Justin Baeder joins Justin Baeder to discuss building instructional leadership capacity in your school in a special episode of Principal Center Radio.
Interview Notes, Resources, & Links
- Learn more about the High-Performance Instructional Leadership Network
- Learn more about High Performance Habits, our program on Personal Productivity & Effectiveness (also included in HPILN)
- To learn more about The Paper(Less) Office Makeover, download our free Future File Guide PDF
- Video series: 5 Pathways to High-Performance Instructional Leadership
About Justin Baeder
Justin Baeder is Director of The Principal Center and The High-Performance Instructional Leadership Network.
Subscribe to Principal Center Radio
Radio Announcer: [0:01] Welcome to Principal Center Radio, bringing you the best in professional practice. Here’s your host, Director of the Principal Center and champion of High-Performance Instructional Leadership, Justin Baeder.
Justin Baeder: [0:13] Welcome everyone to Principal Center Radio. I’m your host Justin Baeder. My guest today is your host is Justin Baeder.
[0:20] That’s right. After more than 50 interviews with experts from the education, leadership world, I’ve decided to do something different in this episode going in depth on one particular topic that’s near and dear to my heart. I don’t have a guest today. You are with me exclusively.
[0:38] We’re going to be talking about “Instructional Leadership Capacity,” about building the capacity within your organization for higher performance, instructional leadership.
[0:48] The reason we’re doing that is that so much of our performance as schools, as organizations, has to do with the total amount of leadership that’s present within the school. Not the amount of leadership that comes from one person or the quality of that leadership from just one person, such as the principal, but the amount of leadership overall. We call that the “Instructional Leadership Capacity of the organization.”
[1:14] There’s a strange property of that type of distributed capacity. When there’s more leadership in your organization, that doesn’t mean that for whoever is at the top of that organization, the principal, the chief executive officer, whomever. That doesn’t mean that that person holds less power or has less influence.
[1:34] Instead, what that means is that there are more channels for that person’s influence to spread throughout the organization. There is more capacity for Instructional Leadership within the organization. It’s like the difference between a house that’s wired with 10-amp circuits and one that’s wired with 20-amp circuits. It’s that capacity to accomplish what needs to be done.
[1:55] We’re going to talk today about exactly what that capacity looks like in terms of Instructional Leadership and the actions that need to take place and the features that need to be present for that Instructional Leadership to function at a high level.
[2:08] Then we’re going to talk about five pathways to High-Performance Instructional Leadership, which you might have heard me talk about before, especially if you’re a member of the High-Performance Instructional Leadership Network. We organize all of our content according to those five pathways High-performance Instructional Leadership.
[2:24] You’ll get some in-depth detail on that today as we talk about each of those channels for approaching Instructional Leadership and building that capacity within our schools.
[2:35] Let’s talk about capacity first of all. What does it mean to have capacity for Instructional Leadership? What does that actually look like? I think the first thing that we need is decisional information. If you’ve been through the 21-day Instructional Leadership challenge, you know how much value I place on being in classrooms to get what I call Decisional Information.
[3:00] Decisional information is simply information that you can use to make decisions and as an instructional leader there is lots of instructionally relevant decisions that you need to make everyday and every year.
[3:13] Things like, “Who can help this particular teacher with this particular issue? What are this particular teachers strengths that we can draw on in professional development? What does our entire staff need for professional development? How much time do we need to set aside for differentiated professional development? Where do we need to use our coaching resources? What do we need to focus on in terms of formative assessment? What do I need to ask the district or our larger organization for support with?”
[3:39] There are all these decisions that we have to make on an ongoing basis that require us to have in our heads. The information that we need to make a good decision. If you think about all of the things that you do throughout the day as an administrator, there are probably quite a few that someone else could do.
[3:57] If you were going to be gone for a while and you had a substitute, someone filling in for you as an administrator, there are lots of other things that other people could do like supervising the lunch room, supervising hallways, deal with buses, deal with discipline, maybe even over a longer period, deals with some conflicts or even if you’re going to be out for an extended period of time, maybe even do some teacher evaluations, but in order for you to guide your school long term that decisional information is critical and really only you have it.
[4:26] You can’t get that information in just a couple of days. Your substitute is not going to have access to that information, and if you have leadership that is shared with other people, but within your school they’re not going to have all of that information.
[4:39] That brings us to the second aspect of Instructional Leadership Capacity. First is decisional information, and making sure that we have access to that information on an ongoing basis, and again being in classrooms is the best way to get that. The second aspect though is how we divide up the decision making responsibility, as we’re distributing leaderships.
[5:02] If we have distributive leadership in our organization, how are the people who are making decisions other than us, other than the administrators, getting the information that they need?
[5:13] If you think about some of the traditional ways of distributing leadership, things like having committees, having teams, having a leadership committee and maybe having parents and students on that leadership committee, one thing that group really needs in order to make good decisions and to be actively and actually involved in leadership is information.
[5:34] You might have found that when you go to those meetings you’re spending a lot of time providing information and you might have also noticed that even if that’s a decision making group that you don’t necessarily control you’re not necessarily the head of say your PTA, or school leadership team often you do end up playing the most significant leadership role in that group setting because you do have the most information.
[5:59] One thing I want to challenge you to think about as you’re working to build capacity for instructional leadership is not only, “How can I delegate decision making authority?” Or, “How can we get more people involved in leadership and decision making?” But also, “How can we make sure that those people have the information they need to make the decisions that they’re being charged with making?”
[6:20] The third aspect of capacity that I want to talk about today is designing systems. This is one of our chief responsibilities as school administrators and as instructional leaders, is to be architects of systems that achieve results beyond what the individual people are doing on a day to day basis.
[6:39] We can go in and we can solve a problem any day of the week. That’s something we’re great at in this profession, solving problems, helping other people solve problems, troubleshooting, intervening, figuring out what needs to be done and doing it.
[6:52] We need to go a step beyond that, from solving problems to keeping the solved problems solved. We need to design systems that are going to allow our staff to not rely on us to come in and be the fixer every single time, whether that’s with some sort of situation that recurs in the office on a regular basis. A parent comes in and says, “X Y Z. What do we do?”
[7:16] We build a system to handle that. We have a policy. We have a standard response. We keep those solved problems solved with policies, with procedures, with clear expectations for everyone.
[7:27] That develop organizational habits over time that create consistency and that allow us to focus our attention not on continuing to address the same old issues, time after time, but to turn our attention to new problems and to move on to higher and higher level issues so that we can solve the problems at that level and continue to multiply our impact.
[7:50] I truly believe that having a greater impact on student learning, a dramatically greater impact on student learning, demands that we build capacity. We need to make sure that we have the decisional information that we need. We need to make sure that when other people are involved in decision making and in leadership that they have access to the information that they need.
[8:10] We need to make sure that we’re designing systems that will keep those solved problems solved so that we can focus our attention on the current issues that need it and not just keep wasting our time on the same old things.
[8:22] We’re going to talk now about the “Five pathways to High-performance Instructional Leadership and how they help us in building capacity.” As we go through this, I want to encourage you to reflect on your own work and reflect on some of the successes that you’ve had in each of these areas.
[8:38] I’m probably going to be including some things that you haven’t thought about in a while, but I want you to look for things that you recognize, things that sound familiar, that you’ve done in your leadership to build capacity within your organization in each of these five pathways.
[8:53] The first of the five pathways is personal productivity and effectiveness. This gets right back to “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” “Getting Things Done” with David Allen. Some of the leading thinkers over the past two or three decades have guided me in understanding the importance of personal effectiveness or what Peter Senge calls “Personal mastery.”
[9:16] If we’re going to lead our organizations to high performance, it absolutely has to begin with our own practice. If I’m going to be the leader of an effective organization, I have to be an effective leader.
[9:31] This is something that it’s easy to take for granted, especially if you have always worked in high-performance organizations that are a little bit insulated against the behavior of any one individual. If you’re working in a high-performance organization, you can get away, for a while, with not being all that high-performance yourself.
[9:49] Over time, it’s going to catch up with you. If you’re working in an organization, maybe, that’s struggling, that has a long way to go, that doesn’t have all that much capacity for Instructional Leadership very quickly you will find that you’re overwhelmed. You’ll find that it’s essential to focus on your own personal productivity and effectiveness.
[10:09] That’s the first of our five pathways. What that means on a day-to-day basis is that we have to be organized. We have to manage our time well. We have to be efficient. We have to be focused on the right work. We have to be self disciplined. We have to manage our energy and our willpower.
[10:25] In other words, we have to be at the top of our game if we’re going to do all we can do on behalf of our students. We have to make sure that we’re getting into classrooms on a regular basis and getting access to the information that we need to make good decisions, right back to capacity there.
[10:41] We have to make sure that we’re pacing ourselves and keeping ourselves organized and up-to-date enough that we’re not overwhelmed. You see, when we’re too overwhelmed, when we have so much going on, we have so much clutter, whether that’s in your inbox or on your desk, in your voicemail, or just people interrupting you with all kinds of different things.
[11:00] It gets so hard to make good decisions. Instead of making good decisions about what really matters, about the big picture, about our true priorities, we make decisions based on whatever’s on top of the pile or whatever is bothering us the most, whoever is in our face right at that moment. That’s the opposite of the kind of strategic leadership that we want to have.
[11:24] I want to implore you look into this matter and to look into your own practices as a school leader and think, “What’s working for me, where do I need to make some adjustments.”
[11:36] One of our more popular programs that often people will take first when getting into our ecosystem is “The Paperless Office Makeover.” In the Paperless Office Makeover, there’s some very simple strategies for getting yourself more organized, for getting rid of paper clutter, for making sure that any paper clutter that kind of comes into your world doesn’t stick around forever, doesn’t live on your desk for six months but really can move.
[12:01] On the email side, another popular course of ours is The Inbox Overhaul. We talk about ways to make email work for you as a communication tool. Whatever the issue is, I want to encourage you to take some time to think about how you can build your own capacity in that particular area of productivity, and personal effectiveness.
[12:21] It may be that there are some habits that need to be adjusted or habits that you need to develop. Habits that you need to modify, habits that you need to eliminate in order to maximize your personal productivity and effectiveness.
[12:34] This is actually such a big deal for us in our work at the Principal Center that we actually split off this pathway from the High-Performance Instructional Leadership Network and rather than simply include it with all of the other pathways, we actually offer High-Performance Habits by itself, because we know we have a lot of people who have loved to be a part of the High-Performance Instructional Leadership Network that they need to focus on High-Performance Habits first. That is absolutely a terrific place to start.
[13:03] If you’re overwhelmed at the end of this episode by everything that we’ve talked about, I want to start with productivity. Start with that first pathway.
[13:14] The second pathway to High-Performance Instructional Leadership that can help you build capacity within your organization is culture, climate, and communication. Culture is so powerful because it can really do a lot of the work for us.
[13:29] If you compare two schools, one that has a High-Performance culture and one that has a struggling culture where people don’t necessarily go above and beyond. People don’t necessarily do everything that they should to pull their weight in the organization.
[13:44] That school is going to have a much harder time and that school’s leader is going to have a much harder time than in a school where there is significant social capital, where there is a strong culture where people hold each other accountable and hold themselves accountable for hitting high standards in their work.
[14:03] Culture is all about the way we do things in an organization. When part of that way is excellence, then everything the leader does, everything the leader asks the staff to do and the decisions that the staff puts upon itself to implement, all of that can happen much more easily when that culture is strong.
[14:26] If we think about climate, climate has a lot to do with the way that people relate to one another, the trust that people place in one another. Climate really is a determining factor for how well the culture can do its work. If we have a positive climate things are going to flow more smoothly. If we have a negative climate things are going to be more contentious and we’re not necessarily going to get as much done for a given amount of effort.
[14:53] The third aspect of that is communication. Communication is all about how well the information can travel.
[15:00] Again, to get back to the idea of capacity and information. If you’re in a school where everyone knows what’s going on and everyone has bought into a common vision, everyone’s on the same page, everyone knows what they’re supposed to be doing, and why, and what to do if there’s a problem, that school is going to outperform a school with inferior communication any day of the week.
[15:21] Culture, climate and communication make up the second pathway.
[15:28] The third pathway to High-Performance Instructional Leadership is organizational management and change leadership. This gets right back to the heart of our work as leaders. I’m not one to make a big distinction between leadership and management because Instructional Leadership requires both managing the status quo and making sure that it’s a good status quo and looking to change the status quo and to make things better.
[15:53] I actually believe that we can’t always rebuild the plane while we’re flying it. We have to keep it in the air. We have to make the changes that we need to make to our organizations. Keeping things running is a challenge that we should underestimate.
[16:07] If we’re going to have the capacity for change, we’ve all seen organizations that were charged with changing, that had all these changes forced upon them but didn’t have the capacity for change. I believe that having that capacity for change requires that we have a high level of performance with the status quo.
[16:26] If we’re not doing well what we’re supposed to be doing already, how are we going to have the ability to switch to something that’s harder and more ambitious and hopefully better?
[16:37] The answer is we’re not. We have to get good at what we’re doing to build the capacity for change. We have to eliminate chaos. We have to eliminate unpredictability. We have to eliminate the distractions that come from not having a well-managed system in order to move to an even better system. That process of change really is all about making, communicating and implementing decisions.
[17:02] That gets right back to having the information we need to make decisions about what needs to be changed. If an organization is going to truly have the capacity to manage itself well and continue to adapt, continue to change in the ways that it needs to change.
[17:18] That’s probably going to require more leadership than any one person can provide. Even if that person has an extraordinary degree of personal productivity and effectiveness, the reality is that our organizations today, our schools today, our districts, our networks are complicated enough that we need more leadership that any one person can provide. That means distributive leadership is the order of the day.
[17:43] We need to have many people involved in leadership, many people involved gathering information, in making decisions and communicating decisions. That gets right back to the idea of having a strong culture, positive climate with rich communication.
[17:59] We’ve covered the first three pathways now, personal productivity and effectiveness, culture, climate and communication; organizational management and change leadership. So far we’ve been talking about the leader, in particular we’ve been talking about the organization as a whole and some of those collective leadership issues among the staff.
[18:19] I want to look now at the individual staff members whether or not those individuals are involved in leadership per se. The fourth pathway is Teacher Growth and Evaluation. This is what we look at, the issue of individual capacity. It doesn’t take much to see that individual capacity affects collective capacity.
[18:40] If you have a school where a lot of your teachers are struggling, where a lot of people are marginal in their performance, it’s going to be very difficult to build capacity for distributive leadership. If you have people who are overwhelmed, they’re not going to want to serve on the leadership team if their teaching duties are pushing them to the limits by themselves.
[19:01] Honestly, this is something that we see a lot in our charter schools that have inexperienced staff. I’ve talked to a number of people, who’ve worked in schools that have all new teachers, or have a very high proportion of new teachers. It’s not just charter schools, it’s public schools as well, it’s private schools, where we have a lot of turnover.
[19:21] We have individuals who are rapidly improving. This is one of the neediest things about schools that get good at working with new teachers, is those new teachers improve rapidly. What they don’t have during those periods of rapid improvement, is a lot of bandwidth to change what they’re doing. They can’t get good at one thing, and get good at the next thing that school is moving on to, at the same times.
[19:45] When you have a large number of individuals, who are really still working hard to develop their individual capacity for doing the basics of their job, that school, that staff with those individual, is going to have a very hard time changing, and a very hard time improving systemically.
[20:03] If we think about our responsibilities as instructional leaders, to go back to the first pathway of personal productivity and effectiveness, and getting in to classrooms, getting that decisional information, we have to know what our teachers need of us.
[20:17] We have to know what decisions we need to make, what actions we need to take, to help each staff member move to the next level. We need to do good, formal observations. We need to do frequent walkthroughs.
[20:30] If you’ve been part of the 21-Day Instructional Leadership Challenge, you know that I recommend getting into classrooms every single day, and specifically 10 percent of your classroom, so that on a two-week basis, you’re getting into every single classroom in your school.
[20:45] Throughout the school year, you’re getting into every classroom, roughly 18 times in addition to your formal observations. The amount of information that you get from those walkthroughs, compared to just doing formal observations, there is no comparison between the principal, who is in the room 18 or 20 times a year, and one who is in the room maybe once, twice, or three times, if that’s required for the formal evaluations.
[21:10] If we’re going to help our teachers get better, we have to see how they’re teaching on a day-to-day basis. Not just when they know we’re coming. Not just when we have set up a formal observation. We need to be able to go into the room at any given time, and see what’s really going on, and see what supports we can provide.
[21:28] This matter’s not only for the growth of individual teachers, but it also matters for culture, because when people know that they’re being held accountable, and that their peers are being held accountable, everyone holds themselves to a higher standard. There’s nothing more frustrating to a high performer, than knowing that your neighbor down the hall is phoning it in and getting away with it.
[21:52] There’s nothing more irritating that makes someone wants to just leave and go to another organization, than knowing that low performance is being tolerated. One thing that we really have to be careful about as instructional leaders, is making sure that we’re upholding high standards for everyone, that we’re providing the support that people need, but that we’re also providing accountability.
[22:14] That fourth pathway to High Performance Instructional Leadership, is teacher growth and evaluation. Another means of helping us build the capacity for distributed instructional leadership in our organizations. That one focuses on people, but our last one focuses on tools and processes.
[22:34] The fifth pathway to High-Performance Instructional Leadership is technology and automation.
[22:40] Here, we’re focused on the capacity that’s created, not just by individuals who are excellent, but by the way that people work together, by the processes that are in place, by the procedures, and the technology and tools that connect our work. We can have the best people in the world. If they’re using antiquated tools, if they’re not coordinated well, then they’re not going to achieve to their potential.
[23:06] These can be things as simple as email and calendars, things as simple as the computers that we use, things like our hall pass process. If we’re wasting time constantly checking kid’s hall passes, and having to phone down to the office and saying, “What’s going on with this kid?” If we have those kind of basic systems that are in place around keeping solved, problem solved, this gets back a little bit to the culture issue.
[23:32] Technology presents special opportunities to us, to be incredibly efficient, far more efficient, than we’re used to. This is why technology can be a little bit threatening. Leaders can encounter perhaps more resistance than they expect to bringing in technology, because it raises the bar for everyone, as far as what’s expected.
[23:54] If you look at the kind of collaboration your students can do on a project using Google Docs or Google Slides, and compare that to what they can do, say with paper and pen in class, it really is transformative to have that level of productivity, those collaboration tools that allow people to work together.
[24:17] Speaking of Google Apps and Google Docs in particular, that’s one reason that we decided to make the Google Apps for Education Help Desk, part of the High Performance Instructional Leadership Network, because we not only want individual school leaders to maximize their personal productivity and effectiveness to do great teacher evaluations, to manage the change process, and so on.
[24:39] We also want everyone in the organization to benefit from the technology that can make a difference in our work. It’s a no brainer to say that if we have these tools, if we can learn to use them effectively, why don’t we? Why don’t we take advantage of every opportunity we have, to get more efficient in our schools? I truly believe that efficiency is one of the greatest untapped resources we have available to us.
[25:05] If you’re to think how difficult it would be for your school to get more money, let’s say you want an additional $10,000. I don’t know how big your school is, so that may or may not be a large amount of money. For you to come up with $10,000 just out of the blue, would be pretty difficult. You would have to do some fund-raising. You might have to write a grant.
[25:22] You might have to solicit a donation from some big believer in your school, but you could very easily find. I’m confident, in almost any school, you could find $10,000 in inefficiency or waste to eliminate.
[25:40] If we’re going to have high performance organizations, if we’re going to be High-Performance Instructional Leaders, and if we’re going to build greater and greater capacity for instructional leadership within our schools, we have to take advantage of technology.
[25:52] We have to put systems in place, that are going to keep those solved problems solved, that we’re going to take advantage of the tools that maybe didn’t exist five years ago, to make our work easier and take things off people’s plates, so that we can focus on new challenges, and undoing the things that the technology can’t do. Technology is not the point of the High-Performance Instructional Leadership Network, but it is something that accelerates whatever it is that we’re doing.
[26:20] That concludes the five pathways, but one thread that runs through all of them that I want to point out now, is something that we call the High-Performance Triangle. In that last pathway on technology and automation, we talked about efficiency. Efficiency is one corner of the High-Performance Triangle. Efficiency comes from tools. When we have the right tools in place, we can be more efficient.
[26:45] The question that people always ask when we talk about efficiency, is people say, “Efficient at what? Are you being efficient at the right things?” The High Performance Triangle actually starts with strategies. Strategy’s what allows us to be effective. It’s what allows us to choose the right work in the first place, the right work to get good at and to get efficient at. Strategy is what allows us to be effective.
[27:07] Tools allow us to be efficient. The third piece is around organizational habits. This gets back to the idea of culture and the way we do things. Habits are what allow us to be consistent. They will allow us to keep those solved problems solved, and to achieve great results over time. There you have the High-Performance Triangle and the five pathways to High-Performance Instructional Leadership.
[27:31] We’ve covered a lot of ground today. Honestly, this is more information that we usually cover in a webinar. To do justice to each of those topics, we would need much more time, than we have right here. What I’ve given you today, is basically a brief outline of the 60 plus hours of content that we have in the High-Performance Instructional Leadership Network.
[27:53] If you have been reading articles at principalcenter.com, if you have been listening to interviews on Principal Center Radio, and hearing me chime in as I listened to our guests talked about their areas of expertise, these are the things that stand out to me as the key factors in our performance as instructional leaders. As I mentioned, we have over 60 hours of content.
[28:15] If you’re interested in that, if you’re interested in diving in to increase your own effectiveness as a leader, or to increase the capacity for Instructional Leadership within your building, within your school, then I want to invite you to get in touch, and find “My calendar” at justinscalendar.com. You can book an appointment with me there directly. I will give you a call on the phone.
[28:35] We’ll talk about where your school is, and where you are in your work and your leadership, or perhaps you’re transitioning between organizations. We also have a program, that includes all of the High-Performance Instructional Leadership Network content, as well as support for people who are in the job search. Either way, whether you’re looking to improve your current organization or moving between organizations.
[28:55] I want you to think in terms of building capacity for instructional leadership. If I can help you with that, again, I want to invite you to get in touch with me at justinscalendar.com. We’ll set up a phone call, and we’ll talk about your goals. We’ll talk about where you are, and what some of the biggest opportunities are, for you to take those next steps.
[29:16] Thanks for joining me for this special episode of Principal Center Radio, focused on building instructional leadership capacity.
[29:23] For more on each of these topics, I want to invite you to check out our blog at principalcenter.com/blog, where we have dozens upon dozens of articles on each of these topics. I want to invite you to check out the High Performance Instructional Leadership Network. That’s at principalcenter.com/leadership.
[29:40] The network is our 12 to 18-month program, focused on exactly what we talked about today, those five pathways for High-Performance Instructional Leadership.
[29:49] [background music]
[29:50] We have per student pricing, so if you’re in a small school, I want you to know that we still believe in supporting you in developing that capacity, even if it’s just among handful of people.
[30:00] If you’re in a large school, I want you to know that we have the resources to support you on working with a large team, with a large number of students and stakeholders in a complex organization. Feel free to check that out at principalcenter.com/leadership, or you can get in touch with me directly, at justinscalendar.com.
Radio Announcer: [30:17] Thanks for listening to Principal Center Radio. For more great episodes, subscribe on our website, at principalcenter.com/radio.