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Making Decisions During an Exit

As my exit process  from one principalship to another continues I have realized the unique challenges that surround decision making during this period.  The decision making process is always challenging in schools and requires collaborative and methodical discussions.  Good decisions are student focused,  allow for diverse opinions to be shared and consider future implications.  Whitehead et. al encourage leadership to allow for more rigorous debate and infuse fresh ideas to make good decisions.   Good decision making requires patience, time and lots of conversations.

Exit further complicates decision making.  My goal during this exit has been to ensure a smooth transition as the school continue to moves forward and grow.  At the same time people are adapting to  the change, which can lead to complicated situations such as some people not bringing issues forward and other folks expecting difficult decisions to be made before the next leader takes over.  Both of these perspectives are problematic and further complicate decision making.  At the same time the school continues to move forward with initiatives still ongoing and new ideas brewing.

To try to navigate through this new complicated environment, I continue to remind myself:

Maintain my decisions on the best interest of students--This has been my mantra throughout the four years and continues to be my focus through my exit.

Encourage others to engage in decision making--After I'm on to my new job, my leadership team will remain.  It's important that they continue to feel important, which can be done by engaging them and encouraging them to take ownership of instructional decisions for next year.

Try not to do stupid stuff--It's important to recognize that not all decisions need to be made immediately..It's ok to allow issues to wait until the next principal takes it up.  Entering principals are faced with the decisions of their predecessors.  As an exiting principal I have tried to allow decisions that can wait until next year to wait until next year.


Saturday, February 27, 2016

"Go Out the Door You Came In"

My father-in-law is famously known within our family for his wise old sayings.  One of our favorite wise old saying is based on an old superstition--"You gotta go out the door you came in".  Usually he makes this statement as he's trying to figure out which door we entered.

This particular saying has had new meaning for me as I think about my  exit strategy, transitioning from one principalship to another.   In my post last week I wrote about the lack of writing about exit plans in contrast to the large amounts of writing about entry plans for leaders.

When I entered my principalship, four years ago, I started my entry plan four months before I even started the position with a focus on listening to students, teachers and parents as I learn about the culture of my new school.   This strategy paid major dividends as I learned about the culture, connected with many people in my new community and learned about the strengths and needs of the school.  My entry plan was a great strategy to help us connect as a school and help me integrate into the community and move forward.

Now as I think about exiting my principalship and setting the school in a place to continue to move forward, my father-in-law's saying has helped me to prioritize my focus for the exit plan--"You gotta go out the door you came in".   The most important thing that I can do as I transition is to exit the same way that I entered, to listen to the needs of students, teachers and parents.  Here are some ways that I can listen...

1.  Listen to the fears, uncertainty and concerns of folks about the transition of leadership
2.  Listen to what people and programs need in order to continue to be successful during the transition.
3.  Listen for the issues that people are worried will be forgotten during the transition.

My goals for exiting are to make sure people feel supported and to make sure the school is ready for a successful transition.  In order to accomplish these goals, I think I have to "go out the door I came in".

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Exit Strategy

Last week I accepted the offer to become principal at Newton North High School beginning in July.   While I am excited for the opportunity transitioning into this new position, I will miss my students and colleagues in Bedford.  I owe it to my students and colleagues to first fmake sure that I leave Bedford in a great position for the next principal before I focus my attention on my new position. When I started to research effective strategies for leaders to transition out of their position, I found very little literature on the subject.  In comparison, there are some excellent resources about Entry Planning for new leaders, particularly by Barry Jentz.  Because of the lack of writing on Exit Plans, I feel like I am navigating this path blindly.  Surely, every leader leaves their position at some point, so are there particular issues that leaders must commonly worry about as they transition out of their school?   Based on this question, I have decided to blog my experience as I exit one school and transition to the next stage of my career.

The only quality resource that I found regarding leadership transition is described in   Andy Hargreaves and Dean Fink's Sustainable Leadership.  Hargreaves and Fink argue that leaders should plan for succession even at the beginning stages of their leadership.   Their general guidelines include identifying potential successors and managing changes to ensure that they are sustainable beyond your tenure.  Hargreaves and Fink provide an excellent resource to help leaders to create a school culture focused on sustainable improvement. While these general ideas are useful for leaders during their principalship, they still lack a clear guideline for the last few months before a principal exits in the same way that Jentz provides a framework for a principal's entry.

For exiting principals who care about the success of the future of their schools, it seems essential that the school culture remains strong when they transition into their new roles.  There are too many anecdotal stories of schools declining after the departure of a successful principal. I currently work in a fantastic school and I want to make sure that it remains fantastic as a new leader embarks on their own leadership journey.  Over the next few months I will use this blog to share the story of my exit.   Hopefully, this blog will create a forum for members of my Professional Learning Community to learn and share about the important steps of Exiting.

Generally here are the priority steps that I am currently thinking about regarding my exit.

1.  Take care of your people--People can find change unsettling and grow nervous with a change in leadership.   Therefore, whether they are sad, scared, angry or happy about my exit, my job is to make sure they feel supported and heard during my exit.

2.  Evaluate collaborative structures--This may be a personal endeavor since I spent my principalship developing and ensuring the sustainability of collaborative structures.  Hargreaves and Fink argue that collaborative structures help to ensure sustainable progress in schools.  As I transition out of Bedford, it seems pertinent to make sure that the foundations for these collaborative structures are healthy.  Surveying staff and interviewing a range of collaborative teams at BHS could be helpful strategies to assess these structures and provide helpful data for the next principal.

3.  Address potential pitfalls  for the next principal--Hargreaves and Fink argue that a principal does not work in a vacuum, but as a part of a continuum of their predecessor and successor.  In keeping with this perspective, there were difficult situations that were left over from the previous principal and there will be difficult situations that my successor will have to handle.  Nevertheless, I should try to minimize the immediate crises that my predecessor inherits.

4.  Help others develop their own transition plans--A common comment overheard about leadership change is "the devil you know is better than the devil you don't know".  One way to help to address the kind of anxiety within this statement is to help others develop a transition plan so that they are prepared for the next "devil" or principal.

I will write more about these ideas in the coming weeks.  I invite others to share their ideas of Exit strategies.  

Monday, November 23, 2015

Give Teachers Options

A few weeks back we had a full day professional day for teachers and staff that was focused on providing a more inclusive school for all students.  The professional day focused on four topics:  Social and Emotional Learning, Student learning about Race, English Language Learners and Supporting Transgender and gender questioning students.   The key questions around these topics were: what is one action that we can take "tomorrow' in response to these issues? and 2. What is a longer term action that we can take as an institution to support students around these issues?

The format of the day was to have a presentation on each topic by a pair of teachers and then provide an opportunity for faculty members to process the information further.  The presenter provided a 40 minute presentation, which included student perspectives on the topic.

Teachers had opportunities to choose their own way to process for a half-hour after each presentation. The options to process included:
1.  Go for a walk and process on you own.
2.  Have informal conversations with colleagues
3.  Participate in a facilitated discussion for people who feel like beginners on this topic
4.  Participate in a facilitated discussion for people who feel like experts on this topic

It was a risk for us to take on four very heavy topics in one day, but I think it worked because we gave so much time to process and various opportunities to process.  Additionally, teachers were very appreciative of the different opportunities.  Having observed the beginner and expert discussions, these discussions helped to further learning for all by scaffolding.  During the beginner session the facilitator answered questions and provided basic steps in creating a safe learning environment.  The advanced sessions allowed veteran teachers to further their understanding on each topic and discuss strategies that can be used to help our school move forward.  During the expert race discussiojn, for example,  teachers discussed strategies to empower students to be leaders in addressing issues of race in our school.  

Allowing teachers different options to process allowed us to scaffold learning and teachers were able to choose the option that worked best for their learning style.  Furthermore, one of the positive bits of feedback for the day was that teachers felt respected in having their own way to process.  Many teachers participated in the different discussions.  

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Small Changes Can Make a Big Impact

We are taking on so many big challenges in education, such as closing achievement gaps, integrating technology and addressing the increasing complexity of our students needs, that we can easily become overwhelmed and believe that a big challenge requires a big change.  Too often schools take on big changes and instantly recognize how unwieldy and problematic the big change has become.  Too often we see these attempts at big change in schools and too often we hear from veteran staff members that if they wait out the change long enough it will just go away.

 John Kotter was one of the foundational authors during my training to become a school leader.  In the program we spoke endlessly about transformative change and making big changes permanent--2nd order change.  Kotter focused on the leader's role in leading these big changes, including creating a vision and gaining buy in from staff.  Recently I have more questions about  Kotter's ideas about transformation and wonder if small shifts can lead to more sustainable transformation than a large overwhelming change.  Where large changes require a major overhaul of culture and practice, small changes all for teachers to focus and take their time as they make sense of the change.  Ultimately, this small shift allows educators time to adapt to the change and implement the change in their classrooms.  Small changes helps staff build energy to take on other small changes.

A few months a go, president Obama was interviewed on Mark Maron's "WTF", in which he compared change to a boat making a 1 degree turn.  With the analogy he described that while you may not see the immediate impact of the change as you move further out into see you will realize that you landed in a different place because of that turn.  Granted, the U.S. government is much larger and more complex than a school.  However, with our complexity this analogy may hold true for schools as well.

Questions I'm still pondering--

Can small changes make big impacts?
Are a lot of small changes more significant than one large change in a school?
If we focused on making small changes in our practice would we be able to address the needs of more students?
If we focused on making small changes in our practice would we feel more empowered to take risks with our teaching practice?







Sunday, August 30, 2015

I Believe in You

During of the first days of school in my 7th grade math class  I experienced an important moment when a teacher told me how much he believed in me.  During that Math class I remember my previous year's Math teacher, Mr. Kaplan, pull me out of the class and ask me "why" I was sitting in this class. I must have had a confused look on my face because he quickly responded "you're in the wrong class, you're supposed to be in pre-Algebra, I know you can do it".  Whether it was a scheduling era or a some other mistake, he was telling me that I was supposed to be in the higher level math class instead of the class that I was currently sitting in.  Immediately he told me that he was placing me in the pre-Algebra section.  This could have easily been a scheduling error, but I also could have been sitting in a lower level class the entire year if he had not pulled me out.  To me this is less of a story about Math leveling in 7th grade, but more about my teacher telling me that he believed in me.  I never forgot this story and in many ways I became a more serious student after he raised the bar of expectations for me.

As we move into the first days of school, here's to all of the wonderful teachers who set the bar high for their students and know that they will jump over the bar.  Setting these high expectations is the way to closing all achievement gaps.   To reinforce this message watch Dalton Sherman's message to the teachers of Dallas USD on the first day of school.