Time Management for School Leaders #SAVMP

How Do You Manage Your Time As Principal?

Many things in life change and evolve, but the total time in a day continues to be 24 hours. Part of being the best parent, teacher, administrator we can be is maximizing that time while eating and getting enough rest to live a healthy and rewarding lifestyle.  How we use our time as school leaders has a direct impact on what we are able to achieve as students, staff and an organization as a whole. Balance is not easy and some days and weeks it looks different from others. When you’re a principal, one incident that occurs just after the morning announcements can consume a good part of the day when you had so many things on the day’s docket.


As leaders, we know this is going to happen. We know one of the beauties of “the job” is that it is unpredictable, and you never know what is going to happen when you walk into the school each morning. The awesome responsibility we have is to proactively plan for circumstances around professional development, school safety, arrival/dismissal, special education services, staff culture and morale, student/staff/parent relatiobships, custodial, secretarial and the overall day to day management of a busy school building. Now matter what level of school you work at, the day goes by fast and skipping lunches and bathroom breaks becomes the norm when you’re “in the weeds” from time to time.


Don’t choose to go at it alone

At school, much like at home, I’ve found it beneficial to including the support around me in my plans, goals and deadlines. This takes an extra helping of transparency in the day to day work, but in the end when you communicate regularly to your “work family,” you have your secretary, custodian, teacher leaders and others necessary seeing through a similar perspective. At home, my wife and I have a shared Google Calendar on our phones, and home events are booked just like those at work.


This month’s #SAVMP is to take a closer look at your own proactive time management as a school leader and as a person. One resource that I’ve used over the years to help me prioritize the most important parts of my day (where I want to invest my time the most) is The Big Rocks Principal Management. I read this Kim Marshall piece in Principal Magazine back in March of 2008, and it stuck with me. I actually brought a vase and rocks in to live on my desk as as a constant visual reminder of where my mind needs to be focused.


CLICK IMAGE TO VIEW PDF including 10 Big Rocks for Principals

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Tools, like a good workout program can put you in a position to be successful, but you have to do the work. There are quite a few tools available that might support efforts to focus your time on what is important. Obviously “there’s an app for that” here in 2015, but again maximizing your time is about mindset and discipline. We can’t expect any tools or app to do the heavy lifting for us. Check out a few “pomodoro apps” (can be downloaded in the

Video on the Pomodoro Technique via Ignite Phoenix by Greg Head


Two recommended tools to get you thinking…

Focus app - Pomodoro

Focus app – Pomodoro

1) I’ve been using the FOCUS pomodoro app since grad school, and use it more at home than at school to get writing, reading and special projects completed.

2) Take control of your Google email with http://sortd.com. On Twitter follow @GetSortd.

Image credit: computerrelatedsolutions.com

Image credit: computerrelatedsolutions.com

How do you manage your time? What have you found as helpful? What has been a roadblock for you? Any tools out there that you’d recommend to a colleague to keep The Big Rocks in focus each day?

Dr. @Joe_Mazza serves as the Leadership Innovation Manager at @PennGSE’s Mid-Career Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership @MCDPEL. You can follow the work of the MCDPEL Innovations Lab here. 

Growth mindset, #SAVMP for December

Is Growth Mindset a Sliding Spectrum?

I want to swim in the deep, murky waters of nuance when it comes to growth mindset. Maybe I need some lessons.

 Royan Lee

This is how Royan Lee finishes off his article on Growth Mindset.  It is a good place to finish a post on how we develop our own growth mindset.  This is something I am thinking about this year.  Our board has made this an important initiative this year for all of us and I know many school boards conducted studies and research on this last year.

I think as teachers, we get into this profession because we believe in having a growth mindset.  I think it is a great focus for our school board.  I really like how Lee used the How to Learn Math’ series by Jo Boaler in his post.  He is following the series and I am going to encourage our teachers to do the same thing.

This will be a good series for me too – I actually said in a staff meeting ‘I never could teach math’ …good start!

For us, the challenge of growth mindset will be transferring this to our students and parents.  I know I have lots to learn about all of this, but my first thought is that we need to make sure our students believe in themselves.  They need to know that they can make a fundamental change in their living circumstances.

One of my goals this year will be to have a growth mindset for myself, the staff, students and our parent community.  Where can we growth, where can we move to.

People with a growth mind-set don’t put people in categories and expect them to stay there, but people with a fixed mind-set do. They not only believe in fixed traits, but they also believe that they can quickly and accurately judge those traits. This means that once they have decided that someone is or is not capable, they are not very open to new information to the contrary. And they may not mentor people who they have decided are not capable.

When teachers decide that certain students are not capable (or when principals decide that certain teachers are not capable), they may not take steps to help them develop their potential. In a recent study,  people who had a fixed or growth mind-set and were asked to respond to a seventh-grade student who had received a poor grade on the first mathematics test of the year. Those who had a fixed mind-set comforted the student and told the student that not everyone could be good in mathematics.

In sharp contrast, those who had a growth mind-set said that they knew that the student could do better, encouraged the student to try harder, and gave the student specific suggestions for study and learning strategies. For the educator with a fixed mind-set, learning is the students’ responsibility. If students don’t have what it takes, so be it. But for the educator in a growth mind-set, learning is a collaboration in which the teacher has great responsibility.

It is essential for educators to communicate that they hold a growth mind-set. Recently, we studied college sports teams. At the beginning of the year, we asked athletes to tell us how much they thought their coaches believed success came from natural talent and how much they thought their coaches believed success came from practice and hard work. The more that athletes thought their coaches believed in hard work over natural talent, the better the athletes did that year. Students know what educators value—they pick up their messages and act on them.

We will try all sorts of projects to see if we can encourage a growth mindset – right now we are trying to redevelop our entire schoolyard.  It is a bit of a crazy idea, but it is capturing the imagination of our kids and teachers.  If you push hard enough, what can you achieve?

Leadership is a learning journey – I totally agree with Lee – I will need lots of lessons! Discuss this month how you as a leader can help promote and grow the “mindset” on your campus.


Admin credibility, #SAVMP for November

In our last discussion we focused on the idea of “Fostering Effective Relationships”. This started with discussing how you create connections in building community, which is essential to the work that we do every day in schools. This is about showing “character”, and an important focus in building relationships.

This post, we would like to focus on the idea of your credibility as an administrator. In any profession, if people feel you do not understand their work, your credibility lacks, often leading to a lack in leadership. As discussed in George’s original post on “5 Questions You Should Ask Your Principal”, instructional leadership is important to our role in schools today.

With your mentor, we would love you to discuss the following question:

What are some areas of teaching and learning that you can lead in your school?

After you have some discussion, it would be great for you to make this thinking visible to others through your blog, but it is also important that you reflect to have an idea of your own strengths, since often, we do not recognize our own abilities.

Remember, you have the entire month of November to discuss this idea and don’t HAVE to be a part of SAVMP to participate.

We are looking forward to seeing what you share moving forward!



#SAVMP, what should you be doing?

A couple of reminders for this initial month…

  • Make regular contact with your mentor/mentee’s…vox, tweet, email…whatever you’d like! Develop relationships that will allow for transparency of strengths and weaknesses.
  • Write & reflect towards the monthly prompt. Prompts will be posted the first week of the month. You have the entire month to respond.
  • Connect on twitter, sharing the posts, using the #SAVMP hashtag.


Not an “official” member? Write & connect anyway! We welcome as many voices in the conversation as we can get!



#SAVMP, year 2 begins!

SAVMP Installment 1

We would like to welcome you to the second year of the SAVMP (School Admin Virtual Mentor Program). This year, we have decided to keep the pairings and the overall group smaller so that we can try to create a better program for participants. I am also excited to lead this project with Joe Mazza, Paul McGuire, and George Couros, to help with the dissemination of not only work, but more importantly, expertise and perspective.

To start off the program, we are going to focus on a blog post that George has written previously on “5 Questions You Should Ask Your Principal”, over the next 5 installments of this blog, we are going to give you and your mentor time to discuss each question and use it as the basis of your program.

The first question we are going to focus on is in based on the idea of creating strong relationships to build a solid foundation in your school. From our collective experience, we have seen many administrators focus on the idea of being “innovative” before focusing on the spending time with staff, students, and understanding classrooms. As George would say, “Innovation is a human endeavor”, and it is important that we focus on these connections first.

So here is the first question, whether you are a principal, vice-principal, or on any part of a leadership team:

“What are some ways you connect with your school community?”

Please feel free to write comments on the blog, discuss this with your mentor/mentee, and then share a post on your own blog, whether it is through writing, video, or some other medium.

If you are not an “official” member, but would like to contribute, please leave your link in the comments below.

Thanks for your dedication to this program! We are looking forward to learning from one another!


The end of the road, :) #SAVMP

Hi stranger friends!

I was Voxing with George this morning, 🙂 and we were lamenting how life just exploded for us both this spring. He was busy getting engaged and we all know how time consuming wedding planning can be, 🙂 Add that to an influx of speaking engagements, he’s been in high demand! Not just speaking locally either…the man has been ALL over. Meanwhile, I’ve been busy getting a new job in a neighboring district and had an award thrown in, just for good measure.

Excuses? Possibly. The reality of our admin worlds? Definitely.

There isn’t a calm “season” in education, especially when you are trying to live to the fullest outside of your building. Recognizing the ebbs and flows of what we do is important to recognize as you contemplate leadership. We talk about modeling what we want to see from our staff, and this balance counts too! Administrators have to set boundaries and limits. The purpose of leading is to show through your walk and talk, that you are genuine. Being busy, and letting things slide at times, (gulp.) is a reality. It’s if and how you handle that slide that speaks loudest to your staff.



That being said, it’s the end of the school year. It’s time for EOY procedures, it’s time for making plans for the next year, it’s time for goodbyes. Thank you for joining us on this SAVMP adventure. I’m going to let George close us out proper, but I wanted to remind you to value the connections you have made through this program. Reach out to me, or George, or your mentee’s/mentor’s, if you ever have a need.

Good luck and happy summer!





Week 27: Little Things and School Culture #savmp

When I first began as principal, I wanted to build a culture that was focused always on the notion of “what is best for kids”.  If we always started with this question, we would make better decisions for our students.

As I wanted the school to be extremely focused on our kids, I noticed that when you walked into the front foyer, they had the pictures of all the former principals at the school, and soon my picture would be added to the wall.  I hated it.

If we were to be a school that focused on kids, why was the first thing that you saw when you walked into the school the principal, past and present.  I decided that all of the pictures were to be taken down and replaced by pictures of current students in the building doing different activities.  The change was massive!  As my office was right by the front office, I noticed kids, parents, and staff all staring up at the wall, mesmerized by the pictures.  We also put a TV up in front and head just a running slide show of students so we could get as many of our students shared in the front hallway.  That little change and focus on them, set a tone for so many other aspects of what happened in school with students.

Sometimes we do not notice the little things in our school that are just “fixtures” on the wall but promote a very different culture of what we are trying to create.  This was one of the reasons that we started this program in the first place.  The idea that you could talk to someone outside of your own organization to get some different ideas and perspective on how to build a more positive culture in your leadership.

What are some of the little things that you could do or have done, to promote a more positive culture for students?

Thanks to one of my favourite principals in the world, Shauna Boyce, for inspiring this question with her recent blog post on “School Culture“.

Week 26: What makes a great teammate? #savmp

Leaders should never work in isolation and the best one’s often create teams that will ensure they are doing what is best for kids.  In a previous article I posted on my own blog, I share some of the attributes that I look for in a great Assistant Principal.  I would like to challenge you to think and share what you look for in a “leadership partner”?  See the article below.



cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Big Mind Zen Center

A good friend of mine has just become an Assistant Principal (Vice Principal), which was probably one of the best jobs that I have ever had.  Often you get to help guide the direction of the school but you still have many opportunities to be in the classroom and connect with kids, more so than a principal.  That being said, I believe that a principal can still connect with kids in many ways, but in my experience, they have a lot more meetings and have to be out of school a lot more.

I have been blessed to have worked with an amazing principal who had taught me a lot and even though we would argue (a lot), it was always about figuring out what was best for the school.  To be honest, he encouraged the push-back because he cared more about “what was right” as opposed to “being right”.  My two years with him was probably one of the best learning experiences that I have ever had and I still connect with him all of the time when I need help because he always focuses on what is best for kids.

On the other side of the coin, as a school principal, I was blessed to work with amazing vice principals who pushed me to be better.  They challenged me to be better, but they were also sponges.  They were always open to learn and develop; not only from what I would share to them, but from the experiences that they had with staff, students, and parents.  I expect (these are non-negotiables) that administrators focus on building relationships with the entire school community, are approachable, are change agents, and ALWAYS have the idea of “what is best for kids” driving their decision-making.  My “administrative team” colleagues have had these qualities in spades.

Thinking about the work that I have seen from many staff in Parkland School Division, here are some of the other qualities that I noticed the most successful ones have all had:

1. Self-starters – There is often a misperception that a principal should be delegating tasks to the leadership team and I guess sometimes this does happen.  With that being said, I rarely had to ever ask my leadership team to do anything because they were already jumping on every opportunity to do different things for our school.  One of my proudest days as a principal was when our school started “Identity Day“, not only because it was such a great day for our school community, but this was an idea that was started and lead by my assistant principal.  Not only did she come up with the idea, but she worked with every single grade to ensure that the day was a success.  Being able to be actively lead initiatives and work alongside teachers gave them instant credibility.

They did not only do the “fun” jobs, but my assistant principals jumped up to take on some of the boring stuff to ensure that we would all work together to better their school.  Did they love doing that work?  Probably not.  But they knew what my strengths and weaknesses were and we would do things that would compliment one another as opposed to say “that is a job for the principal”

2. Determined to work towards success. – I have always been adverse to say things such as, “I am okay with failure”, because of the people that I have been blessed to work with.  I think of Jesse McLean and “Innovation Week“.  When he shared his thoughts with me about the week he was determined to make it a success, yet I know there were a lot of challenges that he, his admin team, and his school worked through to make the day a success.  When I think of “failure”, I think of it as a step towards success, as opposed to something that determines success.  Things may not be perfect, but I know that some of the people I look up to work extremely hard to make whatever they do the best possible.  Failure is not finite, but a bump along the way.

3. Always takes ownership when things go wrong, but always gives credit when things go right. – When I think about “Innovation Week” and “Identity Day“, what was humbling was that the people that lead these initiatives gave ALL of the credit to others even though they were the catalysts for the ideas.  They repeatedly acknowledge the hard work of the staff and said nothing of their part.  On the other hand though, if things would have failed or there would have been trouble, they would have owned that and not blamed others.  What that shows me over and over again, is that they are more worried about what is best for kids and the well-being of staff.  They carried a lot of weight on their shoulders yet they gave credit so much to others.  Not that it wasn’t deserving (because it absolutely was), but their focus was on the team and not themselves.  Still, they knew they had to do their part to make sure it was a success.

4. They will challenge authority.– I will never forget my interview to become an Assistant Principal with my soon-to-be boss.  We actually got in an argument during the interview and I thought that I would have no chance to get the job.  A few days later, he called and offered me the job.  What he had told me was that he did not want me to say “yes” to everything that he had said, but to push against him when I disagreed.  He did not want to go in front of the staff and say something that was ridiculous while I just simply watched him and disagreed in my head.  Again, he focused on what was right, not being right.  This did not mean that he agreed with everything that I said when I did challenge him, but he always tweaked his ideas based on my feedback.

When I hired my AP, this was a quality I knew that she had because she had pushed me as a teacher when I was an administrator.  I knew she was always focused on what was best and I learned so much from her challenges that I thought there would be no better hire.  If you are looking for someone to just agree with everything you say as an administrator, then you are better off hiring no one.

I was spoiled as both a Principal and Assistant Principal to work with amazing people that helped me to be successful.  I learned a ton from them and they were people that were extremely talented, trusting, yet were sponges; they always wanted to learn and grow.  With those that I have worked with, they have taught me that these qualities they possessed were not only for “administrators”, but are something that you should expect from others in your organization as well.  As an administrator, you sometimes have to make some tough calls, but if you are open to working with your administrative team and build trust with your school, those decisions become easier.

As I write this, I worry that many people new to administrative teams will think that simply implementing these ideas with their “boss” will lead to success, which is not true at all.  Leaders of organization would have to be open to these things, but in my opinion, if they are, their schools will be much more successful.  The collaborative approach to school leadership (not just administrators, but whole school) is more likely to lead success for kids than would an approach based on one.  I am hoping that the “top” of organizations would think about these qualities that I have listed and think about how they create an environment to ensure that these qualities can flourish.

If you are not open to learning from others in your building as “the leader”, will you really be able to create an environment where students and staff excel?

Weekly Update: Teacher Leaders…are you cultivating? #SAVMP

When thinking about ways to bring about change or attempting to cultivate something new for your campus, where do you begin? Do you start with a formal staff meeting? Where you stand in front of the group and  tell them what you want to see happen?

How effective has the been?

Conversation at dinner last night talk centered around those rockstar teachers on your campus. The ones who are willing to go above and beyond because its what should be done for kids, not because they are getting paid to be there. When I think about some of the crazy ideas that I wanted to see happening in classrooms, I think about the teachers I went to talk  with to make that happen. When I wanted to see a bulletin board focused on the digital tools happening in the classroom, I knew exactly where to go to make that happen.  This teacher knew my expectations, knew my vision, and what my end goal was with the something as simple as a bulletin board. (Vision! It all come back to vision!) I also had to balance what was asked of this particular rockstar in order to not detract from her teaching, or her relationships amongst the staff. Todd Nesloney  wrote an inspiring post about how he embraced that role on his campus.

Who are your teacher leaders? How are you lifting them up and empowering them to be an example without ostracizing them from the rest of your staff? Share your strategies with your mentees this week so they can start keeping an eye out for ways to embrace and lift up those around them.

Have a great week!





Weekly update: Communication as a Leader #SAVMP

Recently I took part in a leadership activity that aptly illustrated the importance of “clear” communication. The group was partnered up. One partner had a picture of a figure, the other a blank piece of paper. While sitting back to back, the person with the figure attempted to explain what the picture looked like while the other partner drew. It is an understatement  to say that at the end of the activity, the pictures didn’t typically match.

As a leader it is up to you to clearly define not only your vision, but your expectations. If they are not so clearly stated that anyone can read, follow or understand, the onus falls on you, as the leader to clarify. If your expectation is that parents feel welcome when they walk in the doors, what are the look for’s that indicate that is happening? Have you shared those with your staff? What if your passion is that every student feels heard? What does that actually LOOK like in a classroom? Are your teachers aware? the counselor? Many leaders in the corporate world now understand that clear, two-way communication is vital to the success of any organization and its leaders. Jim Collins, in his best selling book about making organizations better, Good to Great, writes, “A primary task in taking a company [read: school or school system] from good to great is to create a culture wherein people have a tremendous opportunity to be heard and, ultimately, for the truth to be heard.” (2001, p. 88)

Students learn better when adults communicate well. The need for good communication in our schools is great because the needs of our students are great.  Students matter.

The spring is the downhill slide in education. We’re moving towards the end of the 2013-2014 year, and plans for 2014-2015 are on the horizon. Take advantage of what’s left of this semester to evaluate just how clear is your “communication”.  Is there something that you can share with your group that didn’t go as expected, because of a communication miscue? or a success?

Have a GREAT week!







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