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How To Document Quick “No Feedback” Visits in Repertoire

Sometimes when you're visiting classrooms, you don't want to provide feedback.

Perhaps you didn't see anything you felt compelled to comment on, or perhaps you weren't able to stay as long as usual.

Whatever the reason, it's often useful to document visits to classrooms, even when you don't take any notes or provide any feedback.

In our web-based app Repertoire, you can document visits of any length—from a brief pop-in to a full formal observation.

Here's how you can document a classroom visit, even if you don't take any notes, and don't want to email the teacher.

1. Create A Template

In Repertoire, click Templates, then Create Template.

Give your template a descriptive name that will easily come to mind when you're making a brief visit to a classroom, such as “quick visit.”

In the Subject and Content fields, put “n/a” or whatever you'd like.

Click Save to finish creating your template.

2. Use Your Template

Select this template when documenting a visit with no notes and no feedback.

This will save you the trouble of filling something in the Subject and Message fields, which can't be blank. It'll also help you distinguish visits in which you purposefully didn't takes notes from those that, say, were interrupted by an emergency.

3. Save as Draft or Hit Send & Discard Email


Then, you can either click “Save and continue editing” and leave the entry as a draft; or, you can click “Send” but then close the email when it opens in your email program, without sending it.

Clicking “Save and continue editing” to save the entry as a draft may be helpful for quickly seeing which visits had feedback and which were just pop-ins with no notes/feedback. Here's how they'll appear in your list of entries in Repertoire:

Note: You can also use the radio button on the Add New Entry screen to indicate whether an entry contains feedback:

Another Idea: Send A Quick Note

It's not a bad idea to send a quick email of acknowledgement when you visit a teacher's classroom, even if you don't have any feedback.

Repertoire's template feature makes this very easy:

As you can see, Repertoire will even fill in the teacher's name using template variables:

Try Repertoire

If you're already a Pro Member, you can login to Repertoire here.

If you aren't yet a member, you can try Repertoire for 30 days for just $1.

Try Repertoire for $1 $19month after 30 days—cancel any time

How To Track Your Classroom Visits

When I was a new principal, I spent a lot of time and effort figuring out how I wanted to do walkthroughs.

I knew I wanted to visit classrooms, but…

  • what app should I use?
  • How should my form look?
  • How should I structure my feedback?

Those may be important issues…but first things first.

I was missing a more fundamental question: How often was I visiting each teacher?

Avoidance

I assumed I was getting around to every teacher every week or two.

After all, I tried to visit classrooms every day. Rarely (I thought) did a day go by when I wasn't spending time in classrooms.

Then I decided to check my records.

In reality, I was systematically over-visiting the “easy” classrooms:

  • The classrooms closest to the office
  • The classrooms where I felt most welcome
  • The classrooms where I was unlikely to see anything troubling

And I was unintentionally avoiding the “tough” classrooms:

  • Teachers with performance issues
  • Teachers who didn't especially want me in their rooms
  • Teachers who had unusual schedules or physically isolated classrooms

Never did I sit down and say to myself “I really want to get into classrooms this year, but only certain classrooms. I think I'll just visit the most pleasant and most convenient classrooms, and avoid any that might be a hassle or give me extra work to do.”

That wasn't my intent at all, but the outcome was the same: Some teachers saw me almost every week, while others went weeks or even months without a visit.

This pattern of avoidance is completely natural, so if you've been doing the same thing, don't feel bad. We all do it.

And the remedy is simple: start keeping track.

3 Tools for Tracking Visits

Keeping track of your visits to classrooms doesn't have to be difficult.

Here are three simple options—it doesn't matter which one you use; what matters is that you use something, and start keeping track, to push back against your natural tendency to avoid certain classrooms.

The simplest way to track your visits is to just print a staff list—you probably already have one handy, so get a fresh copy and start recording your visits.

For now, just put the date (and perhaps the time of day) by each teacher's name when you visit.

This isn't an especially good way to track your visits long-term, but it'll get you started.

If you want to prompt yourself to visit teachers in a certain order, you might consider one of the other options.

Set A Goal

Finally, as you visit classrooms this year, work toward a specific goal.

We all want to be in classrooms “as much as possible.” That's not specific enough to guide your choices on a daily basis.

Life will get in the way. People will call you back to the office. Your schedule will fill with other meetings.

If you want to get into classrooms, be intentional. Set a specific goal that you can fight to achieve every day.

So here's my recommendation: strive to get into every classroom within a week—the first week of school, or the first week after you're reading this. It doesn't matter whether school is just starting, you're halfway through the year, or it's almost over.

Just start. Get into classrooms. Keep track.

And when you've made it around to everyone, I have something special for you:

Visit every teacher in your school, and I'll send you a limited-edition #EveryClassroom sticker while supplies last.

The 48-Hour Brevity Challenge

I got this reply from a Principal Center Professional Member this week

"Just a question: Do you answer all of your emails personally? If so, I am very impressed!"

I do, but there's no need to be impressed.

It's just a straightforward application of the High Performance Triangle:

  • Strategy: Keep replies short, use stock phrases, and know when not to use email
  • Tools: TextExpander (more on this below); the phone
  • Habits: Inbox Zero; saving stock phrases

You probably answer most of your own email too, but chances are good that it takes more time than you'd like.

So I want to present you with a mini-challenge, to help you use email more effectively as a communication tool, while fitting it into less of your day.

To "sign up" for this challenge, just read on and leave a comment below. We're keeping it very simple.

An Email Response Mini-Challenge​

  • Try to go a day without sending any emails longer than 5 sentences 
  • Try to use no more than 20 different sentences, total (like Dr. Seuss did in writing Green Eggs and Ham with only 50 different words)
  • Save all of these sentences that you use for the day in a document

Too often, we try to use email for purposes it's not great for. There are some conversations that simply need to take place over the phone or face-to-face. No amount of wordsmithing an email can substitute for a real person-to-person voice conversation. 

And even when email is a great communication medium for the job, one message can't do everything. We aren't being considerate of the reader when we send messages that:​

  • Are far too long to be comprehended easily
  • Contain multiple action items or questions
  • Contain unfinished thinking...and the expectation that the reader will do the rest for us​

If you're writing in your diary, ramble on all you want, but if you're communicating, clarity is key. Clarity facilitates brevity, and vice-versa.

So if you want to ensure that you're being clear, hold yourself accountable for being brief.

If you want to go all-in on this idea, you can do what my friend Larry Fliegelman does and add a five.sentenc.es footer below your email signature:

Q: Why is this email five sentences or less?

A: Because brevity is the soul of wit. http://five.sentenc.es

If you need more space, send a separate email—it'll make replying easier for your recipient. Even better—talk in person if you can't cover the issue in five sentences.

Now, how can you crank out those five sentences even faster, without sacrificing clarity?​

Stock Phrases

Have you ever noticed that the older we get, the more we tend to use the same words and phrases over and over again? I realized I was doing this, at the ripe old age of 27, when I heard 5th graders repeating things I said on the playground—in a good-natured mocking tone, of course:

"OK, everybody, time to line up. All right, here we go, har har har..."

I'm pretty sure I didn't actually say "har har har," but even as a first-year principal, I had already established enough of a pattern that kids could joke about it.

We might think we're going around spouting unique gems of wisdom, but 90% of the time, we're saying the same things we always say—because they're relevant to the situation.

Of course, we can craft new phrases whenever we'd like.

But it's much easier, cognitively, to recognize a situation and retrieve the relevant response.

Here are some stock phrases I use frequently—not because I don't mean them or because I'm insincere, but because I've already decided how I want to express these ideas, and there's no reason to start from scratch:

Thanks for writing.

Let me know if I can be of assistance at any time.

Could we set up a quick phone call to talk about this?

Let's talk about this in personstop by when you get a chance.

Sounds good!

Let's put that on the agenda for our next meeting.

See you then!

Talk to you soon.

Let me know how it goes, and let me know if you need anything.

Thanks for letting me know about this situation.

I share your concern about this, and am committed to addressing it

Feel free to borrow from my list, but you'll no doubt come up with your own list very quickly.

A quick word on objections: many people resist this strategy because it seems insincere to re-use whole sentences.

I disagree: you're already doing this—just not on purpose.

See if you can answer all of your email for two days with just 20 phrases. As you write, save these phrases to a document, or copy and paste if you're re-using a phrase.

Your Challenge Starts Now

In the comment box below this article, share a stock phrase or two.

Then, strive to answer all of your email for the next 48 hours by:

  • Limiting all outgoing messages to 5 sentences or less 
  • Using no more than 20 different sentences, total, in all of your messages
  • Saving all of these sentences in a document

Give it a try, then come back and leave a 2nd comment and share how it went. If you leave an initial comment, I'll reply personally (remember how I'm good at that? :)) so you remember to report back. 

Going Further​

I've been building this habit for a long time, and I personally don't save my stock phrases in a document; I save them in an app called TextExpander, which speeds up my typing dramatically.

TextExpander can be a bit intimidating to set up, which is why the challenge above suggests just keeping a document open on your computer as you write.

But when you're ready, TextExpander is amazing. According to my stats, it's saving more several hours a month—time I'd otherwise just be typing, instead of thinking and getting other work done. It has helped me so much that we have a full course on it in our Members' Dashboard.

 You can sign up any time to get full access to my best strategies, detailed video tutorials on the tools I use, and (of course) how to develop habits for high performance in the work of school leadership.

Visit #EveryClassroom The First Week of School

What's the most important thing for a leader to do in the first week of school?

Among a zillion tasks, it's this: Visit every classroom.

In fact, let's make it a hashtag:

Sure, everyone tries to do it. Most people probably end up visiting most classrooms.

But let's get serious: let's visit every classroom in the first full week of school.

You can even give yourself a few days to deal with opening-of-school emergencies. Start on the 2nd or 3rd day if you like.

But in short order, get out of the office and get into classrooms.

And don't stop till you've visited #EveryClassroom.

Tips for Visiting #EveryClassroom

  1. Visit systematically—a department or grade level at a time 
  2. Keep track—print a staff roster, or have your secretary help, so you don't skip anyone
  3. Don't give yourself any homework yet—just show up
  4. Don't evaluate teachers or provide feedback—that can come later

For now, focus on getting around to every teacher in your school. Just make an appearance, so no one is surprised to see you in October.

Be friendly, say hi, pay attention, and build relationships.

As a bonus, you'll have a great deal of information and context you wouldn't have without these visits. So make it happen!

We'll have more on #EveryClassroom soon, including a way you can track your progress.

If you're on Twitter, use the hashtag #EveryClassroom and mention me (@eduleadership) to let me know you're in.​ 

Whether you start school on Monday or not for several more weeks, I hope this is the year you make it happen!​

Finishers:

How Habits Work

Show Transcript
Hi, I'm Justin Baeder. In this video, we're going to explore precisely how habits work. This is a critical area for increasing our performance in just about anything we want to get better at.
Throughout the day, about 40 to 50 percent of what we do is governed by habits. Think about the moment you wake up in the morning. You probably go into the bathroom and brush your teeth without even thinking about it.

You probably get in your car and drive to work without even thinking about your route. It's that fact that you don't really think about how to execute a habit that makes habits so powerful. Now, that's also what makes habits a little bit dangerous, because it's very easy to get into unhealthy habits, work counter-productive habits.

The power of habits can work for us, as well, because we can purposefully develop high-performance habits. I want to show you, now, how habits actually work. Habits start with a cue. We're going to draw this first as a loop.

If I have a cue, that can be anything in the environment. That can be a feeling like hunger. It can be the time of day. It can be an alert that you receive from your Smartphone. Just about anything can serve as a cue for what's called the habit loop.

I'm drawing on some research that's represented in Charles Duhigg's excellent book, “The Power of Habit” for this part of the presentation. The cue triggers, what we would call, a reaction or what Duhigg calls a sequence.

This is, basically, a sequence of behaviors that you carry out in response to the cue. Now, that can happen very rapidly, and it happens without a lot of thinking. Again, that's key to this actually being a habit. You don't have to think. You don't have to put forth conscious effort to carry out that sequence.

It just happens, because it's encoded in your brain. It may be encoded in your muscle memory, like driving to work. You just know where to turn. Once the sequence has been ingrained in your brain and in your muscle memory, it can be fairly difficult to change.

One of the reasons it's so difficult to change a habit, once you've learned it, is the third factor which drives the whole process, and that is the reward. Now, the reward shouldn't be confused with an effect or a consequence.

The reward is something that's almost always a feeling. It's almost always something that you experience internally after taking the actions in the sequences. If you're hungry, if hunger is the cue, and the sequence is having a snack or eating a meal, the reward is that you're no longer hungry.

That reward could be a new feeling, like the feeling of being full or the removal of some negative feeling. Some negative cue like hunger. In the classic, habit loop, this is drawn as a cycle. So cue leads to sequence leads to reward, and then we're back at cue.

That's how Duhigg describes it in the diagrams in his book. It's not actually so simple a cycle. There's another step that's omitted from a lot of the diagrams that I've seen about this, and that is anticipation.

Anticipation is what allows the reward to trigger the behavior in the future. When you experience the reward that reloads the anticipation for next time. Next time you experience the cue, you'll then experience anticipation. Then, you'll carry out the sequence which leads to the reward.

We can erase this arrow between reward and cue, because the reward doesn't cause the cue. We can erase the arrow between cue and sequence, because it's actually the anticipation that's triggered by the cue, and that triggers the sequence.

Let's go ahead and modify our diagram here a little bit. We can erase the arrow between reward and cue and between cue and sequence. What we have now, is no longer a loop. It is a better model of how habits actually work.

Once you understand how habits actually work, you have a lot of different leverage points for breaking bad habits, changing existing habits, and creating new habits for high performance.

Let's talk about how we can influence each element of the habit model. Now, a lot of the cues that you experience on a day-to-day basis are going to happen. They're outside of your control, because they're outside influences.

They're the time of day. They're things that other people do. We can't always prevent or control the cues, but what we can do is we can sometimes preempt them. We can say, “OK, at a certain time of day, I know I'm going to get hungry, so before that time of day, I'm going to have a healthy snack so I'm not tempted to just have some candy.”

The second thing we can do is we can seek to modify the anticipation. If you're anticipating something that's going to trigger a destructive sequence of behavior, then what you can do, is set up a negative consequence for yourself.

I have some examples in the habit guide that you'll find, also on this page that you can download, to go through some exercises on this. The sequence is where we usually focus when we're trying to modify a habit.

The golden rule of habit formation is to take an existing cue, an existing reward. Say, the cue is hunger and the reward is feeling full. Change the sequence. Maybe the sequence that I've been using is, “I'm eating a bag of chips to make myself feel full.”

It's pretty easy for me to substitute in a different behavior, a different sequence, and eat a salad, if that will trigger the same reward. Now, the problem with that is often that change of sequence, changes the reward that we experience.

It doesn't trigger the same kind of habit that we were trying to change. Then finally, let's look at the reward. If we're trying to develop a new habit, we may need to pick out a meaningful reward that we're going to be able to look forward to.

If we're going to install a new sequence, if we're going to commit to a new behavior, it's helpful to pick out a reward that we can anticipate so that we can reliably carry out that habit and make it a part of our daily practice.

Now that you have a model for how habits actually work, I want to challenge you to think about a habit that you want to develop, a habit that you want to eliminate, and a habit that you want to modify, and think to yourself, “What's the cue? What's the anticipation? What's the sequence, and what's the reward?”

What's the best point of leverage for modifying each of those habits so that you can get the results you want and perform at the level that you want to as an instructional leader?

I'm Justin Baeder. Thanks so much for joining me for this video.

Download the “How Habits Work” PDF Guide


#500c Success Stories: Leaders Who Made 500 Classroom Visits This Year

And some remarkable variants on the challenge:

I'm a department chair of a department of 10 members in high school. During this school year I didn't get into 500 classes this year but I did visit every member of my department once every two weeks providing them feedback (email or face to face). That's 180 classroom visits in addition to my teaching classes. The visits have given me evidence of what I thought was happening, that I have an awesome department that knock it out of the park when it comes to educating our students.

Chris Geiser
Mathematics Department Chair, Central High School, Evansville, IN

How To Be Taken Seriously As A New Leader

Leadership isn't much fun if no one is following you. Yet that's where we almost all start.

A reader asks: 

How can I manage professional interactions with those who may not have respect for me or take me seriously?

If you're new to a school, in a new role in your school, or simply different from previous leaders in some way—age, gender, culture, etc.—it can feel like an uphill battle to establish your credibility and legitimacy.

I became a principal at the age of 26…about as close to starting from scratch as you can get. I had teaching experience, of course, but not at the elementary level.

Here are three essentials for quickly gaining respect as a leader. They helped me, and I believe they can help you.

Have A Plan

By default, people judge you against their own expectations for the role you're in.

If they've come to see the role as unhelpful to their work—perhaps because of your predecessor—they'll naturally assume you won't be much help either…

…until you prove that you're different.

As a leader, it's not your job to make everyone happy or fulfill their expectations.

It's your job to define your agenda, define your contributions, and determine the criteria against which you'll be judged.

People will still have their own expectations of you, but if you make it clear that you have a detailed set of actions that you're carrying out, they'll have far more respect for you than if you just show up and ask what your predecessor did.

In short, you need a plan.

I suggest developing a 90- or 100-day plan for the start of your tenure as a leader. Base this plan on: 

  • Interviews with individual staff members (more on this below)
  • Existing goals from your organization's strategic plan
  • Any particular mandates you've received in the hiring process (e.g. resolving major discipline or safety issues)
  • Consultation with your supervisor
  • Your notes on the school's needs as you begin your work

If you've already been on the job for a while, look for the next natural opportunity to develop a plan of action, such as the start of a new initiative or a new school year.

Suggested resource: Entry Plan: Your First 100 Days (available to Pro Members on-demand)

Listen

The problem with a lot of new leaders' plans is that they're based on assumptions, with little input from existing staff.

As a newly hired principal, my first action was to set up 1-on-1 interviews with every staff member, in which my goal was simply to get to know everyone and hear them out.

I asked questions like: 

  • How would you describe yourself as an educator, and what do you want me to know about you?
  • What about this school are you most proud of?
  • What's an emerging challenge or issue that you believe we need to address?
  • What are your hopes for what we're able to accomplish together?
  • Is there anything else you think I need to know?

If you've been in your role for a while, you might want to conduct similar interviews, but with a more topical focus.

For example, if you're a central office administrator in charge of a particular subject area's curriculum, you might set up interviews with teachers and principals and ask questions such as “What do you see as our gaps in this subject area? What are we doing well, and how can we support you more effectively?”

Follow Through

Finally, if you want to gain respect, nothing speaks louder than action.

If you say you'll do something, write it down. (I used a pocket Moleskine notebook.) Let people see you writing it down.

Then, do it. On time. As promised.

Follow through.

Everyone expects administrators to be busy, and most people only half-expect them to follow through.

Be different. Follow through, and you'll quickly gain the respect of your staff.

Is Instructional Leadership Undermining the Teaching Profession?

I'm proud to be a proponent of instructional leadership. So far, we've had over 9,000 leaders from at least 50 countries go through the Instructional Leadership Challenge.

But the bigger the banner, the more it starts to encompass misconceptions and distortions. And I had a terrifying thought this morning:

What if the surge of interest in instructional leadership is actually undermining the teaching profession?

What if, in our efforts to improve the teaching profession, we're driving out precisely the kind of professionals we need?

Olden Days and Elite Ways

There was once a time when principals were expected to be managers, but not instructional leaders.

Teaching was for teachers, and as long as they were relatively competent, they were best left alone.

The flaws in this mindset are obvious—teaching is a complex profession, and strong instructional leadership has a powerful impact on the quality of instruction. That's been firmly established for several decades now.

But this “outdated” division of labor lives on in a surprising place: elite schools.

At The Principal Center, we serve public, charter, private, parochial, and international schools (which is why we're in so many countries), and I've noticed a pattern.

By and large, public schools have made major changes in the way they evaluate teachers and they way they define the role of the administrator as an instructional leader. If you even hint that you want to be a manager—that instructional leadership isn't your top priority—you'll never get a job in any major public school district in the US.

But in elite schools, teacher professionalism is viewed differently—closer to the way tenured faculty are viewed at the university level.

I did some consulting with an elite boarding school in Pennsylvania a few years ago, and I was struck by the degree of autonomy afforded to teachers. They made decisions fearlessly—like professionals—without feeling the need to run everything by an administrator. I liked it.

Yet, while clearly skilled professionals, these teachers weren't any better-prepared or more up-to-date than many of the teachers you'd find in any public school. If anything, they were free to remain a bit more traditional in their practices, due to their relative lack of struggling students.

If this degree of professional respect for teachers is good enough for our nation's most elite private schools, why isn't it the norm in public schools?

The answer is simple: because traditional practices aren't up to the challenge of meeting the needs of all students.

Enter: strong instructional leadership.

The Charter Revolution

Instructional leadership as a force for improvement comes primarily from the charter school world.

Teach Like A Champion? Charter.

Leverage Leadership? Charter.

Driven by Data? Charter.

Teaching As Leadership? Charter.

You get the idea. And so have public schools, which are increasingly adopting the charter world's “no excuses” approach to instructional leadership, which features:

Intensive administrator-driven coaching Extensive use of data by teachers and leaders Ultra-specific expectations regarding curriculum and instructional strategies

While I think this has mostly been a good change, I'm a bit concerned by its impact on the status of teaching as a profession.

To be blunt, teaching is being reduced to an entry-level job. And that's a tragic mistake.

Just look at the title of Doug Lemov's latest book: Get Better Faster: A 90-Day Plan for Coaching New Teachers.

I don't have a problem with helping teachers get better faster. That sounds like a good idea.

But this innocuous title reveals the charter world's dirty little secret: teaching isn't seen as a profession. It's treated like an entry-level job.

In a profession, you invest in preparation. (Medical school is four years long, not including residency.)

In an entry level job, you invest in training, because the professional skill and judgment of your employees can't be assumed.

Now, I understand why the charter movement has taken this tack: it's hard to attract highly skilled veteran professional teachers to struggling schools.

It's easier to attract energetic young people who are eager to commit to a cause.

And if you're working with new teachers, they certainly need a different kind of instructional leadership than skilled veterans.

And this is where instructional leadership is going off the rails: we're treating everyone—including skilled professionals—like clueless kids fresh out of college.

How To Build Capacity for Instructional Leadership In Your Organization

How To Build Capacity for Instructional Leadership In Your Organization

Your school needs more instructional leadership than any one person can provide. There are simply more opportunities, more needs, and more challenges than you can respond to personally.

How can you get more people involved—without chaos or hassle—in making decisions for the good of your school?

What Is Capacity for Instructional Leadership?

Let's begin with a definition: an organization's capacity for instructional leadership is its ability to make and implement operational and improvement decisions.

The reason you're the bottleneck for much of what happens in your school is that you're the only one who can make certain kinds of decisions…perhaps too many of the decisions that need to be made.

The solution, of course, is distributed leadership—creating more leaders who can do the work that you're currently doing all by yourself.

Distributed leadership is powerful, but hard to manage well. Let's take a look at why distributed leadership is uniquely challenging.

The Challenges of Distributed Leadership

Distributed leadership is much more than delegation. Delegation is fairly straightforward: 

  1. Decide that something needs to be done by someone else
  2. Tell them what to do and how to do it
  3. Make sure they do it, and provide guidance as needed

Pretty simple, right? But creating more leadership isn't merely a matter of delegation; you're still the bottleneck, because you still play a challenging and central role: decision-maker.

We need to delegate not just discrete tasks, but the decisions themselves. And that's where we can get into hot water.

It's easy to delegate certain types of decisions to people with titles that seem to come with the authority that those decisions require. If you have an assistant principal, no one will be surprised or bothered if you fully delegate decisions about student discipline or transportation.

Yet the real power of distributed leaderships comes from involving teachers, especially in decisions that directly affect teaching and learning.

But will handing over decision-making authority to teachers reduce the effectiveness of principal leadership? When we share the decision-making aspects of leadership, what happens to our own authority? Does it create chaos and confusion? 

The research is encouraging:

Principals may be relieved to find out, moreover, that their authority does not wane as others’ waxes. Clearly, school leadership is not a zero-sum game. ‘Principals and district leaders have the most influence on decisions in all schools; however, they do not lose influence as others gain influence,’ the authors write.” —The School Principal As Leader: Guiding Schools To Better Teaching And Learning, quoting Learning From Leadership: Investigating the Links to Improved Student Learning: Final Report of Research Findings, Karen Seashore Louis, Kenneth Leithwood, Kyla L. Wahlstrom and Stephen E. Anderson, University of Minnesota and University of Toronto, 2010. (emphasis added)

So we don't have to worry about having less influence when we build greater capacity for instructional leadership in our organizations.

But we do need to address potential confusion about who's really in charge, and why not everyone gets a say in everything.

Obnocracy: The Pitfalls of Open Discussion

Involving teacher-leaders in school-level decision-making doesn't mean turning your school into a direct democracy where all issues are decided by consensus or whole-staff vote. Nor does it mean that every issue is discussed in faculty meetings until everyone is satisfied.

Turning decision-making over to the “consensus” of a staff discussion is a failure of leadership, pure and simple. When unmoderated discussion becomes the way decisions are made, it's not distributed leadership. It's what I call obnocracy.

Simply put, in a group discussion, the most obnoxious and outspoken person usually has the most power. We'd never choose this form of decision-making on purpose, but I've seen it play out time and time again in schools, and it's not pretty.

Everyone wants a voice, and everyone deserves a voice in some way for many decisions, but open discussion and obnocracy don't serve adult or student needs well.

Instead, we need a structure for making decisions. We need a decision matrix.

Developing A Decision Matrix

A Decision Matrix clarifies three sets of agreements for various types of decisions:

  • Decisional Roles: Who makes the call? 
  • Consultation Methods: How do we talk with one another about the decision?
  • Decision Methods: How do we reach final agreement?

The decisional roles define decisional authority:

  1. The Decision Owner (DO) is responsible for ensuring that the decision is made, but may or not be the decision-maker
  2. The Decision Maker (DM) makes the call, and may be an individual or a group
  3. A Consulted Stakeholder (CS) provides input before the decision is made
  4. A Represented Stakeholder (RS) has a voice through a designated representative
  5. A Notified Stakeholder (NS) is kept in the loop, but not always before the decision is made
  6. Non-Party (NP) stakeholders may be affected by the decision, but are not directly involved or notified

Find out more about the Decision Making Matrix and how you can create a Decision-Making Handbook in our course High-Performance Decision Making (as part of our Pro Membership.)

Why No One Wants To See Your Stupid Portfolio

“Thanks for coming in. Do you have any questions for the interview team?”

“Well, I just wanted to show you my portfolio before I go…”

Thus ended half a dozen interviews I've conducted over the years. Every time, a thick folder or 3-ring binder was briefly passed around, barely perused, and returned to its owner.

We seem to love portfolios in education. Certainly, for some purposes, they're better than any alternative.

But please—stop bringing them to job interviews.

Nobody wants to look at your portfolio, and nobody is going to give you a job because they were impressed by your binder.

How Portfolios Caught On

I blame universities.

Students in teacher and administrator certification programs do a great deal of work that doesn't really deserve space in the applicant's résumé, so portfolios seem like a natural way to organize this work.

The portfolio format is a great fit for the university's assessment needs. Since graduate students may not have actual student data to share, yet may be required to demonstrate competence in a variety of areas, portfolios make a ton of sense.

Somewhere along the way, though, university supervisors started to suggest that candidates should bring these portfolios along to interviews.

More evidence can't hurt, right?

I don't think bringing along a portfolio hurts your chances, but it certainly doesn't help.

Why Interview Teams Don't Care About Portfolios

As a candidate, your role is to make the best case you can that you're the best person for the job.

You want to bring everything to the table, so all the evidence is taken into consideration. You want them to see the real you, regardless of what format you may choose.

But the interview team's goal isn't to learn everything about you. It's not to see the real you. It's to compare you to the other candidates on pre-determined dimensions, using pre-determined data sources.

Your cover letter matters. Your résumé matters. Your interview matters.

But unless you were specifically told to bring a portfolio, it won't be considered—because it doesn't allow for a comparison with other candidates.

So is it a waste of time to compile a portfolio?

Not quite.

How To Capitalize On Your Portfolio In Your Interview

If you're not required to compile a portfolio, don't bother. But you should at least keep a comprehensive list of your achievements as an educator.

And if you are required to make a portfolio, it's a great start on your comprehensive list.

Now, as I said above, no one will want to see your portfolio or list. But it's invaluable as a preparation tool.

Here's why.

In your interview, you'll be asked a variety of questions about your experience, and more and more employers are asking “behavioral” questions that ask you to share an example from your professional experience of how you've addressed a particular type of situation.

For example, you might be asked how you resolved a conflict between two parties, or how you responded to a complaint, or how you identified and addressed an inequity.

More than any other type, these are the questions that catch people off-guard.

But you'll be amply prepared to answer behavioral questions if you've carefully compiled a list of: 

  • Projects you've managed
  • Committees you've worked with
  • Problems you've solved
  • Challenges you've overcome
  • Students you've reached

By itself, the list has no power.

But if you use it to rehearse your answers to the most common interview questions you're likely to face, you'll blow your competition out of the water.

(You can download a set of 52 practice questions here.)

You'll wow the interview team with specific, well-told stories of how you've made a difference. And you'll find that a single story can lend itself to a number of different behavioral questions.

But only if you've prepared yourself to talk about your experience in a way that sells you as a candidate.

Practice Making The Case

Most job-seekers understand that they'll be expected to talk about themselves in interviews—a task that's profoundly uncomfortable for many people.

Because it's uncomfortable, many candidates don't practice, and do a very poor job of making the case that they're the best person for the job.

Some people are naturally confident—perhaps overconfident—and as a result, they have an outsize chance of landing the job.

If you're naturally humble and hesitant to toot your own horn, you're at a disadvantage.

Unless you practice.

The way to practice is straightforward: using a list of interview questions, draft your answers briefly on paper. Then, with a friend or by yourself, practice answering a barrage of questions in real time, and record the results on video.

If you expect your real interviews to last 30 minutes, practice 30-minute interviews. Strive to match your practice approach to the type of interviews you'll actually face.

Then, watch the video.

(Most people won't do this, because it's uncomfortable, and that's where you can gain an advantage.)

Look for awkward responses, incomplete answers, or missed opportunities. Look for odd mannerisms or facial expressions.

Revise your answers, and keep practicing until they're perfect.

Rehearse until you don't sound rehearsed. And you'll be ready.

Practice Interview Questions

If you're applying for educational leadership positions, download my 52 practice interview questions here.