Where do leaders belong?
We're often needed in the office, but we like to be “visible.” We like to be in hallways, in dropoff and pickup zones, in lunchrooms and at recess.
How do we stack up to leaders in other industries in this regard?
At Toyota, there's a concept called Genchi Genbutsu, which conveys the idea of going to the gemba, or the place where the actual work is done, and seeing that work firsthand.
Leaders who don't spend time in the gemba won't have the information they need to make decisions, solve problems, and support employees effectively.
As leaders, we need to spend our time where the work is done. We need to understand that work deeply, so we can provide the kind of leadership the organization needs.
Leadership involves making decisions—not the decisions of a distant executive concerned only with numbers, but the decisions of a supportive, on-the-ground manager who understands what's happening on the front lines, and is concerned first and foremost with the success of the people there in the gemba.
As instructional leaders, that means we need to be in classrooms. Is there any doubt or debate about this?
I know I'm not alone in this belief, because more than 3,200 people in 50 countries have joined the 21-Day Instructional Leadership Challenge, which is all about making a habit of being in classrooms.
Being in classrooms has a number of benefits, one of which is the chance to notes and provide written feedback to teachers.
Where should you keep those notes? If you use a comprehensive instructional leadership platform like TeachBoost, that's a good place.
If not, you'll probably want to save your notes in Evernote.
If you don't have an Evernote account, click here to get started. You can get a free month of Premium (normally $5.99) when you use this link to join, and additional months when you invite a colleague.
By David Wakefield, Co-Founder, The Formative Assessment Challenge
I had three years of public school teaching under my belt when I learned the importance of professional development.
For me, the lesson came in the form of a shared classroom with a master teacher. Thanks to the pedagogical skills she demonstrated and the feedback she gave on my teaching, I learned as much as her students that year.
Experience has taught me that this kind of personalized professional development is both the most valuable and the most highly sought-out among educators.
Unfortunately, most teachers have never gotten the chance for such one-on-one professional development, much less to share a room with a master teacher.
Instead, professional development has traditionally come in the form of campus-wide seminars and teaching conferences that, by necessity, are one-size-fits-all.
According to a 2002 study by Bruce Joyce and Beverley Showers, only about 10 percent of in-service participants actually use their new learning when they return to their classrooms. I’m not a financial genius, but this type of return on investment doesn’t seem like a great use of scarce resources in K-12 education.
Educators preach the importance of differentiating instruction for students. Why are we not doing the same when it comes to professional learning?
The good news: Things are changing. Aided by new technology and a committed group of educators and innovators, professional development is becoming more accessible and more valuable.
For those who wrote off professional development as too expensive or ineffective, it’s time to take another look.
One game-changer has been mobile technology, which has allowed us to leverage the potential of a focused professional network through platforms like Twitter.
Educators can now participate and develop their own professional learning network both locally and nationally through daily and weekly chats on an education topic or subject of their choosing by following hashtags such as #edchat, #educoach, and many others.
Edcamps, a form of “unconference” designed specifically for teachers and their needs, are another professional learning trend that have picked up steam the past couple of years and are popping up all around the country.
Edcamps are nothing like traditional education conferences, where the organizers have set the topic sessions and schedule. Instead, participants at the beginning of the event create the agenda.
Instead of one or two presenters talking for hours, educators are encouraged to collaborate around educational topics that impact their own daily practice through discussion and hands-on learning, according to EdCamp.org.
Most teachers I know want to get better, and when we empower teachers to make choices when it comes to their own professional learning, results will follow.
“Effective professional development honors the autonomy of teachers but recognizes the importance of a form of accountability grounded in that autonomy,” says Dr. Jim Knight, a leader in the professional development field. Teachers recognize that being part of a profession requires continuous improvement, a learning process that never ends.
One of the most effective ways to become a better teacher is to watch others and have others watch you, whether that means a professional instructional coach or colleagues from your department or grade-level.
“Teachers do not learn best from outside experts or by attending conferences or implementing programs installed by outsiders,” wrote Dr. Mike Schmoker in 2005. “Teachers learn best from other teachers, in settings where they literally teach each other the art of teaching.”
When consulting with other teachers, the usual response is that there just isn’t enough time in the day to focus on professional learning. This is why leveraging technology is the only way to make professional learning become a part of a teacher’s workflow.
Within the last few years, video-enhanced professional development has advanced to new heights, allowing more teachers to get personalized support and coaching anytime and anywhere.
Just like professional coaches and athletes, teachers and instructional leaders should use video consistently to reflect, assess and provide feedback on their performance.
After the observation is finished, the observer can review the video and provide time-stamp feedback or comments at exact moments during the lesson.
This way the observed teacher can remotely reflect and respond to the feedback and comments at their earliest convenience, or the teacher and observer can watch and discuss specific moments of the lesson during a traditional in-person post observation.
The teacher can also share the video lesson with other trusted colleagues for further discussion and analysis.
Adapting, modifying, and differentiating instruction is an important skill for all teachers to work towards, and video can help inform teachers how to do so.
Video pulls back the curtain on the classroom and gives us the ability to focus on elements of instruction to improve teaching practices on a daily or weekly basis.
Video captures our instructional footprint without bias and allows us to leverage instructional leaders whenever and wherever they are.
When educators embrace video-enhanced professional development on a consistent basis, we will join other performance based industries in gaining a competitive advantage through informed practice, an advantage that too many of us are currently leaving on the table.
David Wakefield is CEO of Sibme.
If you're seeing this page, you're probably wondering why we're sending you emails asking you to click a link for apparently no reason.
It's not personal, and it's not to annoy you. The short explanation is that we assume you don't want to hear from us if you aren't opening or clicking anything we send.
This is serious for us, because if you don't open our emails, but we keep sending them to you, they won't reach anyone, and that puts us out of business.
That may be surprising, so here's a full explanation.
Most people on our email list want to hear from us. But occasionally people forget that their district signed them up for something, or forget that they signed up personally. And a few of these people mark our messages as “spam” (ouch!), instead of just unsubscribing.
This is a vanishingly small number of people, but it still hurts.
One of our clients, who purchased membership for all administrators in their district, must have had several people mark our messages as spam instead of just unsubscribing.
As a result, the entire district—with whom we had a $25,000 contract—was unable to receive our emails, and unable to participate in our courses that they'd paid for.
After resolving that issue manually, we set up a much more proactive system to prevent this from happening again.
You've already experienced this system: if we show no clicks for 60 days, we start emailing you daily (for about two weeks) asking you to click something.
It may be annoying, but it's incredibly effective, and it stops as soon as you click something.
If you don't click anything, we have to stop emailing you, or else we'll get flagged as spammers (even if you don't mark our messages as spam).
To date, we've dropped more than 5,000 people who never unsubscribed or marked us as spam, but completely stopped opening and clicking our emails. It hurts, but it's the only way we can reach the people who want to hear from us.
In recent years, email providers like Gmail have started to monitor user behavior to decide whether certain emails should be considered spam.
If you continue to receive emails from someone, but don't open or click them, Gmail and other services consider those messages to be unimportant to you.
(Yes, really—Gmail knows whether you're opening messages or not, and takes this into consideration when deciding whether something is spam.)
If even a handful of other people mark that same sender's messages as spam, Gmail believes them, and is much more likely to block of all of our messages.
So it's essential that the people we're sending messages to actually open them (clicking a link tells our system that you've opened a message).
If we see no activity for 60 days, we have no choice but to drop you as a subscriber.
But that's not the only problem.
Another issue we face is that some districts intentionally keep old email addresses active as “spam traps” after the employees they were once assigned to have resigned.
Let's say we email [email protected] for two years because he's interested in our content, but then Steve retires. If his district uses spam traps, they may keep his email account active to see who keeps emailing him.
Now, the nice thing to do would be to send an auto-reply saying “Steve has retired, so please don't email him any more” so we can remove him from our system manually.
But some districts don't do that; they just block us if we keep emailing Steve.
At this writing, there are around 14,000 districts in the US, and we have more than 20,000 subscribers on our email list, so even one spam trap address per district could put us completely out of business.
So, thanks for clicking the link that brought you here to let us know your email account isn't a spam trap.
If you do want to unsubscribe from our mailing list, just look at the very bottom of any email we've sent you, and you'll find the unsubscribe link. Select “Unsubscribe from ALL mailings” and you'll be all set.
Thanks for understanding.
Do you empty your inbox every day? If not, congratulations! You're normal. And you know how much of a headache “normal” can be.
“Inbox Zero” been the single best habit I've mastered this year. As you can see on my Coach.me results page, I've emptied my inbox every single day this year so far:
You can do it too—read how below—and I want to encourage you to both believe that it's possible, and prompt you to take action.
When you have a backlog of emails clogging your inbox, inefficiencies and problems start to creep into your work:
No one particularly wants to have hundreds of unresolved emails sitting around, but they're hard to get rid of. Here are three specific problems that plague most school leaders when it comes to email—and how you can resolve them.
Email is a communication medium, and at work, people use email to communicate about work.
It's essential to keep this core purpose in mind, so I'll repeat it: Email isn't for managing the work itself; it's for communicating about work.
Of course, you'll never be completely done with all of your work. But remember: clearing your inbox isn't the same as doing all of the work that you're communicating about.
As a professional with an information-intensive job, you need a better system to track and organize your work. I highly recommend using an electronic task management app like ToDoist.
When you get an email that represents work, if it'll take substantial offline or non-email work—in other words, if it's an involved task, and one that requires more than a quick reply—forward it to your to-do list.
ToDoist (and a few other good apps) can receive email at special addresses and add them to your to-do list (or even a specific project list) so your work can be more organized, and your inbox can be empty.
And if it's a time-sensitive task, you can take advantage of ToDoist's integration with Google Calendar to actually mark off time on your calendar to work on it.
For example, if I get an email about something we'll need to discuss at an upcoming staff meeting, I have two choices:
Which option do you think will help me get an empty inbox? If you're not using ToDoist or another app that can receive email, give it a try.
Sometimes you don't need to turn an email into a task, lest you merely shift the problem of overload from one app to another. Sometimes an email is all you need.
Let's say someone has a question for you, but you won't be able to answer it until new information arrives tomorrow. Where should that original email hang out in the meantime?
If you let it remain in your inbox, more messages like it will continue to pile up, and getting caught up will become more and more difficult.
The solution? Snooze it. If you've seen my Future File Guide for paper, you know the drill: decide when you want to see a document again, put it in a certain folder, and simply check today's folder every day. You can do the same for email.
With a service like FollowUpThen, you can “snooze” emails to a certain time or date in the future.
Sign up, then you can simply forward messages to special addresses like “[email protected]” and you'll get the message sent back to you tomorrow. “[email protected]” will get it back to you on July 30, “[email protected]” will get it back to you next time 1pm rolls around, and so on.
Let's face it: some of what's in your inbox is there because you can't bear to get rid of it, even though you're not really sure what to do with it.
If you use Gmail, you can archive it and not worry that it'll be lost, but even so, you may want to have a record that's not part of your email account.
What can you do? Forward it to Evernote. Now used by more than 100 million people, Evernote is a searchable database for notes, emails, file attachments, and images that will let you save critical documentation easily, and find it again later just as easily.
Like the other services I've recommended above, Evernote can receive email, so getting data into it is as simple as hitting “forward.”
You might have noticed that some of these features, like turning an email into a task or appointment, or saving it outside of your inbox, are things that old-fashioned Microsoft Outlook can do.
That's true, but today's tools are vastly better—enough better that it's worth using multiple tools to achieve the same ends.
More importantly, though, these tools, unlike Outlook, work perfectly whether you're handling email on your phone, your tablet, your school desktop computer, a laptop—any device, with any apps on it, can let you process email this way.
The tools are helpful, but what really matters is behavior: the commitment to clearing every email from in your inbox every day.
It's OK if messages pile up throughout the day; it's inevitable, and you have much better things to do than monitor your inbox all day. But once per day, make sure you get totally caught up: documentation saved, tasks noted in ToDoist, and other messages snoozed until a better time.
The astute reader will note that we've hit all three points of the High-Performance Triangle:
If you're looking for a new ed leadership job for the upcoming school year, now is the time to put together a cover letter that crushes it.
What do I mean by “it”? The competition. I hate to say it, but it's the truth.
Too many cover letters are milquetoast, run-of-the-mill statements of fact that do nothing—nothing—to get the applicant in the “yes” pile.
If you want to land your next admin job, you've got to ace the cover letter. (Read on for a free downloadable template)
The cover letter's job is to get you into the “definitely interview” pile.
If your cover letter fails to do its job, the whole process stops. You're out of the running.
You can only write a solid cover letter if you understand its purpose. Your cover letter is NOT:
No, no, and no! Cover letters that only cover the basics don't give the reviewer any useful information. They fail to do their job…so you fail to get your job.
This is hard for us to do as educators, but in your cover letter, you've got to sell yourself as hard as you ever will.
This doesn't mean that you:
…but you need to make the reader come to the inevitable conclusion that you're the best person for the job.
I've read tons of cover letters that waste space with perfunctory, vague, and ultimately worthless niceties that fill the page, but don't help the reader fill the job.
Understand that you're actually doing the reader a favor by making a clear, strong case about yourself. Most of the time, reading cover letters is a total waste of time for the person reviewing applications, because they don't actually say anything enlightening about the applicant—and as a result, they all sound the same.
This is a mistake to avoid, but it's also a huge opportunity for you. Write a strong cover letter that sells your candidacy, and you'll stand out above the rest.
The place to list your certifications, degrees, and years of experience is in the résumé. Your cover letter has a different job.
When it comes to qualifications, your cover letter should:
In other words, don't just share facts that are in your résumé (and certainly don't share facts that don't make you stand out).
Tell a story. Put the picture together for the reader, so they see how qualified you really are, and what a good fit you'd be.
For another take on your cover letter, check out this episode of Principal Center TV:
I've created a simple, one-page template for you to follow as you craft your competition-crushing cover letter.
It's not a fill-in-the-blank deal—in fact, you won't be using any of my words. But you'll have a paragraph-by-paragraph guide to what your letter should accomplish.
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:
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.
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:
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?
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 person—stop by when you get a chance.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.