Friday, July 31, 2015

The Principal's First 20 Days

How you start the race has a huge impact on how you finish the race. If you're mentally and physically prepared, chances are that you'll finish strong. Show up unprepared, and you'll probably finish last, if you finish at all.

Harry Wong developed the first 20 days to help teachers establish a learning environment for kids that was structured, disciplined and most importantly conducive to learning. The first 20 days are important as they are the foundation for the next 160 days. What teachers do or don't do to establish an engaging and ultimately empowering environment will set the stage for success or failure.   

But what about principals?  What must principals do to create a the same culture for learning in those first 20 days?  After all, what they do will set teachers up for success or failure. They can either make or break the campus as a whole. 

Here's how excellent principals make the first 20 days of school rock. 

In the first 20 days, a principal's ability to communicate solidifies expectations for learning. By continuously communicating a vision of high expectations with a viable plan to reach them, principals establish an environment of excellence, and if they continue communicating in the same fashion the rest of the year, there's a strong chance that kids and teachers will exceed those expectations. 

If you want teachers to grow this year, then they must have time to learn with and from one another. Collaborative time must be provided within the school day at least once per week in order to ensure that teacher learning can occur. If you can make time for an assembly or even a pep rally, you can ensure that there's time for teachers to collaborate during their contracted day.  Remember, everyone learns more in collaboration than they do in isolation.

Expectations vary from teacher to teacher and from grade to grade; therefore, principals must work diligently with all teachers in the first 20 days to calibrate their expectations of students, how they respond when students meet expectations, and how they redirect kids when expectations are not being met. By guiding teachers to calibrate their expectations for kids, they establish and promote a more consistent learning environment in every classroom. 

The first 20 days of school is hard because it takes lots of work to set the tone for the year. Principals must ensure that they make time daily to celebrate teachers, staff, students, and parents for their work in making the first 20 days a success. By celebrating people and their efforts, principals actually reinforce the behaviors and actions that they want to see for the remaining 160 days. Remember, what gets celebrated gets accelerated. 

20 Days of Excellence
A house built on sand will never stand, but a house on a rock solid foundation will endure any storm that develops.  The first 20 days are the foundation, and when solidified with communication, collaboration, consistency and celebration, principals create the ultimate house for learning that will lead all kids and all teachers to excellence.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Teacher's Summer Excellence Checklist.

When summer is in full swing, that means one thing for teachers; they are 6-8 weeks away from the start of another school year. Kids will soon begin shopping for items on their school supply lists, and parents will anxiously await the announcement of their child's teachers while they get their children ready for the start of school. But what about teachers?  What do they need to start off the new school year on the right foot?

Just like principals need a Principal's Summer Excellence Checklist to prepare their school for the best year ever, every teacher needs an excellence checklist of their very own that will help them set the stage to empower every student to reach excellence this year. 

The Teacher's Summer Excellence Checklist

Here is a list of the the top 10 things every teacher needs to create the conditions that will inspire every student to have their best year ever.


Obviously, every teacher needs the tools of the trade, but great teachers surpass possession of tools by also possessing the skillful use of those tools to help every kid learn. The more technical the resource, the more necessary it is to learn how to be proficient at using that tool in a way that will empower kids to own their learning.

✔ Routines & Procedures

Every good teacher develops routines and procedures for their classroom, but great teachers have a plan to intentionally transfer the responsibility and leadership for those routines and procedures over to the kids. If the goal is learning for all, students need to own the routines and procedures that are designed to help them learn.  For each routine, great teachers have a plan to empower students to take ownership of it.


Relationships are important, but alone they don't get the job done. (See The 'Right' Relationships Matter).  Relationships for learning, however, require teachers to develop the optimal relationship with each child in order to accelerate each child's learning. To prepare for these relationships with new students, great teachers research their students. They learn their strengths, areas for growth and strategies that are proven to help each student learn, but they go the extra mile by making a plan to build a meaningful relationship with each child in an effort to inspire him to learn. 

✔ Relevance

Nothing is more boring to a student than sitting in a class that has no relevance. To engage kids, excellent teachers plan their instruction with one purpose: connect kids to the learning target during every minute of the day. Sure, great activities help develop relevance, but how great teachers structure their instructional time to keep kids engaged through those activities is what maintains and even accelerates engagement and relevance. Great teachers are developing or refining their plans with the specific purpose of optimizing engagement.

✔ Rigor

Rigor is about 3 things: planning for it, delivering it, and responding to it. Great teachers realize that rigor can't occur unless they, themselves, have the content knowledge and expertise first. From content expertise, teachers of excellence focus their efforts on transferring that expertise to students through the intentional use of assessments, instructional strategies and questioning techniques that take kids from what they know to what they need to know, and they do that at high levels of complexity. Excellent teachers are busy locating and curating all kinds of strategies that will lead every student to rigorous learning. 


Great teachers know that even the best lesson will leave some students behind; therefore, they don't wait for failure. They plan for it.  They anticipate possible mistakes or misunderstandings that students will have and have automatic responses when those mistakes reveal themselves. The best intervention is prevention, and great teachers do a whole lot of preventing in their instruction.  These teachers are making plans to identify students with a history of failure and creating prevention strategies that will help these students overcome failure beginning with the first day of instruction. 

✔ Extension

While some kids need extra attention, other kids need extra extension. When kids learn a concept in a great teacher's class, they don't get more of the same. They are provided choices to apply their learning through personalized activities that matter to the student. Great teachers offer students a menu of extension activities that are on display for students on the first day of school, and this menu serves as great motivator to remind kids to work hard at learning.

✔ Collaboration  

Great teachers grow, and they grow by learning with and from their peers inside and outside of the school. Whether it is a collaborative team, their campus leaders or their PLN, great teachers are connected to a wide variety of educators and collaborate with them frequently because they believe their own continuous improvement is essential to help all students learn. Great teachers are gathering ideas and thoughts all summer long so that when schools starts, they can help their peers grow and their students learn. 

✔ Tech Integration 

Technology is a tool that supports learning, and great teachers integrate technology with one specific purpose, support the learning goals of the lesson. It is also important to note that they don't jump onto every tech bandwagon that rolls into town. They ensure that technology will enhance student learning by seamlessly integrating technology into their lessons. To enhance student learning, excellent teachers brush up on their tech tools and ensure that they work out the kinks with each tool, so that kids will have a smooth start using these tools in the first week of school. 

✔ Parent Communication

Parents are a valuable resource to support student learning, and great teachers tap into that resource by initiating, building, and maintaining parent communication through both face to face and digital interactions with parents. By keeping the lines of communication open through weekly communication with parents, they build support systems that reinforce student learning. Great teachers will have their communication plan ready to disseminate to students and parents on the first day of school as well as a system to keep the communication system effectively running all year long. 

What Else Would You Add?
Teachers of excellence aren't waiting for school to start. They are putting their plans in place. What makes a great teacher is their performance, but what makes their performance great is their preparation. They pathway to excellence is not through talent alone but through diligent preparation. By putting together a powerful plan to guarantee that every student learns, great teachers create a classroom culture that inspires, challenges, and empowers every student to discover the excellence that is within them. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The "Right" Relationships Matter

There's so much out there about the importance of relationships.  Relationships are essential for us to grow.  They build trust, and trust is essential to basically everything that has to do with school culture.  But today I'd like to push back on that thought.

Relationships matter because they make us feel valued as members of the organization, but if all we do is establish great relationships between leaders and teachers, teachers and students, and the school and community, does that by default get us the result that we truly want: more kids learning at high levels?

I would contend that liking one another really doesn't change who we are.  It just makes us more comfortable and more congenial with one another.  Building relationships is imperative to improve a a school culture.  If we believe that building relationships helps improve school culture, we must remember that warm and fuzzies are nice, but they aren't the goal of a school.  Guaranteeing that all kids learn is the goal, and we should leverage relationships to make it happen.

The Right Relationships Matter
Relationships are a means to an end, not the end in and of itself.  Making others feel good is important, but if our efforts to build strong relationships supercedes our efforts to ensure that all kids learn, then I would argue that we have the created the wrong relationships in our organization.  After all, if we really cared about having meaningful relationships with people, we would have the courage to be brutally honest with them and care enough about them to tell them our truths about what needs to occur to reach the goal.  In short, you can't build authentic relationships with people, if you avoid giving them the cold hard truth about improving the organization.

Like I said earlier, warm and fuzzy is great, and that's helpful to building relationships, but the right relationships are not forged through kindness alone.  They are forged through the fires of adversity and overcoming it together.  Trust is not built simply with friendly words and happy smiles.  Congeniality is.  Trust is built when 2 or more people come together to confront a difficulty that is either between them or in front of them, and they work together to overcome it as well as grow from it.  Real relationships come from confronting reality.

Relationships matter, but the RIGHT relationships matter most.  When you have the right relationship with someone, you don't just make them FEEL good about themselves.  You hold them to a higher standard, but you do it in a trusting and supportive way that challenges them to GIVE their best.

This week, challenge yourself this week to examine your relationships in all facets of your organization, and ask yourself if you have established good relationships or the RIGHT RELATIONSHIPS.

Friday, July 10, 2015

3 R's that ALL Kids MUST Learn

The 21st century has been over for 15 years. There are times when I'm excited for what the future holds, and there are times when I'm deeply concerned about the future of our country.  Whether it be abhorrent behavior, talking heads lashing out against the other side or insane things that people say or do to get attention, it makes me wonder if our country is moving backwards.   Then there are powerful acts that inspire me. Whether it is an image of a boy handing a police officer a bottle of water, or a girl raising awareness for autism, or people taking a stand against social injustice, I am moved to ask this question. 

What are the Most Important Skills All Kids must Learn to be a Productive Member of Society?

If you think about it, virtually every person in America has a solid grasp of the 3 R's of the 20th century (Reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic).  Sure, we can continue to improve in this area, but there are very few people who are functionally illiterate in those skills when they graduate from high school. It is safe to say that we have surpassed the point where our ultimate goal is making sure every American develops those skills.  If we want to continue to make our country the best in the world, I think we need to adopt a new set of R's.  After all, those, who will have the biggest and most positive impact on our country, have them, those who are hurting our country don't.

The 3 R's of a Global Citizen
In addition to being able to show respect to everyone they encounter, respectable people are appreciated for the character that they display and actions that they take to make our world a better place.  They communicate respectfully to everyone, especially those that they disagree with.  We must teach kids not how to respect others but how to be respectable citizens.

The future of a society is found in the moral and ethic responsibility of its general population.  Personal responsibility affects all people.  If a person has no personal responsibility, someone has to pick up the tab, but if a person takes responsibility not only for themselves but for those that they live with, work with, and come into contact with, our world instantly becomes a much better place.  In school, we mustn't preach personal responsibility; we must teach it, model it and glorify it.

Life is tough, and whiners never win.  Only the strong survive, and resilience is the key to making it in this world. We must teach our kids how to look adversity in the eye and smile as they say to themselves, "You will not beat me!"  Resilience can't be taught. It must be earned through tough lessons, and we must provide kids the lessons to acquire this skill of strength. 

Selfish people never succeed.  They may accumulate more stuff, but it is only the selfless that will truly leave this world and this century better than they found it. The only way that our children develop this critical skill is when we consistently model it through our continuous actions in helping others.  We must show kids that the only way to live a happy life is through this philosophy of generosity.

Which Generation was Truly the Greatest?
The generation born in the 1920's - 1930's was dubbed America's Greatest Generation.  It was because of them that we came out of the Great Depression, won World War II and experienced the greatest economic boom in American history.  But was this generation the greatest?  I would contend that they were amazing and were the reason that our country became the greatest in the world, but I would also contend that they didn't become great on their own.  The generation before them instilled values that essentially embodied the 3 R's above, and if it weren't for them, the greatest generation may not have been all that great.

If we want our country to continue to be the greatest, we must remember that while the 3 R's of the 20th century are important, they pale in comparison to the 3 R's of the 21st century.  At the end of the day, the skills that will maintain our country's greatness will have little to do with reading, writing and arithmetic, but they will have everything to do with the ability to be a productive and contributing member of our society.  If our focus on learning doesn't include these 3 R's, then what kind of future are we creating?

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The 5 Prerequisites to Rigor

Everybody wants more rigor. States want more rigorous assessments. Colleges want students who took the most rigorous coursework in high school. Parents want more a rigorous curriculum to prepare their kids for the best colleges, and educators want more rigorous instruction.  I think it's safe to say that we all want more rigor in schools. 

But there's are problem!!!

Wanting rigor for every kid is one thing; delivering rigor in every classroom for every kid is another.  For some educators, expecting them to deliver rigor is like asking a student to multiply polynomials before he can multiply two single digit numbers or in some cases add 2 numbers.  Because of expertise, experience or a host of other factors, the pathway to rigor can extremely challenging for some educators.  There has to be a solid foundation in place before teachers can successfully deliver more rigor, and school leaders and teacher leaders owe it to all teachers to help them build that solid foundation now. 

Just like upper level high school classes require prerequisite courses, rigor has its own set of prerequisites too. In order to create rigorous learning environments for all kids, teachers and leaders have to master the gatekeepers to rigor first. If not mastered or even addressed, rigor will never come to fruition.  It will just be another buzzword that has no real meaning to anyone. 

5 Prerequisities to Rigor
If you want to ensure that rigor is in every classroom and accessible to every kid, you must ensure that these 5 prerequisites to rigor are in place first.

1. Resources
What resources and tools are needed to help create a challenging learning environment and what training is needed for the teacher to develop their skillful use of those resources?  If teachers do not have skillful use of all the resources at their disposal, they won't have the tools to reach rigor.

2. Routines 
Rigor requires routines and procedures for self-directed learning  Resources are the tools, and routines are the behavioral organization structures needed to reach rigor.  Without routines, rigor will be replaced with teacher-directed dependency. What routines and procedures are needed in every classroom to challenge kids to be self-directed in their learning and working with one another as well as with the teacher?

3. Relationships
I never met a kid who wanted to work hard for a teacher he didn't like. Relationships matter, and the better the relationship, the greater investment kids will make in learning at rigorous levels.  What must teachers do to know their students deeply, and what actions will they take to build relationships with every kid that will motivate them to learn at high levels?

4. Relevance 
If kids can't find meaning in the learning they are exposed to, they will never challenge themselves to learn at deep levels. Teachers must remember that how they engage kids entices or turns kids off to rigor. Students must continuously be engaged in active learning from the moment they enter the room until the moment they leave. Kids will stay engaged if and only if the learning is relevant to them and active for them. No relevance, no rigor. 

5. Content Knowledge & Expertise
Knowing your curriculum is one thing, but inspiring kids to know it as deeply as you do is another. The barrier to rigor is not knowing the complexity of the standards that kids need to master.  It's transforming your knowledge into engaging activities and thought-provoking questions that pique student curiosity in such a way that makes them want to learn at the highest levels. The biggest issue with rigor is in creating the learning environment where kids can't wait to dive into rigor, and that is better known as selling your content.  If you can't sell your content and expertise, the kids won't invest in rigorous learning.

How many Prerequisites do You Have?
Remember, we don't teach content.  We teach kids, and if we want to reach the highest levels of Bloom's or the deepest levels of DOK, rigor begins with setting kids up for success first.  If we can focus on creating the conditions where kids want to learn at the highest or deepest levels, rigor will take care of itself because the responsibility for learning will quickly and easily transfer from the teacher to the student.