Raise The Heat

Leadership is inherently about change. CEOs won’t last long if there is no push for new or better, no politician runs on a platform of the status quo, and school leaders don’t keep master binders of the lesson plans used each year. Leaders who fail to seek positive change are, simply, not leaders, they are managers. We must all be change agents; for our students, our staff, and each other.


My position as district technology integration specialist holds no real leadership capacity. Quite literally, there are no branches below my name on our organizational chart, and I have no students to guide through the year. Thankfully, my efforts to push the status quo are supported by excellent district administrators, who support our teacher leaders in doing the same.  


Last year, my first year on the job, I planned to affect positive change as an instructional partner, technology coach and trusted colleague. While this was effective to some extent, I came to realize that I was tossing ideas into the wind, hoping that they would stick to a teacher who would bring the idea to fruition. I needed to “raise the heat” in order to create positive change. “Raise the heat” is a concept I learned at the Kansas Leadership Center last spring with fellow administrators and teacher leaders. It means to apply pressure that causes a desire to change.


In high school, the “heat” I needed to train for cross country was an upcoming race, in college I needed a too-soon deadline to create that “heat.”  Many adults need the “heat” of a demanding boss to motivate them to complete work. It takes a very different type of heat to create a “need to change” mindset in teachers who are already excellent at what they do.



Relationships Come First

We had a celebration of new staff to close out the year and we were asked to tell what helped the most throughout the year. One by one, every teacher mentioned how positive relationships with students impacted their ability to do their job for the better.


The same is true of working with teachers. Each opportunity to visit with teachers is an opportunity to build a relationship that helps me do my job better. This cannot be stated enough. Relationships must be the foundation of everything we do.


Visibility Matters

A big part of developing the relationships needed to create positive change is visibility. I have an office in our central office building, but the relationship that is needed in order to trust a colleague cannot be forged through email. Teachers need to see their leaders often, or human nature takes over and they wonder what leaders are doing in their offices all day.


It is not only about being seen in schools but about being seen and respected as a high-quality educator. I worked last year to develop lessons to co-teach with my colleagues. Because I have no students and directly lead no staff, to demonstrate my trustworthiness as a quality educator, I need to be in the classroom in order to be “seen.”


How to Raise the Heat

Jimmy Casas speaks about the “Fall to Average.” It is a natural human tendency to trend toward the status quo, rather than pushing ourselves to work harder to change our lesson plans, call just one more parent, or spend extra time with that one student we know could really use it. This is a constant battle, as one minute we will be committed to excellence, and the next we are exhausted and just trying to get through the day. So how can we raise the heat to create lasting, intrinsically motivated change without using any leadership authority to speak of? Below are three ideas.


  1. Questions

Just as in the classroom, asking the right questions makes people think. Leaders often feel a need to explain their vision in very specific and detailed terms. Asking questions to make colleagues think relieves this pressure, but points them in the right direction. Here are a few examples:


  • What will you change your classroom this year to make it more student-centered?
  • How will you continue to build a culture of risk taking in your students during this unit?
  • How could technology empower your students with voice and choice in their learning next semester?


Notice that each question is open-ended, hints at the core change you would like to see, and assumes that the teacher already is, or desires to improve in that area. These can also be asked of any teacher or PLC, regardless of how far along they are on the path toward your goal for them.


  1.  Positive Peer Pressure

The thing about teachers, and humans really, is we want to be good at what we do. Often if a teacher is trying something new, teachers around them will see the impact and want to jump on board. Peer pressure can be an excellent heat raising tool to spark ideas and change in whole groups of teachers. Watch the positive change spread like wildfire.


  1. Observation

Seeing is believing and modeling is an excellent way to show rather than tell. Fill in for teachers so they can observe a colleague that models the change you would like to see.  Once the teacher sees and believes it, the heat comes from within because they want to be better for their students. Better yet, plan and co-teach a lesson with that teacher so she sees you as an instructional partner as well!


Those are just a few of many ways to raise the heat. Creating positive change requires no title, deadline, or evaluations. People want to be great at what they do, but sometimes need help to get there. Raising the heat allows us to become inspired from within and creates a shift in mindset that leads to lasting change.   How will you raise the heat to push your colleagues toward positive change this year?


Kyle McClure supports campuses as a technology integration specialist in Buhler, Kansas. For more by Kyle, check out his blog at permissiontoinnovate.wordpress.com.

Crafting Courageous Conversations: 5 Maxims for Everyday Leaders

Crafting Courageous Conversations: 5 Maxims for Everyday Leaders


As educators, we are in the people business. Yes, we are about curriculum and instruction but the currency of our profession is grounded in relationships. We are also in the continuous improvement process daily. Our roles include coaching others and having those conversations that many may feel inclined to shy away from. We can all remember that first difficult phone call or conversation with a parent. It wasn’t easy, but we survived. But, what happens when the “issue” is with a colleague?


By and large, educators are pleasers, and we don’t seek out confrontations. College may have prepared us with the theoretical constructs on many educational issues, but somewhere along the way we all missed the class on giving and receiving constructive feedback.  Yet, real understanding in how to approach, prepare for, and execute courageous conversations with others is crucial for the success of any leader.  In educational leadership roles with several decades of experience we have found “5 Maxims for Courageous Conversations”. If you are a leader you can’t avoid them.


Maxim #1: A Courageous Conversation is about crafting constructive communication, not collisions.


This first maxim is based on a presumption of wanting to see others and yourself get better, it’s all about continuous improvement.  Though we often do not welcome courageous conversations by nature, they have the power to transform a relationship. Rather than seeing an impending collision, find the benefit in dealing with an issue head on and up front. Yes, it may be uncomfortable to discuss a problem with another person, but when it comes to the “why”, we need to have the conversation considering that the positive outcomes will outweigh the negative ones.  When sitting down with another person, be certain that your own personal intention is to find common ground, keeping your sight set on solutions and creating a shared dialogue. ~Jeff


Bottom Line: Courageous conversations avoid creating winners or losers. You will both gain relational credibility with one another.


Maxim #2: A Courageous Conversation is one in which leader takes his/her work personally and leads with heart.


Advice to leaders entering difficult conversations is typically filled with maxims like “don’t take this personally” or to relax and “not take yourself so seriously.”  In the book Fierce Conversations, Scott asserts that these suggestions are misguided.  She, instead, urges leaders to take themselves and their work personally and seriously.  Leading courageously is “seriously personal” business.   When leaders take their work seriously personal, they come out from the behind the conversation, that is the safety of pleasantries and the futile efforts to placate others, and make it real.   


When leaders step out from behind the conversation and passionately cement their spirit at the forefront, people recognize it and respond.  Because it happens so seldom, people are touched and influenced by leaders who courageously show their true selves.  They are willing to get behind a leader who is passionate and authentic.  They are willing to take his/her words and transform them into action. ~Paul


Bottom Line: Courageous conversations are ones in which the leader takes the work seriously personal, showing his/her true self and influencing others to take action.


Maxim #3: A Courageous Conversation is grounded in clearly defined and communicated core beliefs.


Many times, leaders find themselves in a position of regret wishing they would have communicated expectations or actions earlier in a process.  Then, they find themselves in a position needing to “back-track” to the intended purpose or intention.  In his book Focus, Mike Schmoker shares the importance of being “explicitly clear” in communicating the expectations up front and throughout a process.  When the leader explains his/her core beliefs, it makes it easier for others to anticipate direction and intent of leadership decisions. ~Neil


Bottom Line: Courageous conversations about beliefs up front avoid uncertainty or misconceptions among the team.


Maxim #4: A Courageous conversation is listening for understanding, not listening to reply.


We have all been there, having that conversation with someone and feeling like they are looking past you wondering if they are even listening. Your body language, where your eyes go,  and tone in the conversation is a key indicator of if you are listening. Having a courageous conversation is about allowing both sides to give input. In order for this to happen effectively, you must resist the urge to respond to every comment or explain yourself. Every time you redirect the conversation back to you, you put the focus, well, back on you. -Jeff


Bottom Line: A courageous conversation is about active listening.


Maxim #5 – A crucial conversation is essential if we want to bring about lasting change to our school culture and school community.


In School Leadership That Works, Robert Marzano describes the difference between first and second-order change: first order is incremental, and in many cases, it can be easy and manageable.  It’s something like changes to playground supervision schedules or school dress code policies.


Second-order change requires more than just talking about a problem…it requires action…and it can be emotional.  This is why crucial conversations are so vital…they bring to the surface the uncomfortable and the difficult, and they ask us to address them in a way that will impact our school’s culture.  This is the type of change that people fight against because it is going to go against the adage of “that’s the way we have always done it.”  Bringing this level of change can be paradigm-shifting, but it can also lead to the most resistance and reticence from nay-sayers.  Thus, it requires us to reflect on whether or not this is “the hill we are willing to die on.”  If it is, we must undertake this crucial conversation if it is going to positively impact kids and their learning. ~ Todd


Bottom line:  A Courageous Conversation is one that brings about second-order change.


Bringing It All Together


Courageous conversations are powerful opportunities to influence lasting change in a person. You should end the conversation asking if there is anything additional that they may need for support or to move forward. Your goal is to set that person up for success. When engaging in this work we need to be mindful to check our motives, remembering our goal should never be to take something from the other person but to add value.  Peter Drucker reminds, “Leadership is not magnetic personality, that can just as well be a glib tongue. It is not “making friends and influencing people”, that is flattery. Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to higher sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.”


This piece was a collaborative effort on the part of the co-leaders within LeadUpNow & #LeadUpChat – Jeff Veal, Dr. Neil Gupta, Paul Erickson, and Dr. Todd Schmidt. Though we serve as administrators in four different states our commitment is the same. Together, we commit to changing the tone of education and building capacity in the everyday leader, whether in the classroom or conference room. 

Four Tenants for Building a Coaching Culture

Four Tenants for Building a Coaching Culture


*All teachers deserve coaching

*Every teacher should have a growth plan and growth necessitates feedback

*The stronger a teacher becomes the more coaching they should receive

*Teacher leaders are the first to request coaching as they work to build the culture


A common concern that I hear from instructional coaches is the question of how to approach teachers who see no “need to” or “value from” working with a coach…… teachers who are “fine”. These staff members often view coaching as a supervisory activity or a support structure for new or struggling teachers. They may view themselves as equally (or better) skilled than the coach and believe that coaching is an activity involving an advanced professional (coach) working with someone less skilled.


A focus from school administrative and teacher leadership on these four tenants can create a vision and understanding of coaching that increases teacher openness and vulnerability to seek the rewards of coaching for themselves and their students.


All teachers deserve coaching


I have found this wording to be important. I originally repeated a statement I heard others use, “All teachers need coaching.”


Consider the difference in definition, (http://www.thefreedictionary.com )


Need – A condition or situation in which something must be supplied in order for a certain condition to be maintained or a desired state to be achieved.


Deserve-to merit, qualify for, or have a claim to because of actions, qualities, or circumstances


Everyone deserves a coach in order to have recognition for the complexity of the job and the celebration of successes (student learning) All teachers have had the experience of that magical learning moment with students happening, and no one was there to see it. It’s difficult to celebrate alone. While students appreciate the teachers “work” that led to their success, its often only another teacher who can appreciate the “work” the teacher executed.


Everyone deserves a coach because the task of generating success for EACH student is extremely complex and the collegial input and support of that goal is critical.


Every teacher should have a growth plan and growth necessitates feedback


I have written earlier that “there is no mountaintop” in teaching http://barkleypd.com/blog/no-mountaintop-teaching/ : there always remains a level of increasing student learning through teacher learning. ‘Creating a community of life- long learners” is a phrase found in many schools’ mission statements. Teachers need to be the critical models of that continuous learning. Implementing changes in the classroom that positively impact learners in a complicated process and ongoing feedback is critical.


Peer coaching allows the teacher to own and use the feedback as the teacher has decided and requested the desired feedback.


The stronger a teacher becomes, the more coaching they should receive.


Just as in sports and performing arts, the best get coached the most. The higher in ranking an athlete progresses, the lower the ratio of players to coach becomes. Top players have several coaches. Why? They perform at that complex a level. They require very narrow feedback at times.


Highly effective teachers may master changes more quickly and are ready for the next area of focus.


There is an extra bonus to the best receiving lots of coaching. The coach is learning. We want our most effective teachers’ practices being observed so that those observing can learn about the practices this teacher is implementing.

When the best teachers request coaching from their colleagues, they model the continuous growth culture as well as strong teaching practices. The peer coach need not be more skilled than the coachee. The coachee can direct the feedback they need. This creates more openness to learning than labeling the strong teachers’ classrooms as “models.


Teacher leaders are the first to request coaching as they work to build the culture.


Teacher leaders make themselves vulnerable before the culture of coaching (trust) has been built. The leaders’ early, public experiences with coaching encourage other staff to step forward and take the risk of being vulnerable with colleagues. I was just working with a school staff to encourage their initial entry into peer coaching. A trusting environment has not been very broadly established yet. A teacher leader agreed to assist me in modelling a pre- conference in front of the entire faculty. She revealed a concern about how her strong beliefs might over power the class debate she wanted to facilitate. When we finished the modeling, she looked out at the staff and said, “This is real. If anyone is available, I would love to have you do the observation I just discussed with Steve.” A great model.


Coaches and principals might use these four tenants to facilitate staff discussions design to examine their schools coaching culture.


For the past 30 years, Steve has served as an education consultant to school districts, teacher organizations, state departments of education, and colleges and universities nationally and internationally, facilitating the changes necessary for them to reach students and successfully prepare them for the 21st century. A prolific published author, his weekly blog, Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud, has evolved into a go-to resource for teachers and administrators all over the world. Today’s guest blog is also cross-posted at Steve’s aforementioned blog.


To hear more on Steve’s perspectives on building a culture of coaching check out his interview with @leadupteach here. 

Leaders Must Also Teach

Leaders Must Also Teach

I loved being a teacher.  When I was hired as a principal I was very worried that I would lose touch of what it was like to be a teacher.  I heard stories of administrators who had become disconnected from what really happens in the classroom, and I was determined that was not going to be me.  The first two years of being a principal I walked through classes as much as possible and got to know the kids.  I wanted to stay connected and by walking through classes and getting to know kids I felt a certain level of being connected but not as much as I wanted.  


Teachers would ask if I ever missed teaching and I would tell them I really did; I missed it a lot.  Toward the end of my second year I started thinking, why can’t I still teach?  I loved being a principal but truly missed being in front of kids.  Sure I was busy with principal stuff, but if I truly wanted to stay connected to the classroom, then the best way would be to find ways to still teach.  That is when I decided that I would substitute teach every class at my school for at least one hour.  I also decided I would teach a math class once a week.


So during last school year I subbed for at least one hour every single class at my school, transitional kindergarten through 5th grade.  It was amazing.  As a former middle school math teacher there was no way I could truly understand what it was like to teach kindergarten students without actually getting in front of them and teaching.


I learned many valuable lessons from teaching the classes.  These are just a few:


-Teaching classes shows others that you are willing to take risks

-Teaching shows students you care

-You gain a better appreciation for what teachers do on a daily basis

-You gain a better understanding of what teachers and students need which will help when decisions need to be made

-You can try some of the strategies that you have learned from observing other teachers


I am not sure if I will be able to sub in every class every year I am a principal.  This year I have given away time to teachers as prizes.  I also still teach 4th grade math once a week.  I have made a commitment to myself that as long as I am in education I will find a way to get in front of a class of students and teach them.


I know there are many other educators that feel the same way.  For example, Jennifer Kloczko, Principal of Natomas Star Charter, teaches Choir and Star in Motion.  Joe Wood, Tech Director for Natomas Charter, teaches after-school enrichment classes like Minecraft.  The Assistant Superintendent of Education Services of my school district, Jamey Schrey, taught art to kindergarteners last year at my school.  These are just a few examples, there are many more educational leaders teaching at schools.


It doesn’t matter what role you are in.  If you are in educational leadership, it is important to stay connected to the classroom.  Being connected doesn’t mean you just walk through classrooms.  The best way to truly stay connected is through actually teaching.  


It feels like a lot of decisions made for our classrooms are by lawmakers who have never taught, and there is a huge danger in that.  How can they know what schools need if they have never lived in a classroom?  How can these people truly know what impact they will have if they don’t know what it is like to be a teacher?  That is why I urge anyone making decisions for kids to find a way to teach kids.  It might not be weekly or even monthly, but find a way to get in front of kids and teach for at least an hour a few times a year.  What our teachers do on a daily basis is amazing.  As educational leaders it is our job to know and remember what it is like to be a teacher so we can make the best decisions for all of our children.


Our guest post is by Brandon Blom, a principal and lead dreamer of Stone Ridge Elementary in Roseville, CA. Brandon is also a husband and father. For more by Brandon, check out his blog at brandonkblom.com

Everyone Deserves a Thought Partner

In today’s educational landscape there are new pressures, unrelenting accountability, and polarizing scrutiny on our teachers, students, and administrators. Yet, the collective “we” are expected to implement, revise, and innovate.


While this may seem intimidating, we need trusted partners that can support, push, encourage, and reflect with us in order to cultivate this new frontier.  


We all deserve a Thought-Partner!


When I think back to becoming a Literacy Coach, I can remember worrying about so many parts of my new career. How do I develop my schedule? How do I get teachers to work with me? What can I do to stay current?


These questions were so crucial to my early success. However, there were two questions that I left out and, quite frankly, didn’t address until my 6th year as a Literacy Coach. Why am I in this role? And, what do I believe to be true of myself, education, and coaching? What came next is the most vital element to my life’s work and will forever be the blueprint to which I live by. It started with two words: Thought Partner.


Throughout my entire career, I’ve had talented people who’ve inspired me, fostered my growth, and pushed me to think and lead in ways that I wouldn’t dare dream of on my own. I thought about what having a coach meant for my development. Having a talented coach in my corner allowed me the space I needed to reflect in the most meaningful ways. I needed a partner that engaged me in dialogue as we explored the depths of teaching reading and writing. I relied on my coaches for support when I was pushing the boundaries of my craft. I was drawn to coaches that treated me as an equal and felt as though they were learning from me too. My craft was enhanced as a result of these partners and my current body of work is under the direct influence of these experiences.


As I think back on these most influential people, they all had one profound impact on my development. They allowed me to think and grow alongside them. They allowed me to be completely vulnerable, they allowed me to trust and be trusted, they gave me open and honest feedback, and most importantly, they provided time and space for me to think about the possibilities and opportunities of growing my craft.


Next, I was able to tease out the principles and values that made me feel successful when I was in a coaching/partnership relationship and begin developing my own Mission Statement. I turned to the resources from Jim Knight and those outlined by Elena Aguilar in The Art of Coaching. This basic template supported my thinking down a path of self-discovery and reflection that now guides my day-to-day reflections and growth.


I then began to expand my thinking around my belief and mantra of what having and being a Thought-Partner really means to me and my role as a coach. Here is what I came up with:


Partnership Learning Vision and Mission Statement


My core values are:

  • Equality: Coaches and teachers are equal partners
  • Choice: We should have choice regarding what and how we learn
  • Voice: Professional learning should empower and respect the voices of teachers
  • Dialogue: Professional learning should enable authentic dialogue
  • Reflection: Reflection is an integral part of professional learning
  • Praxis: We should apply new learning to our real-life practice as we are learning
  • Reciprocity: We should expect to learn alongside each other
  • Trust: Trust defines a partnership and creates space to chart new territories for growth
  • Compassion: Meeting people where they are requires compassion, an IC’s responsibility is to understand with compassion
  • Curiosity: Seek to discover what others see and understand that may be different from my own point of view

My definition of coaching is:

A coach partners with teachers for job-embedded professional learning that enhances teachers’ reflection on students, the curriculum, and pedagogy for the purpose of more effective decision making. (Toll, 2014, p. 10)


I partner with teachers because:

  • Everyone deserves someone that they can think with in order to grow their craft.
  • The collaboration between equals can increase learning outcomes for all stakeholders.
  • Coaching/Partnership Learning inspires people by helping them recognize the previously unseen possibilities that lay embedded in their existing circumstances



I partner with people to learn and explore the possibilities for reaching our fullest potential. I partner with teachers, students, and leaders to uncover the ways of learning and decision-making that reveal new territories for growth and development. I partner with people to support and think alongside them as they discover their own voice and comfort in this profession in order to transform teaching and learning for the benefit of all stakeholders. We all deserve someone to ‘think’ with in order to explore possibilities and develop new areas of our craft. We all deserve a Thought-Partner!


The connection to my vision and the principles that guide my way of being allow me to truly live out my WHY. So, this leaves me to time to consider ways to encourage others to develop their vision statement and supporting them in establishing their why. I keep a copy of my statement and principles, along with a few quotes I believe to be true of coaching, in my binder.  I refer to it often and share my beliefs with those around me. It keeps me focused, it keeps me grounded, it keeps me living out my work in the most meaningful ways possible.


As you develop your principles and vision, consider those who’ve partnered, coached, or mentored you either in or outside of our profession. What was it about the way that they interacted with you that supported your learning? How did these people challenge you to think differently about your craft? The people that influence us most have qualities and characteristics that we desire in a partner. It’s helpful to reflect on these elements as you craft your mission statement and core values.


So, how will you connect with your purpose and principles this year? Are you living out your WHY? Share your thoughts with me on Twitter @bsepe7


Brian Sepe is a passionate instructional/literacy coach in Buffalo, NY. When not being an amazing “coach” he is husband and a dad to two great boys!