Week 23: Being a Student Driven Principal #SAVMP

We’ve been discussing the “change matrix” within a leadership group in my district.



What’s in it for me?  When it comes to change, this may be one of the most frequently used phrases, both vocalized and internalized.  Too many times we miss out on great opportunities because we have the wrong mindset.  At what point in a teacher’s career does the focus shift from doing what is best for students to, “let’s do what’s best for me.”  Our systems are built around the convenience of the adults and not necessarily for the benefit of the students. 

I know that some of you may disagree, but where’s your evidence?

1). Master schedule is based on adult’s preference.

2). Teachers threaten to quit or transfer if they do not get the classroom or conference that they want.

3.) Knowing that some teachers lessons aren’t up to par, but not wanting to rock the status quo.

4.) Looking the other way at worksheet driven classrooms because “the test scores are fine.”

Educators need to be redirected back to the purpose of our profession –  doing what’s best for students’ success.  Our current practices may give us gradual change, but not the change you need to truly make a difference.

We must provide incentives, which doesn’t always mean money.  Knowing how important the students are to both their own success and to ours, what can we do, incentive-wise, to get teachers to focus on what’s best for students? How do you steer the conversations back to what’s best for students? Are you a students’ principal?


(Thanks to Dr. Gerald Hudson for the starting point here, :))







Week 22: Differentiation…for staff? #SAVMP

IMG_7466When planning for your staff development or professional development or growth opportunity…do you differentiate for your teachers?

I know, I know…with everything else on your plate, now you’re supposed to add that to your list of to do’s?  The answer is yes, if you want them to be completely dialed in and connected. In the same way that we expect our teachers to meet the needs of the learners in their class, we as administrators need to recognize the different levels of abilities and experiences on our staff. A differentiated approach to PD is needed to meet the diversity of teacher needs. PD should always be an evolving process of reflection and growth, and the way to accomplish that, is to get creative with how it’s planned and delivered.

Meeting teachers where they are isn’t nearly as complicated as it sounds. Depending on what you are discussing, teachers can be grouped according to familiarity or confidence in the topic. This can be discovered through a needs assessment or of their own volition. Allowing teachers to feel invested and providing a choice in what they are learning will almost certainly pay dividends in the long run. This will also reinforce your expectations within the classroom.

Grouping teachers is one way of differentiating. What else can you do?

  • Give options in what your teachers are discussing, #edcamp style. I’ve even “prepped” teachers with a couple of topics that I knew that I wanted to see covered, but left most of the board blank, for their input.
  • Allow conversations, not just “sit & get” sessions.
  • Flip your meetings, to make the discussions more valid & transparent. Allow teacher voice!
  • Let your groups of ability leveled learners be led by members of your own staff. Call on the experience in your building!
  • Create a bucket list of activities you’d like to see in classrooms.

Digital bucketlist

Supporting teachers begins with knowing that we should meet their individual needs in their own learning and growth. We no longer can be ok with the status quo, or a one size fits all mentality when it comes to PD. As the leader, it is up to you ensure that each educator has what they need in order to be the very best that they can be in their classroom. In the same way that students want to be interested, invested, and engaged, our teachers do too! Make your professional development an opportunity to be a role model and allow for a “different” development, a differentiation based one!


I challenge you this week to rethink your professional development. Share one way you plan on perking up and differentiating your PD!


I hope you have a great week and are warm where ever you are!


Week 21: Online Portfolios #SAVMP

One of my hopes for this program is that educators will walk out with an online portfolio that will help them with their work moving forward.  I recently have written a blog post on the topic, which I share in full below.


“My prediction is that in the next ten years, resumes will be less common, and your online presence will become what your resume is today, at all types and sizes of companies.” Dan Schawbel, 2011

Having a conversation with teachers and administrators, I asked how many of them still had “paper portfolios”. Surprisingly, it was over half of the room, and many of them had developed it in university, updating it only when job opportunities arose.  I remember actually having a paper portfolio and applying for jobs, and hating the process of dusting off a binder, adding a ton of great information into it, only to walk into an interview and have the person hiring not even look at it.  It was extremely frustrating as I had put a lot of work into it, only to have it ignored, and I never really understood why.

And then I became a principal.

When I would look at applicants for interviews and have a limited amount of time to talk with them and interact, the thought of flipping through a binder with them sitting in the room in front of me, seemed a little ludicrous.  I wanted to spend as much time getting to know them as possible.  At the end of the interview, sometimes they would offer to leave the portfolio with me to peruse at my leisure and they would either come back to pick it up or I would have to mail it (does anyone go to the post office anymore?).  I might have been the exception in my process a few years ago, but this is becoming more of the norm now, not only in education, but all aspects.  A portfolio could be great for the process of an interview, but shouldn’t the things you do help you get the interview in the first place?  Sending mass binders out to potential employers doesn’t make much sense.

I believe it is time (it has been for awhile) to ditch the paper portfolio and move it online.  Here are some reasons below.

1. The Google Factor – We talk to students a lot about developing their digital footprint, yet how often do we help them build this footprint in schools?  A digital portfolio is hugely beneficial to this type of work as it helps you to create your own online presence and shares the great work that you, or your students are doing.  The nice thing about a digital portfolio is that it is also not limited to text, but can be anything that you can see or create.  If I want to be a photographer, animator, actor, athlete, or anything else, digital can help share that information and make it accessible to others.  A portfolio that is able to bring together all of these different elements into one space will make your “footprint” that much better and easier to find.

2.  Searching and Organization – My own blog is a “portfolio” of my work (if you want to see how it is set up, check out this video) that I have been working on for over four years, in a constant and continuous basis.  That is a lot of information over time, but with thoughtful “tagging” and “categorizing”, I am able to google myself and find my own work.  For example, if I want to find any time that I referenced “Daniel Pink”, I simply do a search for his name om my blog and voila!  Even using something as simple as “Command + F” (“Control + F” on Windows) can help me find a word instantly on amy page.  This is much easier than flipping through pages in a binder.

3. Anywhere, any place, any time access – If you were to have a paper portfolio and I asked to see it while you did not have it in hand, how would you get it to me?  If you ask my for my portfolio, I would simply give you the URL to my website and peruse away.  This was the nice thing about applicants that had an online portfolio to share with me.  It was accessible before, during, and after an interview and at my convenience.  In a world where there is always a shortage of time, accessibility at a time of your convenience is important.

4.  Creating opportunities instead of looking for them – In a market where jobs are scarce and a university degree guarantees nothing, the competition for positions is tough.  With a online portfolio, especially one that continuously invites people to look at it (every time I write a blog post and you read it, you are looking at my portfolio), you have the ability to have opportunities come to you, instead of the other way around.  I know many people that have simply shared the work that they have always done on their online portfolio, and then were asked to speak at conferences or consult with schools, simply because their work was visible.  Simply sharing your work is not enough to create those opportunities, but you will never know what is the one thing that you share that someone else will deem valuable to their organization and call in your expertise.

5. Continuous learning – One of the most powerful things I have found by doing an online portfolio is the growth in my own learning that I have done by sharing.  By simply knowing that other people will see what I write or share, I put a lot more thought into what I am doing.  I also find tremendous value in the comments and conversation that is started from some of the things that I share; they push my learning.  If we are to look at online portfolios as both a way to “showcase” and “learn”, they are hugely beneficial to our growth.

Although I have listed several reasons why an online portfolio is beneficial (and I am sure I could list a lot more), many educators are happy where they are in their career, and would argue that there is no need for them to have an online portfolio themselves as they will never apply for another job.  My belief is that if we are truly doing what is best for kids, we have to learn how to do it ourselves to help our students in the future.  Wayne Gretzky once said, “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”  We need to look ahead for our kids sake.

Another question that I get is, “Well what if no one googles me?  Then I have done all of this work for nothing.”  To be honest, if you get not one single opportunity from an online portfolio and only went deep into your own learning, isn’t that still a pretty good thing?  The other suggestion I would make is that when you submit a resume, right at the top of it share the following:

“For more information, please refer to my portfolio located at…”.

This ensures that you lead people to the great work that you have already done.

In my view, there is a difference between a “digital” and “online” portfolio.  An online portfolio is usually digital, but it is not necessarily the other way around.  There are many benefits to both professionals and students to share our work in an open way.  As Chris Lehmann has said before, “it is no longer enough to do powerful work if no one sees it”.

Where can I see your powerful work?


If you are interested in some help for Online Portfolios, here are some links:

Blog as Portfolio Workshop

Blog as Portfolio (Video)

Digital Portfolio Project (Write Up)

Week 20: The Art of Delegation #SAVMP

bigstock-Empowerment-and-Delegation-con-33794351-e1340916461222Fearless. Courageous. Thoughtful. Visionary. What are some adjectives you think of when you think of the word “leader”?

Does the word “delegator” come to mind? It is a true art form, the ability to wisely and effectively delegate. It is a quality far more quiet than others, and yet can be one of the most crucial to a leader’s success. A principal who insists on maintaining all control and refuses to allow other’s to contribute or feel ownership of a campuses goals is missing the forest for the trees.

When I think of the leader who’s style I would most like to emulate, I think of someone who always empowered me to take on more, who encouraged me to believe in myself and gave me the opportunities to prove it. I was given extra after extra, and the encouragement to believe that not only could I handle it, but I would be able to handle it well. It truly molded me into who I am today, and even better, she STILL finds opportunities to build me up.

Tight fisted leadership doesn’t allow people to get on board. It is hard for someone to feel invested in a direction if they feel as if they are an outsider looking in. Delegating allows your team to take control, it empowers them to want to be better, to make ALL of you better. And as a leader, isn’t that what you want? Managers come and go, but leaders build other leaders and are never forgotten.

You are where you are for a reason. You are the LEAD learner, the INSTRUCTIONAL leader.  You can spend 20 minutes every day doing something your secretary should be doing, which equates equates into 86 hours of doing that task during the next five years. Which is a more effective use of your time?

Obviously, this begins with smart hiring and being surrounded by people who you trust. If you find yourself saying, “So & so can’t handle that…so & so isn’t responsible enough for that.”, you may want to start with evaluating who is on your team. Find the “power points” on your campus, make sure they understand and believe in your vision, and start delegating. I had a conversation recently with a former custodian who worked in the building where I taught. He has since been promoted to custodial supervisor, and I  love getting to catch up with him.  He asked me who my heavy hitters were, and when I looked puzzled, gave me the most genuine compliment ever.

“Amber, you know you were the one we could all go to when we needed to get something done. You were that person on the staff, and everyone knew it. You’ve just got to find those power points on your campus now.”

3 easy ways to get started…

  1. Choose people who don’t need to be micromanaged. Make sure they are on board and up for the task.
  2. Ensure that your expectations are understood. Be clear if your goals and what the final product should look like.
  3. Follow up, check in, touch base…delegating doesn’t mean not following up! Give plenty of praise and credit where it is due.


By not delegating, you may give off the impression that you don’t think those around you are up for the task. Successful delegation of authority as a leadership style takes time and energy, but it’s worth the time and energy build other leaders. This week, have a conversation and decide who YOU can empower. Delegate!


Have a great week!



Week 19 – Communication Essentials #SAVMP

In our world of constant updates and information, I believe we have to be thoughtful on how we communicate with parents when a “traditional” way serves best.  For example, many schools use things like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Remind101, etc., to connect with parents (I can’t believe that I forgot email) and share the story of their school.  This is great, but there are a few considerations that I stress to educators.

For example, when an incident has happened with a student, a phone call or in person conversation, is your main go to.  Never deliver bad news about someone’s child through email.  That is a standard.  The other thing that I always consider is that I always call home to a parent when their child has been in my office and talk to them while the child is in the room with me (most of the time but there are times when it needs to be a private discussion with the parent).  My assumption is that if a child went home at the end of the day and told their parents they were in the office, minds would begin to race and it could cause an issue when there is none.  It also ensures one story.  I know that as a kid, if I was in trouble and my teacher never called home, my story was WAY different than the one the teacher would have told.

Telling your story is essential and we have so many mediums to do this now, but it is important to also remember when NOT to use them.

For this week, I want you to talk about some of your communication essentials and ways that you believe are imperative that we communicate with all of these technologies available.

Week 17: Bringing Parents Into The Learning Process #SAVMP

Recently I wrote a post on my own blog regarding parents and some ideas on how to bring them into the learning process at school.  This week, I encourage you to share some of the ways that you bring parents into the classroom through your own blogs.  Here is the full text of my recent post below.


cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Spiro Bolos

“The role of parents in the education of their children cannot be overestimated.” ~Unknown

When you ask parents from any country in the world, what they ask their children at the end of the day about school, their question is very similar:

“What did you learn today?”

The disconcerting thing is that the answer is almost always exactly the same.


Parents are a great untapped resource in our schools, and social media gives us an opportunity to engage them in their child’s classroom in a way that we never were able to before.  The traditional modes of communication are still vital in the way we connect with parents.  I am a firm believer in the importance of calling parents to share good news and hearing a voice is the only way that bad news is delivered.  I strongly suggest that an educator never deliver any bad news about a child over email.  Although I do not have children of my own, I remember my secretary distinctly saying to me, “When you call a parent to deliver some bad news about their child, you are about to destroy their world.  Make sure that you let them know the positives and that you still care about their kid.”  That advice has always stuck with me.

With all of that being said, I think that there is a larger role that we can ask parents to play in the learning of their child.  In my view, if a parent reinforces the learning of the school, at home, the child is more likely to be successful.

Here are some ways that we can build strong connections with the parents in our school communities:

1.  Use what the kids use – Often times, when communicating home with parents, we have created special platforms or have put a lot of money in developing a website to ensure that we constantly “branding” our school.  Yet this type of communication is all surface with little depth.  If we can connect using mediums (blogs, YouTube, Twitter, etc.) that our students use, not only are we building an understanding and instructional leadership within our schools, but we are familiarizing our parents with many of the tools that their children will be using.  The first time a parent uses a blog, should not be from their child, but from adults in the school.  This shows that we are not just “throwing” kids online, but we are building our own understanding as well.

2. Have an open mind – I cannot count the number of times I have heard from teachers or administrators that “the parents will never go for this”, when talking about the changing landscape in schools.  My question is, “Have you asked them?”

I fell prey to this assumption before.  After a session with a group of parents, one of the parents had her hand raised and looked annoyed with what I had just presented.  Preparing myself for the pushback I was used to receiving, she said to me, “Why are we not moving faster?”  I couldn’t believe it and was ecstatic to know that there were many parents out there that are pushing for the same opportunities for learning that many progressive educators are pushing for.

You may not have all parents excited about the changes that are happening in school, but they are out there.  You have to find them which leads into the next point.

3.  Tap into parent leadership – One thing that we have to realize is that parents are more likely to listen to other parents.  Not necessarily educators that have children because they may feel their view is biased, but other parents in your school community.  What is imperative is that we connect with parents that have a voice with others and get their feedback on new initiatives.  This is not necessarily a parent-council type meetings, but in one-on-one conversations. It is also not a time to simply tell parents what the school is trying to do, but to listen to them, get feedback, implement their  advice, and show them that you have listened.  Once this happens, it is important that we ask those parents to talk to others so that they get their perspective.  Focusing on developing parent leadership, listening to them, and empowering their voice is crucial if we want to move forward as a school community.

4. Focus on open communication – Every week I would write an email to staff sharing where I was during the week and some articles that I suggested for them to read.  I thought about it, and there was no reason why I shouldn’t share this information with parents.  I then decided to share that information through a blog and make it open to our community.  Obviously there was nothing shared in this space that would be considered confidential, but it was important to share the learning my staff was doing openly with our parents.  Sharing blogs and articles from other schools, helps to show your community that the things that our school is doing is not something specific to our school, but many others are taking on similar endeavours.  Leading parents to a Twitter hashtag for the school and encouraging staff to tweet to it during conferences, also shows what teachers are learning in real time while also giving a parents to connect with them in that space as well.  Blogs, Twitter, and other Web 2.0 technologies allow parents to not only hear the conversation, but to be a part of it.  With most people comfortable with back-and-forth communication, we have to make sure that we communicate in this same manner.

5.  Create learning opportunities – Traditionally, schools have had “parent-nights” where new initiatives or learning or simply shared with parents.  Parent-teacher interviews were one of these ways, where parents simply heard about what their child was learning.  But with activities such as “student-led conferences”, parents are actually engaging in the learning that is happening with their kids. Leaders like Patrick Larkin have had nights with parents where does not tell them about blogging and Twitter, but actually teaches them and gets them to engage in the practice.  With all of the amazing things that many schools are doing, it is very powerful to give parents the opportunity to learn these activities so that they can partake at home with their child.

You often hear comments that parents are advocating for the old ways of school, but ultimately, they just want the best for their kids.  If we focus on bringing parents into the schools, it is my hope that they become grateful of how much better school can be now, they will be advocating for change alongside educators.  When we work together with our parent communities and focus on bringing them in on the learning of their child, the opportunities for our students will be endless.

Week 16: Critical Conversations as an Administrator: #SAVMP

“We succeed or fail one conversation at a time.”

Hard conversations are never easy. Regardless of how “right” they may be, it doesn’t make it any easier on the person giving it, or the person receiving it. It can be one of  the most difficult parts of an administrators job, and can easily turn into a disaster. When problems arise, in the worst companies people will withdraw into silence. In the best companies, people will hold a crucial confrontation, face to face and in the moment. And they’ll hold it well.

Dialogue example – Steps to Mastering a Crucial Conversation

Before embarking on a critical, or crucial, conversation…ask yourself these three questions:

  1. How important is it for the students or staff that I bring this up? Is it a “me” thing or is it an”impacting student success” thing?
  2. Is what is going on in the classroom unsafe or damaging to students or staff?
  3. What would happen if I didn’t have the conversation?


Other tips to keep in mind:

  • Have a plan. Who will be involved in the conversation? Where will it take place? When will it happen? Will it be documented?
  • What should your role be? Remember to listen to all parties involved. Be genuine in your efforts to resolve the issue at hand. Find a solution that fits. Beware of hidden agendas.
  • You are the LEADER. It all begins and ends with you. The tone, intent, and follow through are all going to depend on how you handle the situation.

There will be a google hangout this week on “Critical Conversations”, stay tuned! (I will update this post when time and guests are decided!)


For your prompt for this week, blog about how you handle crucial conversations and at what point you step in to have them. What advice would you give to a new administrator in having to have a crucial, or fierce, conversation?

Have a great week, and where ever you are, stay warm!


Resources used  and for more information:

Crucial Conversations:  Tools for talking when stakes are high  Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler

Crucial Accountability:  Tools for Resolving Violated Expectations, Broken Commitments, and Bad Behavior

Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler

Fierce Conversations:  Achieving Success at Work and in Life, One Conversation at a Time

Susan Scott

Critical Conversations for Dummies

Dr. Christina Schlachter



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