Creating the Right Setting for Self-Evaluation

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There is no magic formula to creating an environment in which self-evaluation can flourish, but there are some underlying principles that will help you to gain some personal clarity, establish a conducive setting and keep the school moving in the right direction at the right speed. It is essential to remember that people carry out self-evaluation and this is where you must initially focus your attention if you want the processes to work. Without the people aspect, you will simply have a production line that runs at a pre-set speed and churns out the same thing time after time – this is when self-evaluation becomes a meaningless activity and is essentially a burden on any school.

Create an inspiring vision for the school

Strategy is about big picture and about taking a long-term view that transcends day-to-day operational issues. It is very easy to get sucked into the detail and bogged down in the minutia of daily life in the school, but you must make sure that you filter what is most important and relevant. You can only do this if you have a clear vision of what you are trying to achieve — a representation of what your strategy will actually deliver.

  • Establish in a vision takes time but it is time well spent.
  • Imagine what the school’s future will be like.
  • The vision should be clear and simple.

Your vision should be an aspirational description of what the school will look like in the future. It should allow people to see a picture in their mind and imagine what the school will achieve and accomplish, as well as providing them with a clear direction to plan their future goals and actions. If you represent the vision purely in words, then it is left open to different interpretations of language and things will get lost in translation.

As principal, you may understand and appreciate the importance of having a clearly articulated vision, but what about your senior leaders … your middle leaders … your teachers … your governors? Think about bringing different these different stakeholders together for a session during which you collectively create a vision board that summarizes and represents your school’s vision, which can then be displayed and shared across the school.

What makes your school unique and different from the school down the road? Your vision needs to answer this question and should serve as a marketing tool to convince potential parents that this is the school community that their children need to be part of. Yet, producing a vision and engaging in self-evaluation and improvement are not unique to schools, so reading about approaches outside education can help you think in a different way and see things from a different perspective — look to other cultures, education systems and the world of business for inspiration.

Create the right environment for people to buy in

This may sound a little obvious, but you might be surprised by the number of times school leaders struggle with some of the things they are asked to do in the name of self-evaluation. One of the biggest barriers to successful self-evaluation is when people blindly take part in activities where they have little emotional investment. In other words, they are simply going through the motions. Although this may ensure that the processes run and that some form of evaluation activity actually takes place, it is neither a useful nor profitable approach and wastes precious time and energy.

  • So how do you create the right environment for people to buy-in to self-evaluation?
  • Basically, you have to live your values and lead by example.
  • The buck may stop with you, but you cannot do it alone!

Demonstrate integrity by following your own advice, being honest and treating others the way you wish to be treated. In the context of self-evaluation, this means challenging yourself about what you are asking other people to do and being sure that your motives are clear enough and they understand why this action is important. By focusing on the why rather than the what or how, you will increase buy-in and subsequently accelerate the pace and speed of the process.

Practice humility by not letting your ego control your thoughts and actions. Instead of comparing yourself and your school to others — and then trying to do everything yourself — focus on how you can help the people around you to achieve their part of the evaluation and improvement process.

Practice humility by not letting your ego control your thoughts and actions. Instead of comparing yourself and your school to others — and then trying to do everything yourself — focus on how you can help the people around you to achieve their part of the evaluation and improvement process.

Share your gratitude. Schools can only realize their strategy by working in teams and it is important to build in opportunities for recognition and acknowledgment of this. The most effective schools distribute their self-evaluation across all parts of their community — remember the Ninja metaphor and the pitfalls it can create!

Engage all stakeholders with authenticity and purpose

The most important thing to remember is that everyone must be pulling in the same direction and share a sense of urgency to make things happen. As principal, you need to be explicit about everyone’s responsibilities and set clear expectations and boundaries. Each individual should be able to explain their key priority — the main focus in their area of responsibility at any given point in time — and then be able to articulate their contribution to both evaluation and improvement.

Have courage and take responsibility for getting things done

It is important to realise that, although exterior conditions do have an impact, it is your internal decisions that are far more important when it comes to the actions you take and the type of school you are striving to create. As principal, your job is simply to take charge of the school’s self-evaluation, which requires responsibility, courage and discipline. Now that you have ensured that everyone understands the contribution they are expected to make to self-evaluation, your job is to set key targets and milestones that will allow you, and your senior leaders, to take the pulse and manage the rhythm of school improvement.

Create unity and motivate your team to perform

The successful delivery of your school’s self-evaluation will depend and rely on the people who implement the process. It is very rare that schools do not have some appropriate processes in place, but it is much more likely that they do not have consistent behaviors among their people. As principal, you need to understand how to motivate the different individuals on your teams and ensure that everyone understands that successful teams deliver more than the sum of each individual’s effort. There will inevitably be times when it would be quicker for you to do things yourself but demonstrating respect and empathy in the workplace means showing others that their ideas and opinions are valued. If someone makes a suggestion it is important that their voice is heard and that you, and their colleagues, do not dismiss it too quickly. Team building is a learned skill and fundamental to that skill is the ability to identify the individual’s voice and ensure that voice is recognized by the wider group.

See obstacles as challenges and opportunities to grow

Having a strategy for school-led self-evaluation is important but having the capacity to be flexible and adaptable when circumstances change is just as important. There are inevitably times when the unexpected will occur and you are faced with giving up or pushing through — this is where resilience and perseverance come into play.

The speed at which your school will deliver its self-evaluation is as much about managing the challenges and obstacles that get in your way than aligning performance with targets and goals. If you have someone on your team that you know is skilled in an area you may be lacking, don’t be afraid to go and ask them for help — remember everyone has a special talent and skill looking for an opportunity to shine and add value.

Despite their hierarchical position in the school, principals are often left feeling vulnerable and isolated, especially when things are not going well. As principal, you need to accept that feedback is rarely intended to insult — even when it may appear blunt and negative. It is important to learn to take whatever truth there may be in the criticism and act to move forward rather than dwell on it.

  • Never give up!
  • We often underestimate the time and amount of effort a goal will take to achieve.
  • Instead of giving up or lowering the mark, give yourself more time and/or increase your efforts.

Schools are learning organizations and, as such, have developed highly effective systems for reflection, review and development that are applied to personalize students’ learning. It should therefore be a relatively easy and natural progression to extend this same philosophy to a school’s self-evaluation to ensure that it is truly personalized to the needs of the school.

Reflect — what is working well and what is not?

Review — what challenges and obstacles are we facing?

Develop — what can we do differently to make sure our self-evaluation remains fit for purpose?

Blend all the pieces to develop sustainable practices

We already know that self-evaluation is an ongoing process rather than a one-off or intermittent event, so how do we blend all the principles together to develop and implement a coherent strategy that creates sustainable self-evaluation practice in the school?

  • Don’t try to do it alone!
  • Keep it simple — prevent yourself and your school from over-complicating things to the point of paralysis and inaction.
  • Create a clear and compelling vision to engage all stakeholders and make sure they understand their contribution.
  • Break every action up into smaller pieces until each individual chunk seems like a manageable task (focus and plan for one priority).
  • Define and articulate the behaviors you expect from your people.
  • Recognize, acknowledge and celebrate success.
  • Navigate obstacles — adapt your approach — learn from your experience.

Once you have developed your strategy it will be much easier to embed effective self-evaluation into your school’s practice … the next challenge is to ensure it is sustainable. This hinges very much on maintaining the morale and well-being of the people who have to implement the practice. Finding the right balance or combination of work and play in your school can be a challenge, particularly when the stakes are high. However, it is important to step back and build in time for renewal and recognition to ensure that everyone is engaged and feels valued.

School improvement is hard work —students and families are demanding — governors expect results yesterday — regulators expect schools to implement initiatives overnight. Consequently, as the accountable school leader, you must take responsibility for setting and monitoring the direction and pace of the school’s self-evaluation by having a clearly defined strategy.

by Lesley Hunter and Maggie Wright

The Greatest Lesson in Life from the Commencement Address Never Given

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I remember starting my first job as a systems engineer on an aerospace project. My new boss gave me an unusual assignment on my start day. He wanted me to tell him what “E = mC(squared)” and “You can’t push on a rope” meant.

As part of figuring out the answer he said to first ask anyone you want in the department for advice or insight. Of course, I thought he just wanted me to meet everyone on my own since I already knew the answer to both questions.

It turned out I was wrong on all parts.

Here’s what I told him when we met for lunch in the cafeteria on the third day of my first job.

“E = mC(squared)” While I got the scientific principle right the bigger purpose was to understand how this relates to the real world of product design given competing constraints on functionality, time, cost and manufacturability. The lesson: It doesn’t matter how smart you are if you lose sight of the big picture.

“You can’t push on a rope.” I thought this one had to do with strength of materials, some kind of force diagram and one of Newton’s laws. But it turned out to be about human nature. The lesson: The most important part is that you can’t push the people involved to do what you want them to do despite overwhelming analysis or engineering evidence. You have to understand their needs first.

I learned later that Zig Zigler said it more eloquently, “You can get everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”

That’s a principle everyone needs to apply to get ahead regardless of their age or their job.

Here are a few other useful life principles I learned early on in my career.

In my first engineering design class the professor showed a picture of a bridge across some river that didn’t meet perfectly in the middle. There was a six-inch offset. The professor started by saying that in this course you’ll learn how to ensure this will never happen to you. Planning ahead was the big lesson. Thinking of the consequences of your actions was the more subtle point. Stephen Covey’s “Begin With the End in Mind” pretty much sums it up. While this stuff is easy to say, it’s hard to do whether you’re building a bridge or figuring out how to just get through the day.

Persistence overrides intellect. In most of my engineering classes the answers to the problems were given. My non-engineering friends thought this was too easy. I thought so too until I was given one very complex problem to figure out. It took me all night and a lot of trial and error to get the right answer.

There were a lot of lessons learned that night. The obvious one: Getting the answer right was secondary. Figuring out how to find the right solution was the purpose of having the answer given. A lot of smart people gave up too soon. That’s when I realized that persistence is far more important than intellect.

Some similar things happened a short time later as an intern and during my first full-time engineering job. I was assigned two very complex technical projects. In each case there was an initial 2-3 weeks of total confusion. It was clear I was going around in circles, over my head and an abject failure. After stumbling about, talking with people and thinking about the problem from a totally different perspective, the fog starting lifting. Soon a solution emerged. In both cases it took a few very uncomfortable weeks to go from nothing to a potential solution. Of course, getting the actual solution took a lot longer but that was the easy part. The lesson learned again: It’s okay to be confused but it you keep at you’ll figure out what to do.

I learned later that Winston Churchill said it much better, “Never ever give up. Never!”

But that wasn’t the big lesson in all this. By not giving up too soon you build confidence in yourself to take on any project as long as you can figure out a solution and create a vision of where you’re going. As a result I then started volunteering for projects and positions over my head and even asking for promotions in different departments. And I got them by selling the vision to others and getting them to see how this would personally benefit them. This got them to be allies not foes and they became proactively involved in ensuring we were all successful.

The real lesson is that true confidence is contagious. But you need to struggle a lot before you develop it in yourself. So look for some struggles to tackle. A lot of them. And never give up despite how easy it might be to do. I’m not sure, but maybe this is how leaders are developed, too.

Thought for Today

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Little Hinges Swing Big Doors

Many of Life’s Failures

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“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they give up.”

Thomas Edison, American Inventor
 
 

The Nature of Collaborative Work

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The Nature of Collaborative Work

In his unpublished paper, Learning is the Work (May 2011), Michael Fullan cites several elements that he believes inform each other as basic to building effective instructional practice in the classroom linked to student achievement.  He calls this cross fertilization of elements of collaborative work the instruction-achievement nexus.  The elements include:

  1. Focus: i.e., personalization related to the individual needs of students.
  2. Teachers learn best from other teachers provided they are also working on improvement and their exchanges are purposeful and based on evidence.
  3. Supportive leaders are essential and most effective when administrators i.e., the principal, participates as a learning in working with teachers to make improvements.
  4. Cross school learning from each other is a 4th element. Fullan suggests small clusters of schools (3-8 schools for example) working together to learn and solve problems and share solutions together.
  5. Finally, there needs to be vertical support across levels throughout all stakeholder groups i.e., schools, communities, districts, etc.

For the entire article, access it at www.michaelfullan.ca

Letting Go

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Letting go does not mean to stop caring, it means I can’t do it for someone else.

Letting go is not to cut myself off, it is the realization that I can’t control another.

Letting go is not to enable, but to allow learning from natural consequences.

Letting go is to admit powerlessness, which means the outcome is not in my hands.

Letting go is not to try to change or blame another, it is to make the most of myself.

Letting go is to not care for, but to care about.

Letting go is not to fix, but to be supportive.

Letting go is not to judge, but to allow another to be a human being.

Letting go is not to be in the middle arranging the outcome, but to allow others to affect their own destinies.

Letting go is not to be protective, it is to permit another to face reality.

Letting go is not to deny, but to accept.

Letting go is not to nag, scold, or argue, but instead to search out my own shortcomings and correct them.

Letting go is not to adjust everything to my own desires, but to take each day as it comes and cherish myself in it.

Letting go is not to criticize and regulate anybody, but to become what I dream I can be.

Letting go is not to regret the past, but to grow and live for the future.

Letting go is to fear less and live more!

Author unknown

5 Ways Principals Can Keep More Irreplaceable Teachers

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Irreplaceables ….. Teachers who are so successful they are nearly impossible to replace, but who too often vanish from schools as the result of neglect and inattention.

Irreplaceables influence students for life, and their talents make them invaluable assets to their schools.  The problem is, their schools don’t seem to know it.

1.  Start the school year with great expectations

The best teachers want clarity. Use meeting or orientation time at the start of the year to rally teachers around a clear and specific definition of excellent teaching and a set of goals for making the school a better place for learning. Then set individual goals aligned to that vision. Tell teachers that you will observe them frequently and that you will be honest when they are falling short. Be clear that ineffective teaching is not an option.

2.  Recognize excellence publicly and frequently

Don’t let success be a secret. Set aside 5 to 10 minutes in regular meetings to publicly celebrate teachers who have done exceptional work in the classroom or achieved a notable milestone with their students. Congratulate them and tie what they’re doing to the school’s goals and vision of great teaching. Don’t praise everyone every time; nothing demoralizes Irreplaceables more than false praise for mediocre or poor performance.

 3.  Treat your Irreplaceables like they are irreplaceable

Make it hard to leave your school. List the teachers who are most critical to your school’s academic success and spend time with them. Observe them at work and offer regular feedback. Get to know their interests and development needs, help them access resources, and give them opportunities to grow their careers and increase their impact. Invest them in the school by involving them in decision-making, and make sure other school leaders treat them well, too.

 4. Start having “stay conversations ” by Thanksgiving

Many teachers use the winter holidays to think about what’s next. Block off time after Thanksgiving to talk to your Irreplaceables and rising-star teachers about continuing to teach at the school next year. Tell them how important they are and how much you want them to return. Ask them about their own interests and concerns, and if they are considering other options, ask what you can do to convince them to stay.

 5. Hold the line on good teaching

Schools that refuse to tolerate poor teaching keep more of their top teachers. Inevitably, some teachers will struggle, despite good intentions and hard work. Be honest with them about their weaknesses, give them regular feedback and support, and set reasonable limits on how long they have to show significant improvement (months, not years). Make sure they don’t get mixed messages from other school administrators or coaches. However difficult it may be, do not allow unsuccessful teachers to linger.

from Understanding the Real Retention Crisis in America’s Urban Schools

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