Asking For Feedback From Teachers

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You’ve intentionally planned an impactful professional learning session for your teachers. You feel good about your facilitation, and the monitoring you did along the way evidenced understanding. The feeling in the room was positive, and you wrapped up answering all of the questions posed.

Guess what? You’re not done. Either in the session itself, or shortly thereafter, you must solicit feedback from your staff. We ask teachers to do this every day; why are we so hesitant? Do we not know how? Jennifer Gonzalez, who writes the Cult of Pedagogy blog, has some great suggestions.

She highlights that we must go beyond casual requests, or fluff questions such as “did you like today’s learning?” Your feedback must relate specifically to your intended outcomes, and possibly for what the next steps might be.

The scenario I set out in the beginning of this post is not always the setting in which we operate. For example, during our September faculty meeting, I really did not do a good job facilitating and I knew it in the moment. Asking for feedback when I knew it was likely going to be critical was tough. Yet, I forged ahead, asking two questions relating to the intended outcomes (for which the feedback was mostly positive), and then one open-ended question for any questions that remained. Not only did I get questions, but I also got suggestions. And, I got some deserved criticism.

I learned that no matter how transparent I think I am being, I should go one step further. I learned that I needed to be more clear on our “why” and “how”.  And in seeking this feedback, and then addressing it with my staff, we built trust. As Stephen Covey says:

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Join the conversation…how do you seek and use feedback?


Making/Taking Time for Reflection

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Last week, we welcomed our teachers back. On the first day, for 3 hours, I facilitated professional learning. A few days prior to that, I asked an instructional coach to schedule a reflective conversation to take place when I was done. Yes, principals need coaches, too!

It was an absolutely hectic day. In addition to welcoming staff back, we also had the following scheduled: new family orientation, 7th grade orientation, and 8th grade packet pick-up. Did I mention I had also just become principal 10 days before that???

Part of me wanted to cancel the conversation – I had so many other things to do. Yet, I held true to the time, and I’m glad I did. I was able to reflect on the first time I spent with all teachers, and my sense of how things had gone. My coach helped me celebrate, and was a meaningful thinking partner on what I would have done differently. I was able to take notes, with the experience of professional learning fresh in my mind, and use them to plan forward for the next session. Our teachers and students will benefit from that 45 minutes, and guess what? Everything else that needed to happen that day did happen.

I have another coaching conversation scheduled for next week. When is yours?

Join the conversation…how might you be reflecting as school starts?





Fair, Care, Aware: Principal Keys

This past weekend, I attended an all-class reunion. I am a proud graduate of Immaculata High School, which educated young women from 1941-1983 in the city of Detroit. In addition to all of my “sisters” that attended, we were also blessed to have one of our beloved principals with us. As you can in the above pictures, Mr. Joyce, principal from 1971-1978, still has that great smile!

Why was Mr. Joyce such an exceptional principal, that 40+ years later he was celebrated so? Three reasons: 1) he was fair; 2) he cared; and 3) he was aware.


From a purely ethical standpoint, principals must treat similarly-situated people fairly. Any decision-making process must not only be fair, it must also appear fair. In other words, principals should not make arbitrary decisions that create different standards for teachers, students, or families within those groups.

Moreover, neuroscience tells us that the brain perceives unfairness as a threat, and responds accordingly; this can be avoided:

“The threat from perceived unfairness can be decreased by increasing transparency, and increasing the level of communication and involvement about [ ] issues. For
example, organizations that allow employees to know details about [ ] processes may have an advantage here. Establishing clear expectations in all situations – from a one hour meeting to a five-year contract – can also help ensure fair exchanges occur.”

As students, we may not have always liked Mr. Joyce’s decisions, but we respected them.


We also knew Mr. Joyce cared about us, individually and collectively. He showed it in so many ways, especially taking time to get to know us and our unique stories. For my family in particular, he was the source of great strength when my sister, a junior, ran away from home and was missing for almost a full year.

Mr. Joyce also cared about the faculty, and while we were oblivious to it at the time, it is so evident in hindsight. Even though teachers at our school were not paid much (a first year teacher started at approximately $7000), the culture cultivated by Mr. Joyce was one of professional respect and admiration. We all knew we were receiving a top-notch education, and our teaches knew we appreciated them.

Principals today show they care for students, teachers, and families in so many different ways. Even so, it is important to make sure that one reflects on it and is intentional about it. For a good read, check out BRAVO Principals: Care About People by Sandra Harris.


As a white principal whose student population was modeling that of the city — shifting from majority white to majority African American — Mr. Joyce was aware of the changes taking place both inside and outside of the school. Much like today, the school environment is not immune to external changes and new expectations in economics, politics, and society. How a principal navigates those changes is crucial.

While framed for teachers, this excerpt from Brian Gatens’ post on managing expectations is just as relevant for principals:

“New teachers soon realize that a community defines itself by the quality of its school system. It is the main focus of parents, businesses and local government.

Remembering this simple fact is essential to meeting the evolving (and rising) expectations for teachers in today’s rapidly changing world. Communities have always expected a lot from their schools, and that is being magnified by social media, email and the ability to foster a Web presence. Those outside of school are now closer than ever.”

Gatens suggests focusing on five items: 1) building a base of community support; 2) inviting the community in; 3) transparency in practice; 4) protecting privacy; and 5) fostering a legacy.

As I read Gatens’ post, I see Mr. Joyce in all five areas, especially in terms of fostering a legacy. It’s why so many were delighted to reconnect with him again, so many years later.

Join the conversation…how are you demonstrating fairness, care, and awareness in your school?

Since this article was originally posted, Cathy Guinan, one of our stellar English teachers, reached out with the following:

“Everything you write about is so true. I was blessed to work with Jim Joyce and all the rest of IH faculty! Amazing young women -loving and committed community!💚💚💚”





Building a Better Faculty Meeting

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We’ve all seen them, right? Memes about faculty meetings. And all of us can relate to them in one way or another. So, how do leaders go about redesigning them? This post shares four suggestions for the upcoming school year.


If it can be in a email, put it in an email. Or put up a notice near the mailboxes. Or simply hand out information at the meeting without explanation. Everyone on your staff can read. If a few have questions, they can see you after the meeting or at another time.

Even better, get in the habit of doing a weekly newsletter for your staff, that is issued on Monday morning or by Friday midday. As information piles up in between, plop it into the newsletter. Your office staff may even be able to do all of this for you! This method also eliminates daily emails sent as details pop up.

If you just can’t get away from making announcements or sharing information, try using the 15-minute faculty meeting idea at the end of your meeting.


Agendas should not be done at the last minute. Just as we expect teachers to have intentional lesson plans in order to engage and empower students, we must do the same. What are our intended outcomes for this session – school improvement check-in, data analysis, instructional strategies, inquiries, culture? How will we go about engaging everyone in the session? Why is this session relevant to us and our school?

Planning and preparation will make the sessions more engaging and relevant to all. Moreover, you will be modeling the same type of behavior and action that you ask from teachers in their classrooms.


Teachers rarely spend time together as a whole staff, in relation to the total amount of time spent on the job. Therefore, it has to be meaningful, and contextual for the other 99%. This also means that leaders need to be in touch with teachers’ growth edges, and plan accordingly.

If you need some ideas on how to get started, check out this blog post by Julie Adams. She provides more than a dozen ideas on easy-to-do items.


“Within every school there is a sleeping giant of teacher leadership that can be a strong catalyst for making changes to improve student learning.”

Marilyn Katzenmeyer & Gayle Moller (2009). Awakening the Sleeping Giant: Helping Teachers Develop as Leaders.

There is no reason for the principal to be the only person facilitating or presenting at a faculty meeting, especially when we want it to be about teaching and learning. One of the five key practices of an effective principal is to cultivate leadership in others.

For example, check out this Show and Share example out of Washington. Teachers take charge of different segments of the meeting, and it becomes much more relevant for all. Indeed, when you read the article, you’ll see teachers describe their faculty meetings as “fun”! That is certainly a stark contrast to the memes that opened this blog post.

Join the conversation…

Now that you’ve had a chance to think about the above four items, what other ideas do you have to build a better faculty meeting? What have you already experienced in practice?



PBL for Teachers

“Teacher learning should be problem-based.”

About a year ago, I heard Tony Bryk say this in a room full of educators. It resonated at the time, but it wasn’t until today that I thought about it as PBL.

As an example, the Buck Institute for Education has identified “gold standard” PBL elements for students. What if we took them and applied them to teacher professional learning? It might look something like this:

1. Challenging Problem or Question (teacher teams frame a meaningful problem to solve or question to answer around student learning).

2. Sustained Inquiry (teacher teams engage in a rigorous, extended process of asking questions, finding resources, and applying information).

3. Authenticity (teacher teams operate in a school context that features a curriculum, assessment, or instruction need with real student impact).

4. Voice and Choice (teacher teams make decisions, from the questions they generate to the resources they use to find answers to their questions to the tasks and roles they take on as team members).

5. Reflection (teacher teams reflect on their learning, the effectiveness of their inquiry, the quality of their work, and how they overcame obstacles).

6. Critique & Revision (teacher teams give, receive, and use feedback to improve their process).

7. Sharing (teacher teams make their learning public by explaining, displaying, or presenting their process and current student learning outcomes to others beyond the collaborative team).

Indeed, a lot of this is already in place if your school is engaged in an inquiry cycle to improve student learning.

Taking this one step further, instructional leaders might adapt the gold standard teaching practices to support teachers:

  • Design & Plan (principals frame the learning from launch to culmination).
  • Align to Standards (principals ensure that the teacher team inquiries address key knowledge and skills around student learning).
  • Building the Culture (principals explicitly and implicitly promote teacher team independence and growth, open-ended inquiry, team spirit, and attention to quality).
  • Manage Activities (principals support teacher teams to organize tasks and schedules, set checkpoints and deadlines, find and use resources, and create processes).
  • Scaffold Teacher Learning (principals employ a variety of learning modules, tools, and strategies to support all teachers in reaching team goals).
  • Assess Teacher Learning (principals assess the knowledge, understanding, and skills, and include self- and peer-assessment of team and individual learning).
  • Engage & Coach (principals engage in learning alongside teacher teams and identify when teams need skill building, redirection, and encouragement).

I’ll end where I began — with the words of Tony Bryk: “Embrace the wisdom of crowds. We can accomplish more together than even the best of us can accomplish alone.” There is no need to re-create the wheel.

Join the conversation…does this resonate with you?






Declaring Our Independence

The Declaration of Independence was a bold, treasonous move made by the Continental Congress. It is essentially a list of grievances against the British Empire (and specifically King George III), which, when unremedied, led British colonists to declare their independence and launch a new nation. More importantly, it expressed our values and beliefs, and forged our collective identity as Americans.

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Fast forward some 242 years, and we now have 50 states, each with its own education system, laws, and regulations. Nonetheless, across those 50 states, we continue to learn and improve our professional practice. It’s time to declare our independence from past practices that no longer fit our current colleagues and students, and forge our collective identity as instructional leaders. Here are ten values and beliefs to get the conversation rolling…


  1. All students deserve a highly effective teacher, in a highly effective school.
  2. All students deserve a highly effective principal, in a highly effective school.
  3. All students can learn at high levels.
  4. All students deserve a safe and loving school environment.
  5. All families want what is best for their students.
  6. All teachers deserve a highly effective principal, in a highly effective school.
  7. All teachers want what is best for their students.
  8. All teachers deserve quality professional learning in order to improve their practice.
  9. All students, teachers, and families deserve to be heard and respected.
  10. All really does mean all.

Join the conversation…what would you add to these 10?

Teacher Leader? Yes, You Are!

I believe that all teachers are leaders. The mere act of teaching, in and of itself, is an act of leadership. Within the hierarchical structure of most schools and districts, I also know that some/many/most teachers do not self-identify as leaders unless they hold a formal position or title (e.g., team leader, department chair, etc.).

In an online post in Success, entitled “Lead from where you are,” John Maxwell explores leadership in organizations:

“You can lead others from anywhere in the organization, and when you do, you make the organization better. The bottom line is this: Leadership is a choice you make, not a place you sit. Anyone can choose to become a leader wherever he or she is. You can make a difference no matter where you are.”

Along the same theme (“How to Lead from Where You Are“), Christina Folz, writing for SHRM, offers some advice on how to do it:

  • Let failure fuel you (success rises from the ashes of failure)
  • Embrace who are, and lead from there (leverage your strengths)
  • Think differently – and find partners differently (look for those least like you)
  • Take the first step (just do it!)

What might that look like for a teacher? Rebecca Vukovic offers some thoughts around informal teacher leadership:

“My view is that there are many teachers who engage in leadership work which either they or others may not necessarily recognise as leadership. Informal leadership by teachers is harder to distinguish because of its close connection to teachers acting professionally and continuing to deepen their understandings of what it takes to help students to learn. This type of leadership emerges when teachers see interactions with colleagues as opportunities to make sense of practice accepting a mutual exchange of insights, with each moving between leading and learning according to their expertise. In this way, learning to improve teaching is the impetus for leadership.”

Along those same lines (leadership evident in the work), here are some additional possibilities:


I love the last bullet: “advocate for student learning and the profession.” The teachers I work with do this every day! And while they may not yet see themselves as leaders, we could not succeed without their leadership.

Join the conversation…how do you lead from where you are?




The Other “I” Word

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With lots of focus on innovation, let’s not forget about focusing on impact.

In her book, Student-Centered Leadership, Vivane Robinson reminds leaders that how we label our leadership style (i.e., transformational, authentic, innovative, etc.) is less important than the IMPACT our leadership practices have on our colleagues and students:

“Leadership styles, such as transformational, transactional, democratic, or authentic leadership, are abstract concepts that tell us little about the behaviors involved and how to learn them. The current emphasis on leadership practices movies leadership away from the categorization of leaders as being of a particular type to a more flexible and inclusive focus on identifying the effects of broad sets of leadership practices.”

Amy Cuddy, an Associate Professor at Harvard, has studied the significance of focusing on incremental impact, and found that it leads to more long-term success on goals. Certainly, many nonprofits understand that measuring impact is important, at all levels:

“On a macro or micro level, devoting less energy to a grand outcome and more energy toward incremental impact is key to true and sustained transformation.”

If you have 24 minutes, take a listen to a podcast on CauseTalk Radio, where the hosts talk to Leslie Engle Young, teacher and Director of Impact at Pencils of Promise. You’ll hear about why the organization created a position specifically focused on impact, and the measures used to focus on outcomes rather than outputs.

Don’t have 24 minutes? Take 6 and watch this video of John Hattie, who loops it back to Vivane Robinson and others in “knowing thy impact”:

(If you’re a Roger Federer fan, listen for the reference)


Join the conversation…how have you focused in impact, and what are your experiences?

Adapting in a Fast-Paced World: 4 Tips for School Leaders

Next to a highly effective teacher, nothing has a greater impact on student learning than a highly effective principal. As the instructional leader in a school, a principal is directly responsible for adult professional learning and growth, which in turn drives increased student achievement.

This is much different than the historical role of a school principal, and the last 10-15 years have seen much change. As such, the role of a principal has transformed from “administrator/building manager” to lead learner and instructional coach. For some, this adaptation pushes on identity, and may not be a welcomed change. For many, the transformed job expectations feel positive and meaningful, yet perhaps still a bit unfamiliar. Adaptation is not always easy, even with high desire.

So exactly how might a principal (or aspiring leader) shift his or her identity to that of lead learner and instructional coach? While acknowledging that each school and person are unique, here are four general, interdependent tips:

1. Lead With Ignorance: That sounds a bit crazy, doesn’t it? What I mean is to never, ever be afraid to show your ignorance about an issue or to learn more about a differing perspective. Ask questions to seek to understand. When you model the trait of an inquiry learner, you demonstrate that no one person is expected to know it all and that multiple perspectives exist. Renowned education researcher Dr. Richard Elmore explains it as follows:

“Effective leaders make their own questioning—hence their own ignorance—visible to those they work with. They ask hard questions about why and how things work or don’t work, and they lead the kind of inquiry that can result in agreement on the organization’s work and its purposes. “

Most of us are used to advocating for our position. Learning to be an inquirer is a paradigm shift. As Peter Senge, Hal Hamilton, and John Kania offer in The Dawn of System Leadership: “Leading with real inquiry is easy to say, but it constitutes a profound developmental journey for passionate advocates.” We have to be intentional and purposeful in this journey.

2. Align Decisions With Organizational Values: Every learning organization should have a set of guiding principles or values and beliefs that are in place for all to see, hear, and internalize. As decisions are made, be they big or small, adaptive leaders work with their teams to align those decisions (and the decision-making process) with the organization’s core values.

It is vital that teachers see an authentic connection between aspirational language and their daily work. Not only does this promote motivation, it also avoids cynicism. When teachers  find their work meaningful, a sense of achievement is instilled, and they are empowered to achieve even more (Nautin, The Aligned Organization, 2014).

3. Build Relational Trust and Authentic Space for Teacher Voice: A study done by the Quaglia Institute for School Voice and Aspirations, published in 2016, shows that “less than half (48%) of teachers agree that ‘I have a voice in decision making at school’.” The logical conclusion for a leader is to never make an important decision without input and processing with those who will be impacted.

As Jane Modoono suggests, principals need to say the following out loud to their teachers, and align behaviors to match: “I trust you, and I see you as professionals.” Moreover, improvement won’t happen “if principals can’t take the staff along the journey.”   For a short video on building relational trust in a school setting, check out the thoughts of researcher Dr. Vivanne Robinson.

4. Grow Publicly: In professional learning with Carolyn McKanders from Thinking Collaborative, I first heard the phrase “be willing to grow publicly as a leader.” It resonated with me, and has great interplay with “lead with ignorance.”

Being vulnerable with those around us is not easy, nor does it necessarily come naturally. Many of us feel as if our presence must always be strong, confident, and error-free. Please consider an alternative — researcher and author Dr. Brene Brown describes vulnerability as a courageous act of leadership. Indeed, she believes that groups are “hungry for people who have the courage to say, ‘I need help’ or ‘I own that mistake’.”

The impact on those around us is detailed by Stanford University’s Dr. Emma Seppala:

“Why do we feel more comfortable around someone who is authentic and vulnerable? Because we are particularly sensitive to signs of trustworthiness in our leaders. Servant leadership, for example, which is characterized by authenticity and values-based leadership, yields more positive and constructive behavior in employees and greater feelings of hope and trust in both the leader and the organization.”

So, when you think you must always present a strong, unwavering front, remember that displaying vulnerability actually enhances trust in you, your school, and your district.

Join the conversation…what other adaptive tips would you suggest for school leaders?

Change is Good

Over the last few years, I have written many posts via Conversation Innovation. After much reflection, I’ve decided to begin anew. Most recently, I’ve been pushed by Mike Schmoker’s article, Why I’m Against Innovation in Education (don’t let the title throw you). In addition, I’ve spent a lot of time wondering about the impact of innovation done merely for the sake of innovation, on both teachers and students.  As Schmoker writes:

It’s time for education to make the leap to a more authentic professionalism—by giving innovation its due, but never letting it supplant or precede those practices that would produce “stunningly powerful consequences” in our schools and in the lives of students.

So, this change in my thinking is not about shunning innovation, but rather, emphasizing “adaptation” to empower teachers. In becoming adaptive, we will be ready to provide great teaching and learning for all students, both today and tomorrow. And, I’m wondering about the accuracy of this corollary: All those who are adaptive can innovate, but not all those who innovate are adaptive.

The Business Dictionary defines “adaptation” as the

[m]odification of a concept or object to make it applicable in situations different from originally anticipated.

Science Clarified offers that

adaptation is a term used to describe the ways in which organisms change over time in response to the changing demands of their environment.

Nonprofit Quarterly provides that the development of adaptive capacity enables one to have the

skill to take the initiative in making adjustments for improved performance, relevance, and impact. Fundamentally, it is the ability to respond to and instigate change.

Long term survival in education, and indeed, thriving, depends on adaptation. Being adaptive allows each teacher to have autonomy in the exercise of professional judgment for the students sitting in front of him or her. It is grass-roots work, based on best practices and intimate knowledge of each student. If there is no current best practice to produce “stunningly powerful consequences,” then it might mean implementing an innovative strategy or method that we believe will do so.

Going one step further, adaptation can create systemic organizational change. One possible framework for collaborative adaptation is an inquiry cycle. The continuous, cyclical nature of an inquiry process provides enough structure to guide new learning without stifling creativity or professional judgment. It allows teachers to improve their practice through reflection and collaborative analysis of evidence of student learning. In some instances, it may even provide students with opportunities to co-create their learning experiences.

In closing, I offer a final “definition” of adaptation in education, from the Thinking Collaborative. Being adaptive means

developing the resources and capacities of the organizations and of individuals to cohesively respond to the changing needs of students and society.

Join the conversation…what are your thoughts?