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Mentoring Matters for Assistant and Associate Principals and Deans: March 2017

Leadership-life Fit:

Try this simple breathing practice to build your resiliency and reduce stress and anxiety.

Leading Communicator—Key Messages for Every Opportunity

Don’t miss out on an opportunity to spread positive news and build support for your school! Create “key messages” around these three elements and your message will last long after the conversation has ended!

The March 2017 publication of Principal Leadership provides support for strategic communication. Author Bob Farrace identifies three key elements:

  1. Stories – Put names and faces on a message. When a parent asks how things are going, rather than the typical, “Great!,” share a story about a specific student; you might relate it to a need you have, if appropriate. For example, if you recently witnessed a student using the Makerspace area in your building to create and publish a podcast, you could share that story, how it impacted that student, and how having more similar technology could significantly impact learning for students.
  2. Statistics—Put statistics into concrete terms. Farrace uses the Gallup data related to student engagement to illustrate this element: “Nearly 2 out of 3 high school students across our country don’t see the connection between their learning and their lives—we try not to be one of those schools, and we see technology as a leverage.”
  3. Sound Bites—Use one-liners to make a message memorable. Include devices like alliteration, parallel structure, and contrast: We personalize learning—every student, every day.

These elements help shape positive messages about your school that can be easily shared and repeated.

Read the full article here.

Leading Learning—Leading High Expectations Teaching

What is the principal’s role in motivating teachers to reach the most challenging of students and the most struggling of learners? John Saphier’s article in this month’s Principal magazine articulates leadership behaviors to cultivate a growth mindset in teachers.

Saphier discusses the history of a fixed mindset in American education and notes the recent emphasis on growth mindset as a point of leverage for successful principals. Principals who have adapted their language, behavior and instructional decision-making to reflect a growth mindset and who have supported teachers in doing the same have been able to narrow the achievement gap. These language and behavior changes are anchored in three key messages:

  • What we’re doing is important;
  • You can do it; and
  • I’m not going to give up on you.

Helping teachers cultivate a growth mindset is only part of the equation; principals have a role in supporting teachers in changing the mindset of students as well. Teachers need to help students believe that smart is something they can get. This can be especially challenging when certain sub-groups of students may have spent their lives believing they have low ability and low potential. All members of the learning organization will need to come face to face with their own belief systems, their own doubts. Focusing on communicating high expectations for all learners and then creating an environment that is relentless in its emphasis on the above three messages will support this shift.

Specifically, principals should consider learning alongside their staff as they…

  1. Review the history of beliefs about I.Q. that have led us to where we are today;
  2. Study recent evidence refuting the notion of I.Q. as fixed;
  3. Examine how our language communicates messages about our beliefs in students’ abilities to learn (for example, how we respond to student requests for help sends powerful messages about our beliefs);
  4. Create student agency through frequent formative assessment that helps students see their progress, affirms their responsibility in doing well, and enforces the message that they can do well;
  5. Help clarify what success looks like so all students understand what they need to do to be proficient;
  6. Design lessons that explicitly teach study skills; and
  7. Develop opportunities for student choice and voice.

Resource: 50 Ways to Get Students to Believe in Themselves 

Learn more about high expectations teaching:

The Principal's Role in High Expectations Teaching – subscription required 

High Expectations Teaching: How We Persuade Students to Believe and Act on "Smart Is Something You Can Get"

Leading Learning—Growing Grit

What do teachers need to do to cultivate perseverance and stick-to-itiveness—i.e., GRIT? And what does this mean for principals? This month’s Principal Leadership tells us!

Four key practice of teachers and related behaviors of principals lead to increased grit in students:

Teacher Practices:

  1. High Expectations—Developing grit begins with establishing high expectations. If the mark is too low, students won’t have the opportunity to understand how commitment of time and effort result in achievement. By setting high expectations and communicating the belief that these expectations are important, all students can attain them through effort over time, and the teacher will be there to help and support, teachers lay the foundation upon which grit is built.
  2. Growth Mindset—Attributing success to students’ effort rather than intelligence sends the message that by persevering, all students can achieve. The obstacles and frustrations students experience can be overcome with effort over time.
  3. Passion—When teachers share their passion for their subject, they help to elicit passion in students. When we feel passionate about our work, we are more likely to persist in the face of difficulty.
  4. Class Mission—Creating a class mission provides a purpose and destination for the work during the course of the semester or trimester or year. Teachers can tell the success stories of those who have overcome frustration and obstacles to master the challenges not only in their learning but in their lives.

Principal Practices:

Principals should establish a high-expectations learning culture and model a growth mindset themselves. They will need to be prepared for initial resistance from students and parents when students feel the expectations are too high or the learning too difficult. The role of the principal will be to reassure the students and parents that yes, the demands are high, the learning is important, the student can do it, and we have a system in place to help. This is a great opportunity for leaders to model their own grit!

Principals may also want to consider developing an alumni network whose members can serve as role models and examples of those whose grit might inspire current students.

Read the full article by Jim Fornaciari in Principal Leadership (subscription required).

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!