Take the Wheel!

In cycling, there is a phrase known as “taking the wheel”.  The phrase refers to taking thecycling lead in a pack that is drafting.  The leader creates an aerodynamic “bubble” that allows others to take advantage of the slip stream and conserve energy.  In fact, the work of the leader and the pack that follows allows the entire group to ride faster and conserve energy!

As leaders, there are things we can learn from this cycling analogy in our own work with educators on our campuses or in our districts.  We are always trying to develop our team and encourage them to achieve goals and improve the work of the team members, individually and collectively.  Knowing the most effective actions a leader can take in steering the process of collaborative improvement is critical.  Let’s take a look at some of the principles of “taking the wheel” that can help us as leaders:

  1. If you’re the stronger rider, take the wheel!

In cycling if you’re a strong rider you are expected to take the lead for the group and help pull everyone else towards the goal. follow-my-lead

As a leader on your campus or in your district, you’re staff is expecting you to take the lead and help to pull them towards the goal and to encourage them to push on even when they are tired and ready to stop.  Leaders aren’t afraid of challenging headwinds and they refuse to allow excuses to rise up and prevent the team from charging towards the intended goals.

  1. Be a mindful leader!

The leader who takes the wheel is allowing the riders who follow to recover by riding in aerodynamic slipstream that forms behind the leader.  The bubble can actually extend to 7 or 8 riders behind the leader.  This can prove helpful for the pack in keeping them fresh cycling-2and together but the leader has to remember to watch the pace of the ride and the terrain ahead.  If riders aren’t prepared they can easily be dropped from the pack and might not be able to catch up to the pack once left behind.

As a leader on your campus or in your district, you too need to be a mindful leader.  You have to monitor if or when your followers need a rest and when the pace of work needs to be adjusted.  You have to be watching the terrain ahead and prepare your followers for what is coming.  The goal for the leader is to not “drop” anyone along the way.  The best leaders help their team set attainable goals with clear markers along the way.  They know that progress can be its on motivator and they ensure that the whole team experiences that progress.

  1. Know when to lead and know when to follow!

In cycling, if you tend to follow too often and are reluctant to do any work in leading out you’ll be labeled lazy and considered a “follower”.  In cycling terminology, a competent rider never wants to be labeled a follower.  On the flip side, jumping out to the lead too often or for too long can lead some to be seen as the hero for sacrificing themselves for the good of the team.  They can also be seen as a sort of donkey with no brains for failing to use their efforts more wisely.

As a leader on your campus or in your district, it’s imperative that you undergatens-leaders-followersstand your team and your organization well enough so you can lead when you need to but follow when necessary as well.  Understanding that giving others on the team who have better or different skill sets than others a chance to lead is important if the team is going to improve and getter better at what they do.  As a leader, if you’re always out front you will get burned out and your effectiveness will diminish as other team members crave a chance to lead or grow tired of looking at the same back side.  By developing other leaders who can take the wheel for your team, you develop capacity in your team and relieve yourself from being the only one who breaks new ground.

  1. Equipment can make all the difference!

I can remember when I started riding as part of my training for a spring triathlon.  I used my hybrid “get around” bike and it often times seemed like I was pedaling a bike with cement tires.  Once I finally invested in a true road bike, not only did my times improve but riding was actually enjoyable!

As a leader on your campus or in your district, do you have the right equipment?  Do your plan-prepare-performteam members have the right equipment?  If your organization is going to meet the goals set before them, they will be more likely to
do so if they have access to the right kind of data along with coaching in how to use the data and time in which to do the work it takes to improve instruction.  How about professional development?  Equipment makes a difference but the skill and competence of the rider has to improve to get the most out of the equipment.  It works the same way with our teachers.  Leaders have to develop the skills, talents, and understandings of their staff in order to maximize the benefits of having the right tools.

Data Review: Have a Target, Have a Purpose!

Well, it’s the middle of September and for many teachers and campus leaders that means the school year is beginning to settle in to a routine.  It also means teachers are starting to get some data on how students are doing.  The data can be studestudent-datant daily work, formative assessments, project based learning product, or performance assessments just to name a few.  The question then becomes, “what do we do with the data?”

An effective data review process will look at all available data (including individual and collective data) on the campus with the express purpose of guiding intervention support.  An important consideration beyond just looking at data and deciding on interventions for students is the process by which interventions will be monitored and reviewed.

Allow me to share with you a 3 phase process to guide your data review efforts.  I call the guide a “Target for Purposeful Focus”.  Phase 1 is Key Data and focuses on gathering and organizing your data in order to accurately understand current performance levels and trends while alsrti_3_tierso prioritizing performance concerns.  Phase 2 is Intervention and Supports and focuses on setting performance targets, identifying solutions and action
steps, implementing intervention and support systems, and pursuing a problem of practice. Phase 3 is Monitoring and Review which focuses on identifying measurable objectives, using on-going progress monitoring, and identifying critical evidence of intervention success.

The graphic below illustrates how the 3 phases work together to frame your data review efforts.  As with any on-going or cyclical process, there is no rigid or linear structure to which phase comes first, second, or third.   In fact, effective teams will take aim at multiple areas of the target throughout their data dig, intervention support, and monitoring or review process.  Student performance and the effectiveness of your intervention supports will drive where your focus is during the process.  As you begin the process you will typically start in the center with the data and move outward on the target but your student and campus needs may dictate you return to another phase (or ring) on the target.  Effective use of data will utilize all 3 phases of the target and allow teachers and leaders to develop a more focused intervention plan while supporting those efforts with clear evidence of success or a need for further adjustments.

data-review_target-of-focus_neutral

-CS

We can’t afford not to invest in our teachers!

I read a very compelling article in the Harvard Business Review last month that highlighted the steps one fast food company in Tennessee uses to build a high functioning culture while attracting and keeping key personnel in an industry that is notoriously transient and arbitrary.

Click here for the story.

In the article Thomas Crosby, CEO of Pal’s Sudden Service, discusses how they build a culture of consistency, high performance, skill building, and success.  As a an educator that leads curriculum and instruction work for a district along with teacher induction and professional development programs, I was quick to note his big three points align quite well with the work all educational leaders should embark upon in their daily work with developing teachers and other staff on the campus.

While often times looking at a business world model for improvement can break down at some point when trying to compare it to the education world where we do not control the quality of the raw materials at the outset nor do we remove or kick out imperfect raw materials during the process of teaching students, the truths of this article can stand the test of time and cross over to the educational arena.

  1. The best companies hire for attitude and train for skill–As educational leaders, we can sometimes become overly focused on the content that needs to be taught and particular skill sets or backgrounds that teachers possess when we hire.  We will be better served (and so will our students) if we, instead, focus on exactly what kind of character and attitude our current and aspiring teaching staff possess and realize that we can teach and develop skill but the core of a person is much more difficult to mold.  Lesson for leaders: define and know what your core values are for your staff and your campus and skillfully measure anyone who wants to be part of your staff by those standards.
  2. Even great people need constant opportunities for improvement–As an educational leader, how do you check the “calibration” of your staff?  Just like machines, people can become uncalibrated.  We have to be specific and purposeful in how we design our professional development and how we ensure that our teaching staff participates in the appropriate and necessary type, style, and amount of training.  Moreover, we have to provide opportunities for our most talented educators to share what they know with others and to be a vessel for others to fulfill that constant need for improvement opportunities.
  3. Leaders who are serious about hiring also have to be serious about teaching–As an educational leader, one has to be committed to modeling an insatiable desire to learn for the entire campus.  Michael Fullan describes this as being a “lead learner”.  The most successful leaders formalize the learning and teaching (sharing) expectations for their campus or organization.  Pursuing knowledge and sharing the learning from that pursuit cannot be optional.

So there you have it.  Three statements of truth that work for leaders whether yTwo handsour running a fast food burger shop or a comprehensive high school or even a school district.
It matters what we do (or don’t do) when it comes to investing in our teachers and other instructional staff.  While some may argue that the task is too difficult or that there isn’t enough money/time or that it takes too much money/time, a quote by Thomas Crosby sums it up quite well:

“People ask me, ‘What if you spend all this time and money on training and someone leaves?’” Crosby says. “I ask them, ‘What if we don’t spend the time and money, and they stay?’”

-CS

 

PLC Culture: Maximizing Impact for Leaders and Teachers

I was recently reminded of the importance of collaborative leadership when I had the chance to work with a very novice high school team of teachers.  The campus has the expectation that PLCs should meet regularly and be focused on student data and planning for instruction.  However, this team really had no idea how to “be a PLC” and despite the directives coming down to them to function as a PLC, they were lost in how to do it.  They desperately wanted to do what administration was asking them to do in their PLC meetings but there was little teacher buy-in and most of the meetings were unproductive and frustrating for the teachers in the team.

I had the opportunity to come in, alongside them, and help them to reflect on the PLC process but also on what they needed as a team of professionals in order to do the work before them and to trust each other as they embraced collaboration.   In my work with the teachers, I recalled some advice from Michael Fullan in his book The Principal: Three Keys to Maximizing Impact.   His book speaks to the importance of educational leaders, especially at the campus level, embracing the role of “instructional leader” and rolling up their sleeves to join their teachers in developing the professional capital of everyone in the team (and on the campus).blog

 

Principals and other campus leaders would do well to keep these key points of instructional leadership at the center of their work when they embark on developing the PLC culture on their campus.

  1. Don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves and dig in to be part of the PLCs on your campus. It’s not enough to just issue the directive to “be a PLC”.  Our teachers want to see us in the trenches with them, helping to solve the challenges of the day, thinking of next steps, and relating to the daily struggles and successes they face.
  2. Don’t be afraid to put data aside and spend time focusing on the actions, the procedures, the protocols, and the structures that will develop a culture of collaboration and a shared interests. These considerations help to shape the culture of the PLC and allows for everyone to contribute and improve their own talents in the classroom and with the team.
  3. Be engaged with your PLC teams. Only through being present and engaged in the PLC meetings will leaders be able to understand the corporate needs of the team as well as the individual needs of certain teachers.  Learn alongside your teachers and find out what works and what doesn’t.  This will lead to better defined professional development opportunities, both for the team and the campus, as the leaders connect need with resources available.

Campus leaders can’t leave the important work of PLCs to mandates and directives.   True instructional leaders move towards the roar and seek out opportunities to come alongside their teacher teams and engage in the process of developing the human, social, and decisional capital present on the campus.