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Mentoring Matters for Elementary Principals: March 2015

Leadership-life Fit:

Transform your habits. Learn how to reverse those behaviors that inhibit your ideal leadership-life fit and stick to those habits that benefit you both personally and professionally.

Entrepreneur, weightlifter, author, and travel photographer James Clear offers a brief, easy-to-access guide that teaches us 10 transformative tools:

  1. How to reverse your bad habits and stick to good ones.
  2. The science of how your brain processes habits.
  3. Common mistakes we make and how to avoid them.
  4. How to overcome lack of motivation and will power.
  5. How to grow in your belief in yourself.
  6. How to make time for new habits (even amidst crazy schedules).
  7. How to shape your environment to make success easier.
  8. How to make big changes without overwhelming yourself.
  9. How to get back on track when you go off-course with your goals.
  10. How to put these ideas into practice in real-life.

Get the guide here.

Overcome Obstacles and Stay Focused on Improving Teaching and Learning:

Four barriers impede successful leadership. Recognize these obstacles, practice the skills to help overcome them, and transform your leadership!

John D’Auria’s article in February’s Kappan magazine sheds light on four leadership hurdles that can be readily avoided by cultivating and practicing specific skill sets.

Obstacles and Corresponding Skills that Can Help Overcome:

1. Undervaluing the importance of culture.

By learning and practicing the skill sets associated with building trust, strengthening a growth mindset*, and cultivating the art of feedback, school leaders can most positively shape school culture.

2. Being distracted from improvement strategies by day-to-day demands/problems.

When administrators communicate a clear, shared vision; adhere to a set of core values; align resources to that vision; and hold members of the organization accountable, they keep the focus of their leadership grounded in a cycle of improvement.

3. Balancing our focus on what we are doing with the effect of what we are doing.

Administrators need to develop habits and routines for assessing their effectiveness and assist their teachers in doing the same. They need to learn what works and for whom and then to adjust their practice accordingly. A number of protocols can be learned and practiced to support administrators in this endeavor.

4. Underestimating the importance of skillful practice.

D’Auria notes that three competencies comprise skillful practice:

  • Understanding of rigorous and relevant content
  • A wide repertoire of effective teaching strategies
  • Skill in developing and supporting high-functioning teams

By recognizing these obstacles and practicing the skills that can help avoid them, school leaders can improve the learning for all members of the organization.

Access the full article here.

D’Auria, J. (2015). Learn to avoid or overcome leadership obstacles. Kappan, 96(5): 52-54.

*You can read more about a growth mindset by accessing Carol Dweck’s article here.

Contributing to a Growth Culture via Feedback:

Feedback is the most robust instructional activity in which we can engage. ~Hattie

When we share feedback with teachers about their work, we model how they can use feedback with students.

Begin by asking your teacher/s how they want to receive feedback. Know your outcome—be crystal clear about what you want to have happen. Know your teachers; read their body language; and be aware of how your message is being received.

Nothing happens at the behavioral level--you need to get to the values/beliefs level. So, sending someone to observe another teacher who is doing something well won’t change the behavior of the teacher who needs help unless you address values and beliefs.

How do your beliefs about student learning/growth drive your grading practice?

How do your beliefs about student learning/growth drive your evaluation practice?

Giving Feedback Requires

  • technical skill
  • honesty
  • persistence
  • courage
  • differentiation

Defining Roles:

  • In a system of authentic learning and growth, what is the role of the evaluator?
  • Data drives PD - what kind of support do individual teachers receive? Small groups? Whole staff?
  • What do you do to stay current?
  • How have you made your staff aware of your role in this process?
  • How will you ask individuals on your staff how they like to receive feedback?
  • Am I going in as coach, mentor, or counsel? (Stronge, J.(2010) Effective Teachers=Student Achievement.)
  • Coach Feedback:
  • is future-oriented
  • includes questions
  • promotes reflection
  • capitalizes upon & enhances cognitive processes
  • develops new competencies.
  • Mentor Feedback
  • has answers
  • involves transfer of knowledge
  • offers advice and solutions
  • Counsel Feedback
  • focuses on past to present
  • addresses issues
  • includes a plan outlining actions and steps teacher must take to achieve individual as well as school goals
  • possible includes helping out of the profession with dignity

Read and discuss this scenario-based activity below to gain insight into effective approaches in providing feedback and fitting applications for each.

What approach (stance) would you take as the administrator in each of these scenarios:

  Coach Mentor Counsel
They don’t know they should do it.      
They don’t know how to do it.      
They don’t know what they are supposed to do.      
They think your way will not work.      
They think their way is better.      
They think something else is more important.      
They think they are doing it.      
They are rewarded for not doing it.      
They anticipate negative consequences.      

Strategies for Next-level Literacy:

Does vocabulary development in your building still include too much focus on “Remember and Understand” strategies like defining terms, pronouncing words, identifying synonyms, using the dictionary to look up unknown words, and writing a sentence using the word? Support your teachers in replacing “what they have always done” with these research-based methodologies that require students to think beyond the text and prepare them to be better readers and learners.

In an article in this month’s Principal Leadership, Judy Brunner explains the changes necessary for students to master content vocabulary. She notes that instruction needs to move beyond memorization to application, analysis, and evaluation of terms as related to the overall objective. “Those with the richest vocabularies will probably be the ones to achieve the most academic and professional success,” argues Brunner. Therefore, we cannot afford to wait!

Brunner offers a series of questions to help determine which evidence-based vocabulary strategy would be most effective. Below is a sampling:

  • At what level of Bloom’s Taxonomy will students be required to think?
  • Does the strategy provide for a common assessment?
  • Is there a component for activating background knowledge?
  • Does the strategy facilitate a deeper understanding of subject content?
  • Does the strategy provide for teacher flexibility in terms of scaffolding information?
  • Does the strategy support the gradual release of responsibility?
  • Does the strategy teach a skill good readers must possess?
  • Is there a designated step for closure and retrieval of what has been learned?

Brunner follows these questions with six strategies grounded in evidence-based practice and reflective of the type of variety, differentiation, and engagement that best meets the needs of learners. An overview of the suggested strategies appears below, and the detailed steps in the process involved in using each strategy can be found by accessing the full article (link following). Brenner also aligns each step to Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Access the complete article here

Vocabulary Strategies for Next-Level Literacy

Strategy Purpose When to Use
Predictions, Definitions, and Connections Helps students identify unfamiliar words and connect to text. With fiction, non-fiction, and expository texts.
Exclusion Brainstorming Assists students in thinking about words and ideas while promoting engagement through critical thinking. All texts.
Vocabulary Self-Collection

Supports growth of content vocabulary related to a topic.

Non-fiction/content areas.
Journal Circles Helps readers express awareness of words and terms in written form. All texts.
Word Exploration Helps students make connections between prior knowledge and new terms. All texts.
Words for the Day Encourages students to recognize important vocabulary terms and use the orally and in writing. All texts.

Monthly Checklist: 

These lists are intended as a guide—we encourage you to process in your mentor-mentee team to identify other items that may need your attention!