#LeadLAP Challenge: Continue the Appreciation!

Happy New Year to All!  We hope this week finds you back into the swing of things in your schools and districts and ready for a new #LeadLAP challenge!

This week’s challenge has three sources of inspiration…

  • First, our continued belief that as educational leaders, we need to be in classrooms as much as possible – it’s where the magic happens!  When we first come back from break it’s easy to get caught up in other things, so if that’s happening to you – this is the week to get back out there!
  • Second, our commitment to ongoing appreciation of our staff and the work they do day in and day out.  If we want to grow a PIRATE culture in our schools, then we need to appreciate the daily efforts our team is making to grow, learn, change, and create amazing learning experiences for our students.
  • The third source of inspiration, actually comes from my 12-year old daughter, Ashlyn.  I host a weekly chat for educators… #satchatwc and this past Saturday, we did something very different.  We had my daughter, a seventh grade student, host the chat.  She wrote the questions, crafted her responses, and interacted with easily 100 educators over the course of the hour long chat.  It was clear from her questions and her responses that she has some pretty strong opinions about school and what works and doesn’t work for kids.  But what also came out is that she has a true appreciation for teachers.  As we were working on the chat and as we chatted afterwards, she had story after story to tell about what she APPRECIATED about different teachers over the years.  She shared memorable lessons and described why they were engaging or she gave specifics about what the teacher did to help her learn.  Dave and I enjoyed watching her light up when she described a particular simulation her social studies teacher created for her class on feudalism

Inspired by all three of the items above – here is this week’s challenge….

  • Get back out into those classrooms.  Visit at least an average of 3 per day (or a minimum of 15 total throughout the week)
  • Spend 3-5 minutes in each classroom and then talk to the kids…  Ask THEM what they are appreciating about the lesson, their teacher and/or what they are learning.  Encourage them to be specific – even using a frame like this if you need it:
    • I appreciate when _______ (my teacher) does/did _____________ (be specific about what he/she did exactly) because _____________________ (how did it help you? push you? engage you?)
  • Then drop that appreciation ANCHOR for the teacher, but instead of telling the teacher “I appreciated… ” start with “When I was in your class today, I had a chance to chat with _____________ (Insert student name here).  I just wanted to share with you how much he/she appreciated _______________ because ___________________.

When we take the time to appreciate (whether it is big things or small, routine things) it helps raise self-awareness in the other person.  They become more conscious of the choice they made or the work they did and are more likely to repeat it because you have pointed out that it made a difference… and the fact that the appreciation comes from a student takes it up another level.  So let’s take this week to get back into the appreciation routine.  It will help you shape that PIRATE culture and make for a better week for your staff AND you!

We hope you will take the challenge and share with us how it’s going over the course of this week using  #LeadLAP on Twitter.


Shelley and Beth

#LeadLAP Challenge 5: Be a Valued Resource

As an educational leader, I read a lot!  I always have books, articles, education magazines, blog posts from other educators and other reading material at my fingertips.  I love learning, growing and gaining expertise in topics of interest to me and topics that are pertinent to the work we do in our districts and schools.  I also love sharing my learning with others.  I have used the phrase “Oh wow… I was just reading something about that which I think you would love! Let me get you a copy.” on countless occasions which is why I was baffled by a comment my husband made to me a few years back.  After 17 years in the classroom, Dave had not once had a principal share an article with him, give him a book to read, recommend a blog post or share with him any other resource that might help shape his thinking or influence his practice as an educator. WOW!  He clearly has not worked for PIRATE leaders!

add value

As a leader, I want each person to know I value them and the work they do, and I also want to be seen as someone who adds value to their work.  I want them to know that I’m a learner, that I support their learning and growth, and that I can be a valuable resource in helping them on their own personal learning journey to be awesome at what they do.  One of the things I always did as a principal when I was reading something new is keep note of who I thought might like the article, book, or whatever I was reading.  I started early-on with a simple post-it note system and ultimately evolved to using Evernote and “tagging” the articles, blog posts etc. When the opportunity would arise, I’d make sure I’d get a copy of the reading to the person I thought might enjoy it, and I’d make a point of sharing with them why I thought they in particular might enjoy it or how it might add value to their work.  There were things I found that I thought we should read together as an entire staff, but also things I found that were unique to specific people based on what I knew they were working on at the time.   Knowing what each person might like or find of value typically came from being in their classrooms and N-OTICING when they were trying something new or different or from being engaged in C-OLLABORATIVE CONVERSATIONS about their practice where they would share with me different ideas they had been exploring or a struggle they might be having.

While this practice started as a simple way for me to share that I was a reader and a learner too and as a way for my team to start to see me as a resource, there was an added benefit to making this part of my regular practice.  It strengthened the relationships and rapport with my team because the sharing and support was often personalized.  A conversation might start like this:

“You just shared with me last week that you were wanting to build in more time for small group instruction and were interested in designing more meaningful tasks for the students who were working independently during your small group time.  I just came across this article on literacy stations that has some amazing examples of independent and small group activities that students can do on their own or in pairs or triads.  Some of them seem really engaging and have great potential to help sharpen their literacy skills.  I thought of you immediately and thought you might like to read it.  When you do, I’d love to hear what you think!”

Statements like the one above when heartfelt and genuine, say to someone “I am paying attention to you.”… “I’m thinking about you.”… “I want to support you.”… “I’m making time for you.”  All of which contribute to developing strong, positive relationships. When I moved to the district office, I used the same practice with the principals I supported, often sharing articles and resources with them that I knew they might find valuable based on site visits and the many collaborative conversations we would have as well.

So… this week’s #LeadLAP challenge:

  1. Choose at least two people on your team and share a personalized resource with them. (It would be awesome if you choose them because you N-OTICED something they were working on or they shared something with you in your C-OLLABORATIVE CONVERSATION)
  2. Tell them specifically why you thought of them when you read it.
  3. Enthusiastically end the conversation with “After you read this, I’d love to hear your thoughts!” which opens the door for another C-OLLABORATIVE CONVERSATION and possibly a chance to O-FFER SUPPORT
  4. Share with us over the course of the week how it goes using #LeadLAP on Twitter
  5. Join the #LeadLAP chat on Friday at 7:30 CST to share your reflections on the challenge

Cannonballs to avoid:cannonball

  • Don’t just drop an article in their box without saying anything about it – it doesn’t have the same personal touch.
  • Don’t use this practice as a substitute for having a courageous conversation about ineffective practice.
  • Don’t attach a deadline to reading the article/perusing the resource… No adult wants to feel like you are assigning them homework.


#LeadLAP Challenge # 3 – C is for Collaborative Conversations

It often happens when we move into leadership roles that we feel the pressure and stress of being the person who is ultimately held responsible for the success of students in our school or in our district.  Ultimately, the bucks stops with us, and we are the ones held accountable.    We can find ourselves struggling internally because on the one hand, we want to build a climate and culture where people are empowered to make decisions, take risks, and push themselves to continuously learn and grow while on the other hand we secretly worry…”What if they make the wrong decisions?” As a result, it’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling like we have to be the expert on everything and be responsible for every decision.  The truth is, though, that we can’t be the experts on everything that happens in our schools… If we try to be, we will exhaust ourselves and most likely still fall short in some areas.  The fantastic news, though, is that working in districts and schools, we are surrounded by teams of people with incredible expertise in a wide variety of areas. As leaders, it’s important to free ourselves from thinking we have to know everything and instead embrace the multitude of talents, gifts, and expertise that lie within each and every person who works with us.  Unleashing the genius in those around you ultimately contributes to a thriving culture where people feel valued and are willing to learn and grow alongside the others with whom they work. It also contributes to your growth as a leader… as you open yourself to learning from and with your team, you continue to develop greater expertise.

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 9.27.18 AMThis concept or idea that we aren’t the only “experts” in the building is the catalyst for “C is for Collaborative Conversations”.


As mentioned in earlier posts, while there are times where direct feedback is essential, we have found that engaging in collaborative conversations about teaching and learning have greater impact on a person’s willingness to try something new, to learn, and to grow.  Collaborative conversations are much more likely to help you build a culture of commitment as opposed to a culture of compliance.  You can survive as a leader if you create a system where people are compliant and you can get results, but you and your school or district can’t thrive without commitment.  So, here is this week’s #LeadLAP challenge…

Choose 1-2 days this week where you set aside 30 minutes to visit classrooms and 30 minutes to engage in collaborative conversations with the teachers whose classrooms you visited.  Visit each classroom for 5-10 minutes and then let the teacher know “Thank you so much for having me in your classroom today… I always learn so much when I visit! I’d LOVE to chat with you about the lesson I observed today… do you have some time later when we can do that?”

When you and the teacher are together…

  1. Drop that APPRECIATION ANCHOR face to face
  2. Comment on something you NOTICED and share the impact
    • Ask a question based on what you observed
    • Respond to what the teacher shares and ask another question
    • Have the teacher share his/her thoughts about the lesson and share some of yours
    • If the teacher shares a struggle they were having or something they are trying to make better (which they often do), acknowledge that it is something great to be thinking about and brainstorm ideas together
    • Encourage the teacher to try one of the new ideas that came out of your conversation and to let you know how it goes… better yet ask when they are going to try it out and offer to pop in to see how it goes
  4. Thank the teacher for his/her time

cannonballA few CANNONBALLS to avoid…

  • Don’t make assumptions about what came before the 10 minutes you observed or what happened after.  Ask a question instead: “When I walked in, kids were doing_____.  Tell me a little about what happened before I came in the room.”   “How did it go after I left?”
  • Don’t do most of the talking, remember this is a COLLABORATIVE conversation – shoot for a minimum of a 50/50 balance of talking and listening
  • Don’t try to mask criticism as a question, people will see right through you.


Have fun with this challenge…  The one on one face time we get with our teachers is rare and oh so precious! Appreciate and enjoy the time you have together.

We can’t wait to hear how it goes!! Share your thoughts and reflections using the #LeadLAP hashtag all week and join @BethHouf and me for a 30 minute reflective #LeadLAP chat on Friday at 7:30 CST.


#LeadLAP Monday Challenge #2 – N is for Notice…

Thank you to everyone who joined @BethHouf and me last week for our first #LeadLAP challenge.  There were several “Appreciation Anchors” dropped, and we so appreciated hearing from so many of you about the impact that had on your teachers and on YOU!

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This week’s challenge is all about the “N” in ANCHOR Conversations which stands for “Notice the Impact”.  This piece of the ANCHOR conversation model is so critical in helping to ensure the feedback we give helps build self-efficacy and encourages teachers to continue powerful practices in a very deliberate and intentional way.  The mindset shift in this one is that it is not about noticing things you like or dislike in a lesson and sharing those with the teacher, it’s about noticing the decisions they made that had a positive impact on learning and telling them so.

Phrases like “Great job”, I SO loved your lesson on…”, “I really liked the way you…”  or “I think you should have…”, “I would have done _____ instead”, “I didn’t really like they way you____” are all judgmental, and we would argue we should eliminate them from our feedback as much as possible.  We’rImpact quotee not saying that we should never tell someone they did a great job or that they need to correct something, but we are advocating to be careful when and for what we deliver those messages.  When giving feedback on a lesson… we try not to use judgment language for a variety of reasons.  First and foremost… we don’t want it to be about us and what we like or don’t like… we want it to be about what engages students and helps them learn.  We don’t want people to plan, adjust and change their lessons based on whether or not WE like them – that shouldn’t be the criteria on which lesson planning and lesson delivery are based, and we don’t want our language to convey that we THINK that is the most important criteria.  So, what do we do instead… use “noticing”  language.  Language that acknowledges that the teacher made a choice to do something and that choice had a significant and specific impact on the learning experience for students.  Giving messages that comment on decisions made and the impact they had builds that sense of self-efficacy… that every choice the teacher makes MATTERS… that they hold the POWER in their hands to UNLOCK AMAZING POTENTIAL in each one of the students in their class.  We are also convinced that people actually have more of a sense of satisfaction after we drop a “Notice the Impact” ANCHOR then if we were just to say “great job” or “awesome lesson”. Even better, after you notice the impact… label the sound pedagogy!

So what does it sound like to drop this ANCHOR?  Something like this…

“Hey when I was in your classroom today, I noticed that you made a choice to add visuals and pictures to your lesson on habitats.  I sat down next to Maria (an English learner in the class).  When you first started talking about the desert habitat, she was having a hard time following, but as soon as you started to show the pictures, she totally got it and was quickly able to add words and pictures to her notes.  Thank you for doing that.  Every time you present your content in more than one way, you increase the chances that every child will learn what you are trying to teach them.  Have you noticed a difference in student learning when you incorporate visuals, manipulatives, kinesthetic activities or other modes of learning into your lessons?”

“I was so fortunate to be in your classroom for a few minutes today when your students were reading and discussing the article on the Statue of Liberty.  You had just posed these questions “Why do you think the Statue of Liberty serves as a symbol of hope? Are there other symbols of hope in our society? Justify your thinking.”  I sat down with group one and they were having a powerful and thoughtful discussion.  Because you posed questions that did not have a right or wrong answer, you encouraged more complex thinking and allowed for divergent thinking, and in the group I sat with, every child had something to contribute.  I even heard Ethan say…..  What did you notice about the impact the questions you posed had on the groups you observed?”

So,  this week’s #LeadLAP challenge… Take that same 30 minutes each day to visit classrooms.  Visit 6-8 classrooms for 3-4 minutes each.  Identify a choice or decision the teacher has made and “Notice the Impact”.  Drop that ANCHOR and let them know the decisions they make have IMPACT!  (While you’re at it… add an A is for appreciation message into your feedback as well!)

Please share with us how the challenge is going throughout the week using #LeadLAP on Twitter!



#LeadLAP Monday Challenge #1 – Drop an ANCHOR – A is for Appreciation

I had the pleasure of attending AMLE last week where Beth Houf (@BethHouf) and I presented our inaugural Lead Like a PIRATE (#LeadLAP) workshop.  We had an outstanding time working with the great middle school educators in the room, and we made so many incredible connections with leaders who are passionate about making a difference.  A critical component of the workshop was a focus on a mindset shift for observing classrooms and providing teachers feedback.  Too often observations and feedback come across as evaluative and judgmental leaving teachers with a feeling that we are in their classrooms to “fix” them as opposed to partnering with them on a continuous journey of learning and growth for all of us.  The overly judgmental “telling” conversations can temporarily lead to teacher compliance, but they rarely lead to a culture where everyone is committed to taking risks and trying new things and where people are hungry for feedback to help them learn and grow.  As PIRATE leaders, we believe in changing the typical observation/feedback cycle into ANCHOR conversations (of course we had to use a PIRATE acronym):

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At the conclusion of the workshop, we posed our first #LeadLAP challenge…  Take just 30 minutes out of your day and visit 15 classrooms for two minutes each.  Before you leave, tell the teacher something you appreciated about what you just saw.  No messages about what you think should be better – just messages of appreciation (for more about the power of appreciation, see my last post: Start With Appreciation).  In the words of Anthony Robbins, “Where your focus goes, your energy flows”.  As leaders we have been conditioned to look for what needs to be better, we are “fixers” by nature, but if that is where we focus all of our attention we are at risk of missing all that is going right.  The best kept secret about dropping 15 messages of appreciation… not only do you brighten the day of your teachers, but you’ll feel pretty good yourself!

Thanks to all of the PIRATE leaders who took the #LeadLAP challenge today.

Please join us as we continue the challenge this week – Let’s drop ANCHORS all week! We would love for you to share with us how it goes using #LeadLAP or leaving comments below.







My Reflections on Implementation of the Common Core

In our system, we are moving to full implementation of the Common Core State Standards in English language arts beginning in the 2013-2014 school year.  We have spent the past couple of years in various phases of building awareness and starting this transition, and next year is the year we are asking everyone to make this shift.  We have done a lot of work to build up to this point, and I think the most common feeling in our District is one of “nervous excitement”.  That is a good place to be and it is the result of a lot of hard work by many dynamic people in our organization.  As we have reached this point, here are some of my reflections on what I currently think will be necessary for this transition to be successful.

“Full implementation” takes time and does not happen in just one year.    What full implementation really means this year is that we all agree to make the switch from one set of standards to another and we agree that we will begin to grapple with them on a daily basis.  In our system we have developed a framework for new units of study aligned to the CCSS, so full implementation means we are all going to use these units as the foundation for our work. I also believe it entails asking and answering the question:  “What will be different in our schools and classrooms next year as a result of our Common Core alignment and implementation?”  We have to have clearly articulated goals about the implementation and we have to have ways we are measuring ourselves to know that we are getting better and closer to reaching these goals.  At the end of the year, we have to evaluate where we are and define our next steps.

Be really deliberate about making connections to work you are already doing.  We have had a strong literacy initiative in place in our schools.  We have schools and classrooms who have been making shifts that align with Common Core expectations, so this transition is not about something brand new…  it is about enhancing and refining work we have already started, but making the connections is critical.  As an example, we have several schools who have been deepening their understanding of how to teach reading comprehension – particularly comprehension of informational text – there are several pieces of the work that are in direct alignment with Common Core expectations.  A good question to ask ourselves is “How is reading comprehension of informational text defined in the Common Core Standards?”  Let’s get clarity on how it’s defined and then ask ourselves, “What pieces of this are we good at and what do we need to strengthen?”  The answers to these questions should directly impact the development of our goals for the year.

It is important to understand how the CCSS are different from what we do now.  While there may be many pieces of the work we are already doing that align, there are several critical components of Common Core that are different and have significant implications for teaching and learning.  We have to be honest about what these are.  If we think Common Core is now an invitation to dust off the old dinosaur unit from ten years ago, we are not understanding the shifts Common Core demands of us.  If we redo our class schedule to include two hours of “Common Core” time, put up a new Common Core Standards poster and continue to teach reading, writing, speaking, listening and language the way we have always taught it,  we have not done what the Common Core requires of us.  Be very wary of publishers who are recycling old materials with new Common Core labels!!

Understand the big picture and see the good in the Common Core.  Sometimes it is hard to get on board with a national or state initiative or mandate. While most agree that the Common Core is not perfect, it is now what we are being asked to work with in our schools and classrooms.  I love the question Lucy Calkins, Mary Ehrenworth, and Chris Lehman ask in the first chapter of their book Pathways to the Common Core “Will you choose to view the Common Core Standards as curmudgeons or as if they are gold?”  If we understand and talk about that at the heart of Common Core is helping our students thrive as strategic, thoughtful, thinking-intensive readers, writers, speakers and listeners, we may be able to build more commitment to the shifts.

It is critical to understand the role the College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards play in the Common Core.  I can’t emphasize this enough.  In order to understand the CCSS and how they work, we have to understand how the anchor standards have informed the CCSS grade-level standards.  Every grade level has part of the responsibility for helping students achieve the CCR Anchor Standards, and all of their grade-level standards align with the anchor standards.  Every teacher has a responsibility for their piece of the puzzle in getting kids College and Career ready.  There is an elegant design to the CCSS and the Anchor Standards are at its core.

Don’t underestimate Reading Standards 1 and 10.  We can teach students to find central ideas and themes.  We can analyze text structures and determine the author’s point of view, but we are teaching standards such as these in the absence of Reading standards 1 and 10, we are not aligned to Common Core expectations.  While students are finding central ideas and themes, analyzing text structures and determining author’s point of view, they must be doing close readings of text and citing specific evidence from the text to support their claims (Reading Standard 1) and they must be reading and comprehending text at the appropriate level of complexity independently and proficiently (Reading Standard 10).

Choose a place to start and get really good at it.  While all of the Common Core Standards for ELA will be in play for us next year, there are many things we still need to learn deeply in order for us to be truly aligned to the Common Core expectations; Schools need to choose one or two of these things, learn deeply and ensure they become a part of our practice in every classroom.  You might start with understanding close reading and text complexity and what that looks like at each grade-level in your school or you might start with understanding Webb’s Depth of Knowledge framework and using it to evaluate the level of complexity the standards demand and use the framework to design student tasks that are aligned at the level of complexity required in the standard.  There are several entry points for us to begin this work.

Foster an environment of collaboration and learning.  We are asking all of the educators in our system to make changes and do things differently.  In order to be successful, we have to create time for learning and collaboration.  Learning more about what we don’t understand reduces anxiety.  Having colleagues and partners to work through challenges and celebrate successes reduces anxiety.  Learning and collaboration also make us better.  We have to encourage risk-taking and trying things differently, and we have to understand that when we try new things, we aren’t always good at it the first time we do it.  Trial and error is part of the learning process, so don’t beat people up over it!

Be learners of what it means to lead complex change.  Change is a process, not a one time event.  As leaders of change, we have to anticipate and understand how change impacts people, and we have to be strategic in our planning for change.  We have to be clear about the expectations we have around change, and we have to be  thoughtful about the systems of support we will provide for people as we ask them to do some of their work differently.

I would love to hear your thoughts and reflections about successful implementation of CCSS in your district, school or classroom…

The Assessment Conundrum

There are a few words in education that can charge emotions, spark visceral reactions, and cause heated debates… Assessment is one of them.  I have been thinking about assessment a lot, especially since our #satchat/#satchatwc conversation last month where several educators came together one Saturday morning to discuss it.  What was clear in the Saturday morning dialogue was the following was missing for us as a group of educators:

  • A common definition and understanding of assessment
  • A  common sense of purpose for assessment

There are two recent experiences I have had that have pushed my learning and helped me refine my thoughts about assessment.  The first was an introduction to this assessment cone by Margaret Heritage:

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What this visual so nicely represents is that there are many types of assessments students might take.  They take annual State assessments and most likely quarterly district assessments.  Potentially students take weekly assessments designed by teachers or teacher teams. Individual teachers weave in their own assessments throughout the day and students participate in minute by minute assessments as teachers collect data while they observe and gather evidence of student thinking and learning throughout the day.  What I love about this cone is that it shows the types of assessment in relation to the impact it has on student learning.  Teachers take in data about student learning all the time – “minute by minute” -and if they are using this data to make decisions about how to support individual learning, then THIS is the most powerful assessment practice.  All of the others serve a  purpose, but the further away you get from the student, the less impact the assessments have on student learning.

The second experience I had was just yesterday when I had the pleasure of spending the day with literacy rockstar Stephanie Harvey (@stephharvey49).  Our team has been learning a lot from her as we continue to move forward with our literacy initiative and our implementation of the Common Core State Standards in English language arts. During our time together the topic of assessment came up.  Stephanie shared with us that the reason some of us might struggle with assessment is that we often confuse assessment and evaluation.  Stephanie has many talents, and one of them is her ability to take complex concepts (like assessment) and make them elegantly simple, so she said this…

“Assessment tells us what kids can do.  Evaluation is putting a value on it.”

We assess students all the time…  we listen to them read, we drop in on their conversations to hear what they have to say, we read the annotations they make on a text,  we pay attention to the tracks they leave of their thinking and their responses to thought-provoking questions.  We confer with students; we read what they write.  We pay attention and gather data all the time in our classrooms.  She also explained that as we are gathering this data, it informs three things:

  • Our assessments inform our students’ progress,
  • Our assessments inform our future instruction,
  • And most importantly… our assessments inform our past instruction

I think as an education community we have increasingly honed our skills at using data for the first two purposes… I am not convinced, though, that we have used data as thoughtfully as we could to reflect on the third.  Stephanie helped all of us in the room better understand that when we are assessing kids, we are really assessing our instruction – the work the students produce reflects what we have taught more than anything else.  If the work does not meet our expectations, it is not the child’s problem to solve, but ours as their teachers.

She also shared that assessment becomes evaluation when we place a grade on it.  So… Do we grade or do we assess? In traditional education we often grade, we don’t often assess.   Stephanie challenged us all to think about the amount of time spent grading and the amount of time spent assessing in our schools and classrooms. We need to assess constantly and grade occassionally.  She further emphasized this:

“We should ONLY grade kids when we have taught something well and given plenty of time to practice!”

There is no reason to grade without this!  If we do, we are only grading what they already knew.   We have to have  “taught like a PIRATE” or “taught like our hair was on fire” and provided ample time for kids to practice and receive specific feedback – Until we have done this, we should not be placing a value on their work.

Assessment is a practice we should embrace in our schools and our classrooms… it is essential to improving student learning and it is essential to improving our instructional practices.  Part of embracing it requires understanding what it is, what it isn’t and what role it plays in our schools and classrooms.  As instructional leaders we have to commit to building a collective understanding of assessment and sound assessment practices, and we need to figure out ways to respectfully challenge practices that may be hindering student learning rather than helping it flourish.

Common Core Implementation- Reflecting on the “How”


“As challenging as it must have been to write and finesse the adoption of the Common Core State Standards, that accomplishment is nothing compared to the work of teaching in ways that bring all students to these ambitious expectations.  The goal is clear.  The pathway is not.” – From Pathways to the Common Core – Lucy Calkins, et.al.


I am sure like most of my colleagues across the nation, I am spending a significant portion of my time engaged in work that will help our districts, schools, and classrooms transition to full implementation of the Common Core Standards.  I feel fortunate to work with a knowledgeable, thoughtful, and dynamic team of educators, and what I know is that every time we sit down together to evaluate and modify our plan, we get reminded of just how many pieces there are in the puzzle, and also how important this work is.  I wrote a post awhile ago focused on the “why” of Common Core and how it is essential to help educators understand the “why” and not just the “what” of the standards, but where I find I am spending most of my time and mental energy these days is on the “how”.  Leading a successful change initiative is no easy task, but what I am noticing is that asking the right “how” questions is helping us be really thoughtful in planning, designing and implementing the steps that ultimately get us closer to full implementation.  So I thought I would share the questions that so far have been driving our work.  It is a work in progress and new questions get added as needed (in fact one was added yesterday based on a great dialogue I had with some of my colleagues from other districts).  I also tried to put them in somewhat of an order that made sense based on where we have been and where we are going on this journey.

  • How do we increase awareness of the Common Core Standards for all of our stakeholders?
  • How do we build the Common Core into our work over time?
  • How will we make connections between the Common Core and work we are already doing?
  • What might get in our way of a successful implementation, and how can we plan for these things?
  • How will we build capacity of our Educational Leadership Team (district and site leaders) to lead the Common Core initiative?  What do they need to know and be able to do to be successful?
  • How will we collaborate with our teachers’ union as we move this initiative forward?
  • How will we build shared leadership and ownership of the Common Core initiative?
  • By the time we begin full implementation of the Common Core standards, how will we ensure all administrators and teachers see a piece of themselves in the work?
  • How will we plan for and deliver professional learning opportunities?
  • How do we sort and sift through all of the resources available to find the best ones that will support our transition to the Common Core?
  • How will we include what may seem as separate initiatives (i.e. technology, English learners, Response to Intervention) into a single Common Core initiative?
  • How will we modify our District assessment system and what are the anticipated obstacles?

While not “How questions”… here are two that I have asked of principals recently that have sparked good reflection and dialogue…

  • What will schools and classrooms look like, sound like, and feel like when the Common Core is fully implemented?
  • What will we no longer see in our schools and classrooms when the Common Core is fully implemented?

If  you are grappling with other  questions that are assisting you in moving the Common Core forward in your school or district, I would love to hear what they are.  While the work is all-encompassing, I believe it is good and impactful work.  It is also work that is allowing us to reach across state lines and collaborate with colleagues across the country.  Powerful stuff!

Common Core: Let’s Talk “Why”, Not Just “What”

Since the adoption of the Common Core there has been much discussion about what it will mean for education in this country.  It has sparked thousands of debates, blog posts, articles, and books.  Marketing campaigns from publishers and professional developers flood our inboxes all claiming to have the answers for us in how we move forward with implementation.  Most of what I read and hear is focused on the “What” of the Common Core.  You’ve no doubt seen many of the same documents I have that summarize some of the big shifts full implementation of the Common Core will require.  Here are a few:
  • Independent reading and comprehension of increasingly complex texts
  • Emphasis on reading informational text
  • Significant focus on evidence-based questions and responses
  • Increased levels of complexity required in student thinking and responses (Webb’s DOK is huge here!)
  • Greater importance placed on writing – particularly on informational and argumentative writing
  • Integration between and among subjects with  literacy and technology being an integral part of ALL content areas
  • Integration of the eight mathematical practices and a clear focus on conceptual understanding and application
Last week I attended a session at a Literacy Institute Lead by Angela Peery where she reminded us about what we have learned from Simon Sinek in his book: Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action.   She shared this great video with us: Why We Need Common Core: A Parody

We have been doing a lot of work in my district around the Common Core, but upon reflection, we have done a lot of the “What” and not nearly enough of the “Why”.  So here is a start on the list of “Why Common Core” – thank you Angela Peery and Achieve.org for some of these thoughts and data!
  • The US is declining in competitiveness with other developed countries
  • Colleges and universities report higher rates of remediation courses needed than ever before
  • College instructors and employers report over 40% of incoming students/workers are not prepared for college and work
  • The global economy is changing the nature of work and the kinds of jobs our young people will enter.
  • Jobs that once required a high school degree and paid a family-sustaining-wage and included retirement and health benefits are disappearing, and new jobs require more knowledge and skills than ever before.
  • Today, roughly two-thirds of all new jobs require some form of postsecondary education.
  • What it means to be literate in today’s global society is dramatically different
  • With all of the information coming at us, the ability to think critically, to question, to synthesize, analyze and apply information is crucial
  • Communication and collaboration skills are critical in today’s workplace
  • US students need to be college and career ready in a global world
  • Our students need to develop skills such as independence, perseverance, resiliency, and a sense of “agency”
As educational leaders, it is critical that we understand the why… the purpose… the rationale… behind the Common Core, and we must be able to communicate it effectively to our teams and our stakeholders.  Building commitment to the “why” will help ensure implementation of the “what”!

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it  – Simon Sinek

Watch Simon Sinek’s TED talk here – thought-provoking!

Rolling our Snowball

My husband (@burgessdave) recently wrote a blog post titled,  “Rolling Snowballs Downhill”.  He compared the process of changing school culture to rolling a snowball downhill; the snowball starts small, but as it rolls downhill, it gains momentum, picks up more snow, and can eventually grow quite large.  In his post, he writes:

“Change is created by starting small and building powerful relationships with a committed but often small initial group. This group can then hit the ground and start moving forward. They will find it easier to overcome inertia because they will not be weighed down by the naysayers, the reluctant, and the largest group of all…the comfortable. They will be free to build momentum unencumbered by the resistance and friction that so often dooms forward progress in projects that try to bring everyone along for the ride from the beginning. As they build speed rolling down the hill, they will attract others to the cause who will now want to get involved with a successful and positive movement. Eventually, the size of the snowball reaches the point of critical mass, drawing in all around it and becoming an unstoppable force for change and progress.”

In the past few months, I have recently discovered for myself the power of social media and many web 2.0 tools… I am more connected than I have ever been before, and the professional learning I have experienced  through social media is the best I have had in years.  I want this experience for EVERYONE in our district.  As a district leader, I also have started to think about flipping classrooms and meetings, hosting edcamps, having students and adults write and reflect through blogging…  there is so much more I think about doing as I continue to connect and learn from colleagues around the world who are part of my PLN.

What I know, though, is that many are as sceptical as I was a few months ago; some do not understand or believe; some do not know how these tools might impact them professionally; some are intimidated; many do not know what they are missing!

As much as I want social media and web 2.0 tools, and all of the possibilities they have to offer, to be an integral part of our system, I am convinced that in order to make this happen, we have to roll a snowball downhill.  I am fortunate to have a colleague (@directoramy) who is as committed about the use of social media as I am.  With our initial enthusiasm, we were able to recruit two principals and one of our coordinators to join us.  A dedicated teacher joined in! We have added a few of our academic coaches to the mix and just yesterday hosted an open invitation to our first “Connected Leaders” series where we offered a Twitter tutorial.  We helped strengthen the understanding of Twitter for a few of our colleagues, and we had four more start their accounts and send their first tweets – one of whom will quickly be our next Twitter addict.  With about 15 of us now connected, we have even started our own District hash tag.

Becoming a “connected” district and harnessing the power of web 2.0 tools may not happen as quickly as I might hope, but we are moving forward with a small, committed group.  We have made our snowball, and we are getting ready to roll it downhill!