Education is a social process. Education is growth. Education is not a preparation for life; education is life itself.”

John Dewey, January 1897, “My Pedagogic Creed,” School Journal, 54, p 77-80.

Never introduce an innovation for which a measure of effectiveness has not proactively been establish – it’s fair to those introducing the innovation and the right thing to do for students.

We have become very adept at analyzing subgroups. We now aggregate students into classrooms, grade levels, and socio-linguistic-ethnic groups to determine our effectiveness. Thank goodness for this development – it has revealed how woefully we have been serving various groups of students, most prominently students with special needs and English learners. 

And yet the time has come, I believe, to stop aggregating and commit to disaggregating all the way to the individual student. We must focus on the success and growth of every single student for whom we are responsible. This is the primary task of the school principal. Leadership requires that individuals lead and act. It also requires that others follow. Too often, leaders make decisions without input, without first building shared knowledge, without consensus. And, decisions are too often made, and initiatives implemented, without leaders and organizations determining how the efficacy of initiatives will be determined. We must not continue to make these mistakes. As a start, we must not introduce initiatives until we publicly and specifically identify how we will determine the initiative’s success, including by what date, with what data, and using what measure. 

A lack of inspired, high-quality leadership may be one of the most pressing problems for public education. In my travels to hundreds of schools and thousands of classrooms over the past several of years, it alarms me to report that the percentage of school leaders at-risk far exceeds the percentage of teachers at-risk. School leadership can and must improve. Before predicting some of the challenges school leaders may face, let’s first explore evidence-based strategies and ideas that all great leaders employ.

Effective leadership practices translate across organizations. Jim Collins’ supplement to Good to Great, published as a monogram for social sectors including educational institutions, illustrates this point. The empirically-based findings, drawn from careful research of great organizations, of Good to Great and the two almost identical studies that preceded it, In Search of Excellence, by Tom Peters and Waterman, and Built to Last, by Collins and Tom Porras, are listed in the first three columns of the table below. Elaine McEwan, in Seven Steps to Effective Instructional Leadership, Robert Marzano, Timothy Waters, and Brian McNulty in School Leadership that Works, and Marzano and Rick DuFour, in Leaders of Learning, draw upon their extensive experiences to describe the characteristics of effective school leaders. These characteristics are listed in the last three columns of the table. The purposes of the table are to:

  • Suggest that we already know the best ideas regarding how the lead schools that ensure high levels of student learning.
  • Confirm that the research-based best leadership practices in industry match the research-based best leadership practices in education.
  • Demonstrate that there are a definable set of attributes of great leaders and organizations.
  • Articulate that these attributes are far more often simple than complex.

What can we summarize and glean from the table of the most effective organizational and leadership practices? How do these lessons apply to principals and other school leaders? How do these attributes apply to challenges in Kindergarten through third grade that we can predict that leaders will face? First, a synthesis of this studies:

  • Lead from the front, get out of the office, ask questions, and listen. Leaders are doers, and they must serve their stakeholders.
  • People make the organization great. No program exists that will solve all the phonemic awareness, phonics, comprehension, writing, mathematics, or behavior challenges that students may have. It is people – valued, supported, trained, and led – who will transform public education. 
  • Be honest and have courageous conversations. The job of educating students at the very highest levels is too important and challenging to allow people or practices to languish.
  • Be focused! Create focus! We have most certainly been over-initiatived. There may be no silver bullets, but asking and expecting staffs to successfully execute dozens of new initiatives, or a new initiative every year, is a guaranteed way of spiraling toward failure.
  • Determine what is non-negotiable and why and then allow folks to make it happen. Leaders must create clarity and shared knowledge regarding the truly important elements of schooling and instruction. Once established, stick to these themes, and avoid micro-managing.
  • Ready, fire, aim; students don’t have time for us to perpetuate the knowing-doing gap. If we wait until we know precisely what plagues a student or until we have the perfect support, the student will have fallen fatally behind. Instead, let’s recognize that we learn so much through the process of intervening and our first, intensive efforts just may meet students’ needs.
  • Embrace continuous learning. We will never be done, challenges will always exist and they will change. That’s one of the reasons that the profession is so gratifying.
  • The world is not binary. We can and must embrace the Genius of the AND. There exist no perfect or perfectly effective ideas. We must accept that concepts such as phonics and whole language are both essential for high levels of student learning.
  • The higher our expectations, the higher our results. There’s a correlation. Culture is more important than structures. Our attitudes and beliefs in every student will transfer to students’ beliefs in themselves.
  • Every resource must be utilized as close to the students as possible. Schools exist first and always to ensure that all students are equipped to succeed in college or a skilled career. When dollars are scarce and decisions must be made about where to deploy resources, we must ensure that these resources are used as efficiently as possible in the effort to meet every student’s needs.

These are the characteristics of great schools and great leaders as suggested in the literature from industry and education.

Particularly in these trying times, so many school leaders are seeking support with ensuring the success of students. The search is over.

In these unprecedented times, our students need our best and we need the best tools to serve them. Mr. Elmer’s Intervention Compass is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Intervention Compass can help:

  • The universal screening of mindsets is available within Intervention Compass.
  • Data from these screeners can be organized and analyzed within Intervention Compass’ Data Walls.
  • Research-based strategies, found within Intervention Compass’ Intervention Library, can be used to promote more positive mindsets.
  • Students’ mindset needs and staff response to these needs can be documented within Intervention Compass’ notes section.
  • Progress monitoring can be scheduled, administered, and data plotted within Intervention Compass’ assessment support system.

We can be prepared to meet students’ behavioral needs. We must. Mr. Elmer is the best solution to help us in this critical work.

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