Monday, November 14, 2022

Nuggets, from Behind the Chair

I often stumble across nuggets of wisdom for Assistant Principals in places with no official relationship to schools or students. It’s a constant source of joy and affirmation for how intertwined our professional roles are with the learning and living of most everyone around. 

Last week, I discerned the Assistant Principalship is much like the world of barbers and hair stylists, or rather, that it should be. I see this taking place behind the chair and upon, every time I visit for an appointment. Just thought of this again recently as my son and I met-up for a trim with our hair professional. Regarding what Assistant Principals can learn from hair professionals, let’s consider the interactional involvement clients experience. 

First, hair professionals seek input regarding the visit’s outcome—in this case, the type of haircut desired. Typically, we’re asked, “What are we going to do today?” and if the same as last time, it’s often remembered without the need for reminder. Notice the “We” in the statement—it values client agency, with our hair professional’s expressed desire to get-on-board with the vision. Might we as Assistant Principals value client agency, soliciting and embracing student and stakeholder desired outcomes in our work, as well? 

Second, hair professionals start wherever we are and strive to take things in a positive direction. Reminds me of the “Meet, then Move” strategy in All Other Duties As Assigned: The Assistant Principals Critical Role in Supporting Schools Inside and Out (2022), wherein “Meeting and moving is all about their [client] feelings, their story, their worldview, and their dignity. You want to affirm all of it” (p. 73). In the hair professional’s booth, starting wherever we are might involve challenges in the length or texture of our hair, in how many cowlicks we have standing up stubbornly—with scars to cover, moles to work around, or differences in product/skin sensitivity. Hair professionals do their level best to meet, then move, bringing us to an attractive place before we leave. As Assistant Principals, how can we also meet persons work similarly to bring about attractive results, even if figuratively? 

Third, hair professionals constantly check-in to see how we’re doing, with what they’re doing. A mirror hangs in full view, ever-present to gauge the balance of the cut or satisfaction with progress. Everything is transparent. With every step of the process, the hair professional has a perspective on how they’re doing, and we do too. They’re not shy about involving us in quality control. We are partners in the project. From whose vantage points do we as Assistant Principals gauge progress in the play-by-play of any given busy day—Ours, or others’? 

Finally, hair professionals show genuine interest in who we are while trying to do what they do. And if not genuine interest, we typically believe it so. They inquire about our hobbies, interests, and loved ones; the better ones get us talking more about ourselves than they do about themselves. When we call folks into our Assistant Principal offices, who does most of the talking, and who feels more-validated, non-judgmentally? 

Years ago, I had a barber who said he had long wished to write a book entitled, “From Behind the Chair.” I thought it brilliant and still believe strongly how much we could learn if he did. Assistant Principals can learn much from hair professionals—nuggets of wisdom abound in every visit to their business. The fact that we can learn from them, however, necessitates it seems a larger question, “Do we allow ourselves to do so, and then, operationalize in a way that works in our schools—for clients, and also for ourselves?”

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Clearly, Clarity is Key in Assistant Principaling

        Chatting with an attorney colleague today, I was reminded of the importance of “clarity” personally and professionally.  We were reviewing some draft paperwork for my LLC and discussed how a lack of clarity often derails good business.  I thought of Assistant Principals and envisioned how much their impact relies upon clarity, as well. 

        Consider how clarity can be an Assistant Principal’s friend — Clarity in: 

            Priorities 

            Intentions 

            Follow-through 

            Self-disclosure 

            Approach 

        Clarity in priorities, as I share in All Other Duties As Assigned: The Assistant Principal’s Critical Role in Supporting Schools Inside and Out, means knowing what’s urgent, what’s important, what’s urgent and important, and what’s neither.  “Quick and careful designation of everything in your in-box as one of these four is a helpful tool in time management and allocation of your own personal resources in problem solving” (p. 33).  This works even better if your Administrative Assistant helps sort ‘em out.  Clarity in priorities involves sharing how you make these distinctions—when and what you spend time on each day—so that you are a known commodity.  Folks will appreciate it. 

        Clarity in intentions means letting others know what’s on your mind when approaching them, requesting something, and/or in asking questions, as an Assistant Principal’s role is often investigatory and has influence.  Clarity here involves frontloading why you are asking about something or are interested, such as “I am trying to gather some ideas for a new student commons area, will you stop by the office later today for a chat?” as opposed to, “Will you stop by the office later today for a chat?” and leaving it  the latter.   Clarity here [for comfort] is needed by adults in our schools, as well as students. 

        Clarity in follow-through means letting persons know what you plan to do next, rather than leaving them guessing.   If you plan to take a few days before making a decision, mention it.  If you plan to take steps in corrective action, share [if prudent to do so].  If you really don’t know what you are going to do next, say “I’m not sure.”  Clarity in follow-through gives folks an assurance the situation is in your genuine and capable hands, and they can move on.  Clarity here involves acting definitively, not waffling. 

        Clarity in self-disclosure means having healthy vulnerability—not being afraid to let others know you’re human, apprehensive at times, or need help.  Key in self-disclosure is to know where you are centered—this helps compartmentalize bias, control emotion, and navigate smartly.  Clarity in self-disclosure means sharing how you are handling professional things personally.  It puts others at ease by modeling openness. 

        Finally, clarity in approach means establishing [in word and deed] a professional identity others can count on—a known commodity.  Recently, I was in a school observing a literature teacher facilitate a class discussion on auteurism, derived from the work of Francois Roland Truffaut, noted French film director. An auteur is an artist with such distinct approach, their style is often a metaphorical signature on their work. American film director Steven Spielberg comes to mind.  Do you have a signature in your Assistant Principaling?   Is there theme to your palette? If it helps you explore, Solution Tree Press offers a no-charge reproducible—my “Tool to Develop a Framework for Decision Making,” at https://www.solutiontree.com/free-resources/leadership/aodaa. 

        I’m glad for a timely business conversation inspiring clarity’s friendship for all of us.  Let me know what’s clear and what’s not, ok?

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

A Developing Theory on #2's in Schools

        I am committed to honoring an Assistant Principal's MANAGEMENT. 

        Not often as celebrated as Leadership, can management reclaim the positive definition embraced in other professions? Management in education is critical, yet misunderstood. 

        To focus more on Assistant Principals' becoming instructional leaders is well-established, well-intentioned, seemingly preferable in parlance, yet incomplete. 

        Gallup researchers have noted, “Managers Are Not Just Leaders-in Waiting” . . . “The most important difference between a great manager and a great leader is one of focus. Great managers look inward . . . Great leaders, by contrast, look outward” (Buckingham & Coffman, 1999, p. 63; Gallup, 2016, p. 62). 

        Reframed, these definitions have inspired me to conceive of school administration differently. Principals look outward; they establish vision collaboratively and invite others to join. Assistant Principals look inward; they tend to the needs of the people, so that all can move mission toward vision. 

        Principals and Assistant Principals have a symbiotic thing. And on Instructional Leadership; well, that’s what our best teachers live

        Distinctions between leaders and managers elevate the importance of “#2’s” in schools and all sectors. The notion of a “#2” reminds me of the television series, Star Trek, when U.S.S. Enterprise Captain James T. Kirk would say to Mr. Spock, “Number 2, take the bridge”; or something similar. 

        Seems having a #2 around is a good idea—to step-up when needed, and step-in when appropriate. This works too, outside of intergalactic travel and expedition. 

        In such, I’m developing a theory. 

        My initial thoughts are sketched below—conceived initially while writing All Other Duties As Assigned: The Assistant Principal’s Critical Role in Supporting Schools Inside and Out.

        Here is my first depiction, on a piece of paper while sitting with Dr. Yong Joon Park, Professor of Teaching and Learning at Indiana State University. We were chatting about educational management abroad, and what parallels and implications we might enjoy sharing. 

 


         My working diagram depicts the Assistant Principal (or any organization’s #2) in the middle. Note I use “C.O.O.” in that space; whereas “C.E.O” where the Principal is depicted. Those are my corporate parallels; rough ones, I admit. My First Break All the Rules connection includes the Assistant Principal’s  Inward Focus (Management), and the Principal’s Outward Focus (Leadership). Arrows move up, down, and around the Assistant Principal, as that is where their TEACHING influence is directed. An Inward Focus includes teaching up, down, and around. 

        Assistant Principals “teach up,” by serving as a sounding board, shield, and superpower for their Principals. In such, they help vet ideas through a whisper in a Principal’s ear; deflect impending heat, and enhance administrative effectiveness by complementing (e.g. super-charging) a Principal’s own wheelhouse. An overarching role while teaching-up is that of Confidant. 

        Assistant Principals “teach down” by focusing on people, establishing priorities, and solving problems. They do so—each minute of each hour, all day long. In such, they empower others while serving as Caretaker. They tend to the folks. This is particularly true for their relationship with students and families . . . some might say teachers and staff as well, every so often. 

        Assistant Principals “teach around” by working collaboratively with other school interventionists, such as Deans, Counselors, Instructional Coaches, and of course, with Teachers and Staff—all who work to build individual and collective capacities that support student and school success. 

        I’m interested in your input as I apply theory, research, practice, and conversations to what is currently in my head, and on this page. Thanks for allowing me to think out loud.  I hope to share more with you, so please reach-out via Zoom, or with a good-ole’-fashioned phone call. 

References

Buckingham, M., & Coffman, C. (1999). First, break all the rules: What the world’s greatest managers do differently. Simon & Schuster. 

Gallup (2016). First, break all the rules: What the world’s greatest managers do differently. Gallup Press. 

Roddenberry, G. (1966–1969). Star Trek. United States: As televised on the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), Inc.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Reframing Conversations on College

    Recently, Indiana State University launched its Fall 2022 Parent Weekend. Attending, my family and I sat under the stars near the university President’s house, eating popcorn while watching a movie with hundreds of other family members. 

    We were honored to be with our son, Sean, in his first year of college.   

    I wish such pride, humility, and thankfulness for all families. 

     Thoughts went to another event I visited in recent travels. The purpose was to provide information for families and students for life after high school. The event facilitator stated, “We’re here for all families—those whose students are college material and those whose who have other plans. We’re excited to be working with you all.” 

    Intentions were inclusive. I have long had difficulty with the words, “college material,” however. 

    Writing about “college” over the years has inspired a strategy, “Change What the Adults Do First,” in All Other Duties As Assigned: The Assistant Principal’s Critical Role in Supporting Schools Inside and Out. In a nutshell, this strategy calls for educators to take adult responsibility to ensure students are empowered to position themselves dream-catching in their next stages of life. 

    Positioning is key. 

    Student empowerment is key. 

    Training in how the game of life and opportunity are played is key. 

    Adults in schools are key. 

    “Educators must teach with two goals, (1) learning and (2) test taking, in order to arm their students for success. Tests are a natural part of life, no matter where you go. So, get good at addressing testing” (p. 180). 

    My hope is we embrace the opportunity to help students elevate their own potency, to circumvent soft bigotries of low expectations. This begins with words we use and conversations we have. If we all wish to celebrate under the stars with our own children, it begins with our use of the word “college” and an eradication of any misapplied notions of “college material.” 

    Admittedly, this can be discomforting, as it bumps-up against practices we have done for years, and definitions we have embraced. 

    The reason some kids appear as “college material,” or “not,” is more about how well adults have done their jobs, than the abilities of students. Is it more about our own skills and expertise? If all kids do not believe they are college material, have we failed? Possibly so. It has to do with the way we’re using the term, and this can have residual effects. 

    We now have the ability as adults to conceive of college, or so-called “college material” differently. 

    There’s an urgency to it. 

     It is overdue. 

    Any type of post-secondary learning seems to meet the definition to me. Our definition is overly academic, oftentimes while the world invites other perspectives. 

    I once co-wrote the “. . . mop-headed, skydiving drop-zone dude with raggedy shorts, a day-old bologna sandwich in hand, and a parachute on his back . . .” experienced their own version of college “In open-air classrooms, with blue skies, and freefalling at 120 miles per hour” (Donlan & Gruenert, 2016, p. 20). 

    This kid qualified as college-material, for sure. I’ll bet he was provided appropriate encouragement from his skydiving teachers to train for his tests, and not to fail any! Further his teachers were pretty-darned-good at getting him ready to perform when the stakes were their highest. Skydiving licensure tests happen often at 120 miles per hour. 

    I hope from this week’s Quick Read we consider having different conversations with kids regarding college. Dreams about college can be curated more around students’ developing interests—and less from pre-conceived notions of aptitude or abilities.

    With a reframing of how we conceive of college, we can train students to overcome barriers, especially those pertaining to self-worth, self-definition, and anyone’s notion of “material.” Imagine more kids and families watching outdoor movies at family weekends everywhere—at a college, university, or career-technical education institute of their choice; on a humanitarian mission; at a military send-off; in an apprenticeship, or even under the star-lit sky of a skydiving drop zone. 

 Additional References

Donlan, R., & Gruenert, S. (2016). Minds unleashed: How principals can lead the right-brained way. Rowman & Littlefield.

Monday, September 5, 2022

Celebrate the Week Together, NOT the Short Week

With the end-of-summer upon us, many of us are back-to-school after an extended weekend—walking the hallways, talking with students, and making the most of the rush. In All Other Duties As Assigned, I mention leveraging proximity in Maximize Your Visibility, when noting “ . . . you cannot serve at the intersection of a student’s challenges and capacity without being in arm’s reach” (p. 11). 

In leveraging proximity, what we say in passing has an impact. This holds true for comments we make about four-day weeks and extended weekends around holidays. It is important we celebrate our time together, NOT that we have short weeks. 

In other words, “So glad we’re back!” is preferable; “Only four days this week!” is not. Even if the latter tacks-on, “. . . so make the most of it!”, it’s not the best approach. 

Four-day school weeks, while preferred by many adults and students, aren’t for everyone. Some don’t like going home, staying home, or being home. For whatever their reasons, they have a rough go-of-it on the outside. 

Let’s take for instance students who have their only trusted, caring adults in school, or those hungry or neglected. Probably, they aren’t celebrating short weeks or extended weekends. They’re not shouting “T.G.I.F.” 

I sometimes think of things outside of education, to make sense of the things inside—like here, I envision a scene from the book or movie production, The Outsiders, with Ponyboy and Johnny Cade hiding-out in a church, where Ponyboy recites a poem from Robert Frost (1874 – 1963). 

 
Nothing Gold Can Stay 
Nature’s first green is gold, 
Her hardest hue to hold. 
Her early leaf’s a flower; 
But only so an hour. 
Then leaf subsides to leaf. 
So Eden sank to grief, 
So dawn goes down to day. 
Nothing gold can stay. 

Source Credit, From The Poetry of Robert Frost, edited by Edward Connery Lathem (1923, 1947, 1969) by Henry Holt and Company, in link: https://poets.org/poem/nothing-gold-can-stay , with copyrights noted therein for Robert Frost and Lesley Frost Ballantine, as well. 

 

Now with story characters like Ponyboy and Johnny, one might interpret “Gold” to depict the fleeting innocence of childhood or the value of good friendships. For kids in our own schools—some with heavy stuff going on—“Gold” might represent with careless adult reinforcement, that time spent in a safe environment is fleeting, or worse that the rare, trusting relationships in students’ lives will be short-lived, as they are not what is valued and prioritized by those in charge. 

Students of any age may instead wish to hear that educators would rather be no place else than in school with them! 

It’s not a stretch for me to imagine when Assistant Principals verbalize fondly of times NOT with students (i.e. short weeks, pining for the weekend, countdowns to summer vacation, T.G.I.F.’s, etc.) this could circumvent the togetherness and security we’re hoping to foster. I’m not advocating for a prohibition of levity, humor, or a brief respite from organizational minutia . . . just suggesting a more mindful approach to what we celebrate, with peripheral vision always a part. 

Might we note the good that comes with a short week instead—that we’re together again, even if for a shorter period of time, because that is what counts—Because students count. 

That’s worthy of celebration.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

What NOT to Do in Pursuit of a Positive School Climate: Cloud Casting

    “Many thanks” to Solution Tree for working with Edutopia on a great read published last week on School Climate. See https://www.edutopia.org/article/how-assistant-principals-can-influence-school-climate. Tips are included from All Other Duties As Assigned regarding what an Assistant Principal “Can Do.” 

    Here I’d like to share something Assistant Principals, Vice-Principals, and Deans can consider NOT doing, in order to foster a positive school environment: Cloud Casting. 

    Cloud casting is when a school administrator has a concern and casts a cloud over the entire school by sending a blanket message for the behavior to stop, rather than to address directly with particular students or staff. Typically, this happens on the daily whole-school announcements or in a staff-wide written/electronic communication. 

    While seemingly efficient, Cloud Casting is counterintuitive. 

    First, Cloud Casting is an avoidance mechanism to a critical conversation best had with its source. If one is hesitant about having a conversation, there is a possibility that the policy, rule, or concern doesn’t make sense. 

    Second, Cloud Casting prevents a teachable moment for those committing or allowing the act, who would best be served with an opportunity to hear and learn privately. Aren’t we in that business, anyway? 

    Third, Cloud Casting provides cloak and cover for transgressors. It sends a message that more persons are doing the deed than really the case. A possible result is that rule followers and the hyper-conscious spend energy playing rewind needlessly in their own heads on the remote possibility they may have done X, Y, or Z inadvertently. Those guilty can then brush-it-off. 

    Finally, Cloud Casting saps energy. It dampens the mood. It’s a downer, and once delivered publicly, it pulls the air out of a positive vibe during an effortful day. 

    When  tempted to share a concern with the larger group rather than individuals, let’s pause and consider what NOT to do. If we truly value a positive climate, we may wish to keep our skies clear.

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Take a Moment, for “Moment-making” as an Assistant Principal's Teachable Moment

        Sitting as a competitive dance-dad one weekend upon some bleachers, I had a chance to reflect on school administration. Anyone who has enjoyed school-aged dance competitions knows hours can pass between your child’s performances. Often I take these opportunities to generate ideas for teaching, training, and writing.  
        In this instance, I was thinking of Todd Whitaker’s and my book, The Hero Maker, written for superintendents on their relationships with boards of education. I envisioned a series of “-Maker’s” to be written someday—Difference Maker, for school boards, Future Maker for principals, Opportunity Maker for assistant principals, and Moment Maker for teachers. They just sorted-themselves-out that way; I realize the best of us do them all. 
        I reflected more fully during my writing of All Other Duties As Assigned on the powerful teaching influence of Assistant Principals. Assistant Principals use teachable moments and the entire school as their classroom—“Life,” is often the lesson. Thus, Assistant Principals like our best teachers, are moment-makers, with hundreds of decisions each day of great import, and hopefully imparting something of value.
        Key for you as an Assistant Principal is to be in-the-moment, consistently at your best for the people around you. You really are each and every day, a “. . . point person helping others make the best of circumstances when the going gets tough . . . [providing] comfort and guidance to students trying to make sense of it all while helping the adults who work with them” (p. 2). 

        Now that the school year is starting anew, do you ensure moment-making opportunities? Consider one example of Assistant Principal moment-making: It is when a student approaches you with, what I might affectionately call the yet-another thing—[‘Here we go,’ your inside voice might whisper, because you have much heavier things on your mind]. 

        This could be low-key like, “Where is my next class located?,” or “How long until the next bell?” or even of greater urgency, like “A car and bus just ran into each other in the school parking lot,” or “I’ve got to talk to you now; I’m really, really [expletive deleted] angry!” Either way, think of this yet-another-thing stepping into your present moment, while your principal is texting you about pending litigation against the school, or something similar. 

        These are your opportunities for moment-making. 
        Yet-another thing’s are often really big in the eyes of those bringing them to you, no matter their relative weight in comparison with other things you are handling. 
        You can either leverage the moment to make an indelible, positive impression upon a student, build trust, and give that moment what it deserves—your authentic time and effort—or you can handle the circumstance (even quickly dispensing of it, I might add) without moment-making in mind. 
        I hope not, the latter. 
        While moment-making, you have options of what to say next, how to say it, and what to do. Your choice as an Assistant Principal: what happens next—when yet-another thing comes knocking and how to navigate—is what moment-making is all about. 
        That moment will be remembered by the student long after the immediacy of your situation expires, and it is what will influence how they approach you [or not] the next time around, no matter the outcome. In other words, students will remember how they were treated, and how they felt in-the-moment, whether you are intentional about the moment, or not. 

        Tips for effective moment-making (what you say next, is important): 

        1. Demonstrate genuine interest in the student—in that moment—no matter the hundred other things on your mind; appear glad they approached you; 
        2. Be present and listen—ensure your non-verbal expressions indicate interest, while your brain is thinking quickly what next to say

        [For on-the-spot things, go directly to #3 below] 

        3. Say next, your response or decision (or start doing something, in the case of the car/bus accident above)—be compassionate while firm, if your decision is not what they want to hear. Offer to sit down with them when the two of you have more time. 

        [For things that need a bit more time to address, go directly from #2 above to #4 below] 

       4. Say next, you will give it your attention; do not promise to solve; 
       5. Share roughly how much time you’ll need; explore if they need anything in the meantime if they are emotional; 
       6. Attend to the situation as priority allows. You may learn at times, it was not just yet another thing (rather, a big thing to you, too); 
       7. Check-in with that person later-on; share what you can appropriately, and be open about any next steps (sometimes there are none). 
       8. Offer “thanks” for coming to you. 

       As moment-making is a teachable moment, what do students learn? 

       That you can be trusted; 
       That it is ok to ask for help; 
       That they matter.