Are you a producer or consumer?

Insight is the understanding of a specific cause and effect in a specific context.An insight that manifests itself suddenly, such as understanding how to solve a difficult problem, is sometimes called by the German word Aha-Erlebnis. The term was coined by the German psychologist and theoretical linguist Karl Bühler. It is also known as an epiphany. Source: Wikipedia

When I read Insights Into Action, I was hooked from the introduction. Bill Sterrett asked himself this very reflective question… “Am I really prepared for this?” I know that every school leader has wrestled with this question from time to time and for Bill to begin his book with that question was powerful. There are times when being a school leader is isolating and challenging. Throughout the book, Bill provides concrete examples of how to address the isolation and challenges. He needs us to take action!


I felt many parallels to Bill’s experiences as a school leader.  Bill was the principal of a Title 1 school in Virginia, challenged with the task of improving student achievement with limited resources. He had a very supportive superintendent, and was encouraged to take risks. Sound familiar?(If you have followed my blog you will see the striking similarities) So Bill challenged himself to tell his story, even going so far as telling me in a recent Skype conversation that we need more school leaders to be producers, not just consumers. Bill’s epiphany was clear, we all have insights into the education system, but how many of us are taking action?


Insights Into Action will be a quick read for anyone who is interested in a succinct framework for being a more effective leader. Bill integrates his interviews with some of the most influential practitioners of our age. You will read stories from:

  • Baruti Kafele, a vision-oriented, high energy school leader who provides his cell phone number to students, parents and teachers.
  • Rick DuFour, one of the leading proponents of being a learning leader through the use of PLCs.
  • Alex Carter, a Milken National Educator and coauthor of The Insider’s Guide to High School, as he discusses the crucial role Professional Development plays in leadership development.
  • Bill’s former superintendent Pamela Moran, the superintendent of Albemarle County Public School who is an author, presenter and active blogger as she discusses how technology as enhanced critical thinking skills.

Each chapter is organized in a way that allows the reader to reflect on their current practice, and then develop an action plan for improvement. I am excited about my action items I garnered from this book:

  • Start a book club with my colleagues (Insights Into Action) to enhance our professional practice together.
  • Continue to tell the story of my school, and district so that others may learn.
  • Schedule monthly walkthroughs with my colleagues to discuss instruction

“Even though we have busy schedules,” Bill said, “We need to be mindful of the importance of producing, not just consuming.”


What are you going to produce? 

The next frontier of reform: Just do it (right)

During the 2013 ASCD in conference in Chicago I was able to see one of my favorite speakers, Bryan Goodwin. Bryan, who was recently promoted to Chief Operating Officer of McREL and is a regular contributor to Education Leadership, discussed his take on the next frontier of reform.

Bryan began his presentation by asking a question about education reform… How well are we equipped with implementation? I could see his point because we often talk of ideas, espouse our theories, and pontificate on what is right… but do we know how to implement? Measure the implementation?

Knowing is not the same as doing

The objectives for his presentation were….

  • Identify common faulty assumptions about implementation
  • Provide you with new ways of thinking about implementation
  • Practical tips and guidance for better implementation

Bryan talked about some research that he conducted on the “Gold standards of studies” regarding programs to increase student achievement. The results were lackluster. What stood out to Bryan and his team was that the implementation had a significant impact on the the results. It left him with more questions then answers…

if we know better, why don’t we do better?

Bryan reviewed 5 implementation fallacies….

  • Truth shall set them free (When people know what to do, they will do it) -Professional Development doesn’t always work – Do people always automatically adopt new methods? He researched PD and found that just by telling people what to do (study the theory or demonstration or even practice) yields little in transferring the knowledge into the pedagogy  Yet, the research was clear that Peer Coaching has 95% transfer rate (Joyce & Showers,2002).
  • Talk slower and lower (Fear, facts and force overcome resistance)  – Bryan asked us a simple questions… Would you change or die? How many people out of 10 would change or die? The research shows that only 1 would actually change their behavior. What makes us change? Seeing how the change is possible, experiencing success and emotional support.
  • Shock and awe (Doing more does more) –What does your school implementation plan look like? Bryan showed us a few slides of various school districts’ implementation plans for school improvement. We were all amazed at how long the list grew (and what was put in the list)…. I think one slide had 50 or more implementation strategies (more like ideas) for improving reading… How could you possible achieve all 50 plus ideas?
  • Running before walking (ignoring improvement progressions) –  What is your progression? Mourshead, M (2010) researched how the world’s most improved systems keep getting better. For instance, aviation success rate is 99.999%. Standard Operating Procedures(SOP) ensure that the progression is always followed… What are your SOPs for continuous classroom improvement?
  • Focusing on the what, not the who (ignoring culture) – So much reform, so little change. Who have beat the odds, and actually improved schools? According to Bryan, the schools who have turned themselves around have somethings in common… Each has a culture of high expectations for learning and behavior. What is the secret sauce of improvement?  Culture is the secret sauce of school implementation!

Bryan then transitioned into discussing how implementation can be achieved…. He recommended that we read Start With Why by Simon Sinek.


No one buys what you do, they buy why you do it

Here are some suggestions Bryan offered us on implementation..

  • Focus – Do a few things well.
  • Challenge, engage, be intentional and motivational
  • Develop data-driven “high-reliability” systems
  • Create high-performance school cultures
  • Provide whole-child student supports
  • Seek quick wins with a 6 week cycle
  • Don’t do the Forrest Gump for learning (Box of Chocolates)

As I processed the presentation with my colleagues, our curriculum coach said, “We need to stop resting our laurels on excuses, and shift our mindset into a “can do” culture. This is how we can improve our implementation!”

For more information:

Bryan Goodwin on Twitter

Education Leadership 




The Age of Uncertainty: Who is Bold?

What are we doing in school that can not be Khanified?

I love it when ideas converge. I wrote a blog post on the plane traveling to ASCD 2013 on the concpet of uncertainty. Then, as luck would have it, soon after finishing my session, I had the opportunity to hear from Will Richardson. Honestly, I needed time to decompress after my session, but I couldn’t miss the man who has me wrestling with that enduring question… Why School? For 90 minutes Will took me to the future, through the past, and directly back to the present.


Will has an amazing gift of asking questions. For instance, reflect on these:

– Why School? (Buy this book!)

– What are the conditions for optimal, sticky learning?

– What are we doing in school that can not be Khanified?

– What do students need to learn in school when they can learn so much without us?

– Why college?

– What are the skills that our students need now to succeed?

– Where do we start?

I used to think I knew the answers to those questions. I am not sure (maybe a bit uncertain) as to what the future holds for our concept of “education.”


Will didn’t just leave us with big questions and then walk away. He gave us two words on how we can answer those (and many other questions).. BE BOLD! Along with those two powerful words, he gave us nine qualities of Bold Schools.

Bold Schools are…..

1. Learner Centered

2. Inquiry Driven

3. Support Authentic Work

4. Digital

5. Connected

6. Literate (by 21st Century Standards)

7. Transparent

8. Innovative

9. Provocative


Are you in a Bold School?  


Thoughts on the plane (prior to the Be Bold session by Will Richardson) … 

Are we facing something that we haven’t faced before? Are we entering a new age? Does anyone really know what tomorrow will bring? This is the age we are living in…. The age of uncertainty. It has appeared at the school doors, ready to be let in… Maybe even demanding to be let in!


Recently, as I reflected on my leadership as the principal of a Focus School, I thought about the concept of transparency. Am I open with my staff, or do I shoulder too much of the responsibility? Have I gotten away from the “many hands make light work”? Do I understand change, and uncertainty? These questions forced me to learn a valuable lesson, and it was my teachers who, once again, taught the lesson.


On a cool morning in march about 12 teachers participated in the first Transparency Leadership Committee (TLC).  The TLC is designed to provide an opportunity for collegial discussions, problem solving, and transparency. I began this committee after I had a great talk with a teacher leader in the building. She presented concerns from the staff in such a professional way that I knew I had to take action.


I began the meeting by recapping the recent professional development I attended through the state DOE and local RAC. My gut was telling me that the staff was wondering why I was out of the building so much. Then it hit me. Although that could have been a concern, the most important concern they had was what in the world was going on next year with the impending uncertainty of teacher evaluations, common core, parcc, and the model assessments. These just happened to be the topics I have been working on this year!


As I reflect on the meeting, I learned that transparency can open the door to understanding uncertainty. As a leader, I have to balance the responsibility of being the “lead learner” (thanks @joe_mazza) with being a “systems thinker” (thanks @drgentile_mps) and “story teller-in-chief” (thanks @nmhs_principal). Now I am working on being the systemic, transparent learner in chief…. In the age of uncertainty (thanks @willrich45)


“To be truly innovative you have to look beyond what’s easy and focus in what’s right” Nick Update, OnStar