I Am Advocate…Hear Me Lead


I am a passionate educator who strongly believes that every child can learn. In that same mindset, I believe every educator is responsible for fostering an environment in which learning can take place at its highest level. Educators are the facilitators of learning. We are the conduits through which our students receive what they need. Therefore, we have to be on our top game, ready to engage, inspire, and initiate learning that takes our students to a deeper level of strategic thinking and understanding.


I recently attended a conference with several educators. The conversations that took place during the breakout sessions were enthralling! We shared our struggles, successes, and concerns. We shared valuable resources with each other and listened as teachers, counselors, and administrators shared their experiences. Repeatedly I observed seasoned teachers and new teachers sharing a similar need…to be supported. Not by the administration, or their district, but by each other. Over and over again, I listened as the teachers around me said how much they had learned just by listening to each other and sharing resources and experiences. They valued the input of their peers. We are not meant to be islands alone in our quest for student achievement.


We are leaders! Often times we use our voices to express the things we don’t like, the things we want to see change. However, it’s not enough to simply voice the changes.We need to be willing to initiate them, model the change, support it, and encourage it! We are mentors whether we carry the official title or not. However, we cannot impact our students or fellow teachers if we don’t look at ourselves, first. We need to look at our strengths. How can I use my strengths to empower or offer support to my students and my fellow educators?  


I am an advocate. I advocate for students, families, and fellow educators. With an advocate’s mindset, I look for students or fellow educators who need my support, guidance, or encouragement. It is my strength. I am perceptive and have a strong sense of service to the people around me. It is what motivates me to learn and grow each day to be better than I was the day before. I am continuously looking for innovative ways to inspire learning, create thoughtful discussions among my students, and accurately assess their learning. This search empowers me to be ready, full of information and resources which then allows me to support my students as well as my fellow educators.


As educators, we often find ourselves in a place where we need guidance. It is in this place where we need teacher leaders to step in and bring their expertise to the table. We ALL have strengths, something we feel confident in. I am confident in my ability to observe and identify needs in students. I also feel confident in my ability to search for resources which will aide in the areas I have identified. However, I lack good organizational skills. This is my area of weakness and where I need support. I often ask for help in this area of my teaching. I am so thankful to the teacher leaders around me who help me find better ways to organize my life in the classroom. Without their leadership and support, I fear I would be living in chaos! We need teacher leaders who will share their expertise.


Strength-Based Leadership

How can you use your strengths to lead? Teacher leaders have qualities that inspire leadership in others. They identify their strengths and are willing to share their knowledge with those around them. They also openly admit when they need help and look to their professional learning network for ideas that will help them grow.


When we create a dialogue that initiates, models, and encourages educators to work together, we all win. We are collectively leading each other into a future where support, empathy, encouragement, and a growth mindset are established as not just an expectation but a reality. How wonderful for our students who are watching us and modeling their learning behaviors based on what they see us doing.


Our voice is powerful, and our ability to lead with an advocate’s mindset is crucial if we truly want to create an environment in which learning can take place at its highest level.


Liz Savage is a passionate elementary teacher in Cabot, AR and author of REdefined: Becoming a Fearlessly Unique Teacher in a Traditional World. Follow her on Twitter at @SavageLizabeth, and for more information check out savageteacher.com.

The Road To The Principalship: How to Get From Where You Are To Where You Want To Be

The Road To The Principalship:

How to Get From Where You Are To Where You Want To Be


Each spring, assistant principals begin applying for principal positions. There may only be one opening in your district or you may be applying in another school system. Assistant principals often apply for principal positions with hopes of becoming the instructional leader, leading school improvement, and supporting student understanding. Over the years, I have observed too many assistant principals who try to build their resume’ in a weekend, rather than during the time they are serving as an assistant principal. The road to the principalship involves the following behaviors and demonstrated leadership skills. If you highlight these skills on your resume’, but have not put your words into action, then it will be difficult to compete for a principal position. 


1) Good Leaders Ask Great Questions

Ask questions and it will appear that you don’t know it all before you become a principal. As a principal, you will continue to ask teachers, principals, students, and families questions. Too often, assistant principals spend their time trying to prove that they could be the next principal in the school district. No leader can know every curriculum area, understand every school board policy, or how to lead in every situation. If you ask questions, it will show others that you are a lifelong learner and that you are willing to grow as a leader. “If you want to make discoveries, if you want to disrupt the status quo, if you want to make progress and find new ways of thinking and doing, you need to ask questions” (John Maxwell, Good Leaders Ask Great Questions, 2014).  Continuous improvement begins with answering questions, rather than checking off goals. Too often, assistant principals begin asking questions about the principalship when the job is posted, rather than throughout the school year.


2)  Build Relationships

Show me a leader who can build relationships with students, families, teachers, community members, central office staff, and stakeholders and I will show you a future principal. Great leaders demonstrate an outward focus. Are you a leader who focuses on building your resume’ through your accomplishments and daily agenda or do you lead with others? You can climb to the top of a mountain alone, but it is much more rewarding to take others on the journey. When an assistant principal interviews for a principal position, the answers often begin with “I”. Interview teams are looking for leaders who start their answer with “We.” Look at your experience as an assistant principal. What have you done for others? Some assistant principals are excellent at building relationships with students, but they have not practiced building relationships with other stakeholders.


3)  Stand Out In The Crowd

When 40 assistant principals apply for a principal position, it is typically a tie on paper. In other words, the experiences all look similar. A strong principal candidate should stand out from the rest of the candidates. Some interview teams say, “The cream rises to the top.” If you list curriculum leadership, bus duty, car rider line, supervision and evaluation of teachers, and conference attendance, then you are no different than the rest of the applicants. During your time as an assistant principal, you can use your strengths to stand out in the crowd. Are you strong with technology integration? You could lead Tech Tuesdays. Did you develop a new program for struggling learners or did you implement the program that the school already had in existence when you took the position? Does your middle school have a unique after school program or school clubs that you helped coordinate? When you can put your stamp on a project and it has your leadership imprint on it, then you will stand out from the crowd. In other words, as a leader have you been a compliant leader or a contributor? When you are known as a district leader, then others will want to promote you as a building leader.


4)  Be A Risk Taker

Too many assistant principals play it safe, because they feel like the road to the principalship is through playing by the rules. While you should follow board policy and the direction of your building principal, you should also take risks. Education is changing at a rapid pace and the best principals are risk takers. You can be a disruptor by implementing Genius Hour, a Makerspace, a new master schedule, student recognition, or supporting a data wall and time for analyzing student data. If your references say you were a risk taker and you made the school better as an assistant principal, then you will have the qualities that the committee is seeking in a principal. When you take risks, you may fail. However, failure is a great teacher and you will be more prepared to become a principal. Risk taking leads to school improvement and great principals are not afraid to take risks.


5)  Be A Collaborative Leader

One of the biggest mistakes assistant principals make is striving to become #1. As you see other assistant principals in your school district, you may view them as the competition. You may be unaware of your own competitive nature and you may focus on beating others in order to become number one. Unlike the NCAA Basketball tournament, you do not become the champion by defeating those in your bracket or school district. Central office staff watch how you interact with others in meetings. Do you seek first to understand or do you dominate meetings? Do you have the best interests of students in mind or do you want your opinion to be heard? When do you recall working with other principals and assistant principals in the district? Are you so focused on building your resume’ that you do not support district goals? When you sit down for an interview, you may be eliminated from the pool of finalists based on your eagerness to climb to the top. If you are not viewed as a team player, then the interview team may view you as a team slayer (Sanborn, 2011).



Most educators don’t earn a masters degree in order to be an assistant principal. The goal is to become a principal. When an assistant principal position is posted, I am often asked, “What are you looking for in a principal?” While it is a great question, the time to demonstrate that you are principal material is throughout the year. Some aspiring principals burn bridges by overreacting to a board policy or state mandate. Many quality leaders have been overlooked in the interview setting because the words on the resume’ do not match the leader’s actual work in schools. You can write technology leader, instructional leader, collaborator, and innovator, but your actions should support the resume’. Leadership coach Steve Cosgrove shares, “You don’t get there by wishing, you get there by doing.”


Legendary college football coach Lou Holtz shares 3 Questions Asked of Every Leader:


  1. Can I Trust You?
  2. Are You Committed?
  3. Do You Care About Me? (Others)

Serving as a building principal is a privilege and a responsibility. Work to develop your leadership skills, but remember to build others on your leadership journey. How are students and adults better because you were the assistant principal? How have you added value to the principal? The time to build your resume’ is daily, not when the principal jobs are posted.


Dr. Steven Weber is the Associate Superintendent for Teaching and Learning with Fayetteville Public Schools (Arkansas). Connect with Weber on the ASCD EDge social network, or on Twitter @curriculumblog.

Secrets of School Culture

Secrets of School Culture

As school leaders, we understand that one of our most important responsibilities is building school culture.  We want to lead a school where kids enjoy learning and adults enjoy working.  We want to lead a school where teacher capacity is enhanced and student achievement is elevated. We want to foster a school culture that empowers educators and inspires kids.  So how do we do that?


Here are my 7 secrets for building a strong school culture:


  1. Connect with your values


It’s easy to get into a routine.  We go to work everyday; we teach lessons; we lead faculty meetings; we email parents; we supervise carpool … and the list goes on.  We make a million decisions every day, and many of them, we’re barely aware of.  We get bogged down in the minutia and the mundane, so we need to continually remind ourselves why we do what we do.  At our school, we have each written our own professional oath — modeled after the physician’s “Hippocratic Oath.” These oaths are posted on our websites and outside our classrooms. They keep us connected to our core values, and they remind us why we come to work each day.  


  1. Identify your vision


Zig Ziglar said, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.” It’s important for every school to have a vision that drives the faculty — a goal that propels the school forward. We understand the importance of “learning targets” for students because we know that when kids understand the destination, they can own the journey.  Adults are no different. The vision provides the goal around which everyone rallies.


  1. Cultivate the collaboration


I believe teachers are stronger when they collaborate. “Iron sharpens iron,” “two heads are better than one,” and that sort of thing.  The term, “collaboration” has actually become something of a cliche.  But in my experience, this cliche is rock solid.  At our school, we have started a competition called, “Collaboration Bling,” where teachers are recognized for observing each other’s classrooms.  We have conducted a faculty meeting via “Twitter chat,” and our last faculty meeting was conducted “Edcamp” style. The best professional learning does not take place in a workshop, it takes place when teachers are hanging out with their colleague down the hall.


  1. Raise the expectations


There is a robust body of research around the role of high expectations in school. The conclusion is clear.  Kids rise to the level of our expectations.  In our school we talk about expectations during morning announcements.  I have gone into classrooms prior to testing to talk to the kids about my expectations for their academic growth.  We also encourage students to have high expectations of themselves, so students set their own academic goals in conferences with their teachers.  We don’t limit our hopes to the realm of academics, however, because we also asked all our students to write their dreams on our “Wall of Dreams” in the hallway.


  1. Personalize the data


I’ve told my teachers many times: “We don’t want to get better by accident; we want to get better on purpose.  Data is what allows us to be strategic.”  I am proud of how my teachers use the data to drive their instruction and increase their effectiveness in the classroom … but it is my hope that they never lose sight of this: ultimately, it’s not about the data; it’s about the kids.  We did not get into education to raise test scores; we became educators to make a difference in the lives of our students.  It is easy to be bogged down in the numbers, but we must remind ourselves that we are not analyzing “data points” … we are talking about children. Analyzing the data is useful, but we must never lose sight of what that data represents.


  1. Engage with the students and teachers


People know what you value by how you spend your time.  I believe that the best school leaders are not consumed with managing programs, they’re preoccupied with people.  They are passionate about connecting with the students and the teachers in the building.  School culture is not built through emails and memos; it is built through relationships — one conversation at a time.  You don’t shape school culture sitting behind your desk; you shape it in the halls, in the classrooms, the lunchrooms … doing whatever it takes to engage with those around you.


  1. Bring the positive energy


Ralph Waldo Emerson noted, “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.”  And as Todd Whitaker quipped, “When the principal sneezes, the whole school catches a cold.”  Without a doubt, the leader of the school sets the tone in the building. The enthusiasm that we bring to work every day will be contagious.  And the positive energy that we inject into the little moments of the day will make a big difference.  A positive school culture is not built overnight, and it is not the result of a single program or initiative.  It is achieved by taking advantage of the little opportunities to make a difference and elevate the positive energy in the school.


Good School culture is not accidental; it is the result of intentional decisions.  The seven strategies listed above are all VERBS.  They are things that we can all choose to DO!  Every school can have a culture that rocks!  It’s a matter of choices.


Danny Steele is in his 24th year of public education, and the 2016-2017 school year will mark his third year as the principal of Thompson Sixth Grade Center in the Alabaster City School System. He is also a husband and dad! Read more by Danny. 

The Power & Pressure of the Principalship: Why Principals Need Support Now!

“With great power, comes great responsibility.”

-Uncle Ben in Spiderman


Image from quoteaddicts.com

Being a principal isn’t easy, and I’m not so sure it’s supposed to be that way. It’s a tough job. As principal, you have the power to improve the educational experience of students, instructional practices of teachers, and build a strong culture of trust among parents. If you work it right, they say, you can accomplish something amazing.  Principals must be master mind readers, noting each teacher’s particular strengths and opportunities for growth. Principals must know their students, in both academic and social emotional fashion, and must be skilled at developing partnerships with parents to help students reach their maximum potential. Principals are tasked with creating a culture of collaboration, where each and every person feels valued, although they have little control of anyone’s actions.


While principals may administer consequences or extend rewards and/or recognition for a particular action, the ultimate decision regarding how one acts or behaves, rest within each individual. Principals work to earn the power and permission to influence others, not control them. Principals are tasked with being familiar with a variety of content, pedagogy, instructional methods, all the while ensuring they have a firm handle on the budget, maintenance and operations, transportation logistics, personnel protocol, professional development, and board policies. Principals must support teachers, students, and parents in their efforts, but here’s a question: Who supports principals? Furthermore, how are principals supported? Beyond the monthly meeting and annual conference, what structures are in place to create that same culture of collaboration that is so beneficial to teachers and students, for principals? When principals need support where do they turn?


For far too long, principals have been left out of the conversation regarding the benefits of collaborative communities of learners for teacher and for students. Principals, too, need collaborative communities with their peers, to work through problems of practice, to develop intelligent solutions to the challenges they face, and quite frankly to last in the principalship. In recent weeks, I’ve read a great deal regarding the principal shortage. Many states and districts are focused on strategies to replenish the principal pipeline, but who helps you stay there once you make the rank of principal?


As a former principal, I can attest to the feelings of isolation, pressure, and stress that accompany the principalship. While a monthly principals’ meeting might provide a venue for a common meeting place, it doesn’t serve the purpose of support. In a recent tweet, I asked principals to share with me what would give them the support they so desperately need. As I presumed, they noted the following:


*A listener who understands the complexity of the job. While the first and foremost task is teaching and learning, so very often other factors (meeting basic needs of students, working through a personal crisis with a staff member, budgetary or operational issues) consume a great deal of time.

*A coach who uses an assets based approach to coach them. It takes more than a review of school data and a set of goals to help principals meet the mark of academic achievement, but so often, to use a sports analogy, we cite last season’s record, state the goal for this season, and tell principals “Play ball!”. Occasionally, we cheer them on, but that’s usually at the end of the game, better known as testing season!

*A superior who recognizes the things that are working well, as well as the opportunities for growth. Monthly principal meetings ought to be more than problem listing sessions. Principals need time with their peers to work through problems of practice. Additionally, principals need to be coached on what they can do to develop their skills, sharpen their weaknesses, etc. and that must go beyond talking to another principals at a meeting or shadowing someone else for a day.

*A structured and routine mechanism to ensure consistent opportunities for collaboration. We know professional learning communities serve as powerful platforms for teachers to improve their practice. Principals, too, need a job embedded opportunity to participate in a professional learning community that meets their needs.

*A focus on principal wellness, with professional development on stress management. As a former principal, I began a journey of fitness purely out of a grave need to manage stress, improve my sleep patterns, and reduce anxiety. It took me years in the principalship to recognize that I needed to be intentional about managing my stress levels so that I could bring my very best self to the job each day.


While the responsibility of the principalship is great, so is the pressure. Principals face a constant pressure to improve teacher practice, student learning, school community relations, and last but certainly not least, themselves. If principals aren’t provided with the support they need, what should be their power, often becomes pressure. In the age of high stakes testing, increased accountability, along with a push to be innovative in the ways we teach and that students learn, it is not difficult to see how a principal’s potential power can easily becomes a persistent pressure. District leaders have a responsibility to support principals in the same manner and fashion that they support the work of teachers and the educational experiences of students.


Principals must not be left to fend for themselves when we know collaboration, creativity, communication, and critical thinking are essential to the educational experience. If we know those elements are working for students and teachers, why aren’t we making it our business to create routine opportunities for principals in the same manner? Principals are the heart of school leadership and they need your support now! I dare you to do something different!


Until next time-be you, be true, be a hope builder!

Dr. Latoya Dixon, is a passionate educator having served as a teacher and later as an elementary and middle school principal. She currently serves as a state-level leader for education in South Carolina  For more great reading by Dr. Dixon check out her blog at http://latoyadixon5.blogspot.com/

Students Today – Leaders Tomorrow

I want you to visualize something.  Close your eyes and imagine a classroom………..


Scenario #1: All the students are sitting at desks in rows looking at the back of each other’s heads. The teacher is in the traditional spot at the front of the room. There is a Power Point on the board and instruction is being provided in lecture style format. The predominant voice is the instructor’s. The students dutifully sit at their desks and take notes because they know how to “play the game of school”.  There is minimal movement and even less conversation.


Scenario #2: The desks are arranged in “pods” or groups of 4-6. The teacher is nowhere to be found at first glance. One must look closely to find her/him walking around or sitting with the various groups of students. The predominant voices are those of the students talking and learning with each other.  It is an extremely active environment with multiple conversations happening at once.


Which classroom is developing and inspiring tomorrow’s leaders?  


What is a leader?


My definition of a leader is someone who is a listener, a thinker, an inquirer, a risk-taker, resilient, and imagines what could be possible while empowering and inspiring others.


As educators, how are we creating tomorrow’s leaders in today’s classrooms?  Which character traits do we encourage and celebrate?  Do all students believe they can be leaders? Do you tell your thinkers, listeners and seemingly “quiet” students they are leaders?


As educators, we need to break the traditional definition of what a leader is thought to be.


  • Male or female?
  • Adult or child?
  • Introvert or extrovert?
  • Speaker or listener?  


When you hear the word leader, what image or name immediately pops into your head? How is that belief transferred to your students?


As I thought about this, I decided to reach out to fellow PLN members and some of my students for their thoughts. The responses I received were inspiring, thoughtful and empowering.


  • Someone who never gives up and is responsible for their actions. They are a true role model to people and make people want to listen to them because they make such a good impact on people’s lives.”  8th grade student


  • A leader is someone who influences a group of people to do a good or even maybe a bad thing.8th grade student


  • Someone who people look up to, and sets a good example for others.8th grade student


  • “Influenced. Makes leadership attainable, not positional.” @heffrey


  • “ Student leaders are collaborative, curious, independent, and confident.” @JayBilly2


  • “A leader empowers others to individually and collectively rise to their fullest potential.” @burgessdave


  • “They never stop learning, inspiring, supporting, questioning, they lead by example and they empower others.” @itsmeSpiri


  • “A leader is grounded in knowledge, curiosity, and open-minded flexibility to continuously ask and ponder questions leading us all on a never-ending quest toward PATHWAYS OF POSSIBILITIES.” @DrMaryHoward


  • “Leaders find, foster and flourish the gifts in others, so they may go and illuminate the world.” @LaVonnaRoth


  • “A leader is someone who doesn’t need a title, who honors where people are in their own growth, and who scaffolds appropriately.”  @bethhill2829


  • “A leader is someone who inspires action through their vision and uplifts others around them.” @AmyHeavin


  • “We are all leaders in one way or another, we can either use our leadership potential or not.”  @drneilgupta


How do we provide scaffolds in fostering student leadership? How do we nurture the above mentioned traits?


I believe it begins in a student centered classroom.


Student Centered Classrooms


Student centered classrooms may have multiple descriptions. Students need to learn more than the content and curriculum. They need to learn how to interact with others in a collaborative environment.


Is your environment and/or instruction reflected in the following descriptions?


Ownership of  the Learning Environment


It is our classroom. The priority is creating a safe, secure, comfortable space. (Need a pencil? They go in my drawers and locate one.) . I change my furniture based on my lessons or student requests. (Studying Anne Frank? Create the Secret Annex.)


Teachers and Learners


Everyone is a teacher and learner.  I am more than willing to take a seat in the class and learn from my students. Sometimes planned, but often times not. (Examples to share? Why don’t you go up to the document camera and teach us. Students write catchy “hooks” in their essays? Teach a small group.)


Wall Space


I consider our walls “living”. They are covered with relevant, often student requested anchor charts and resources to support independent learning. (Need a resource for later? Take a picture.)  Student artwork is proudly displayed, particularly in the book corner, a favorite place to hang out, work or read. (Buying posters from the store is virtually unheard of now.)


Building Relationships


Some might find it odd, but I have few personal objects, photos, etc. Reason? It opens up discussions between my students and I. They have to engage in conversation with me and ask questions in order to get to know me. Building rapport and establishing relationships is everything!


Teaching Collaboration


Students need to learn how to problem solve, respectfully disagree and stand up for their beliefs.  This does not always happen naturally, in fact most of the time it needs to be taught. They need supported opportunities to role play and practice.


As @ShiftParadigm said: “In education, a classroom is either a place where all students learn well all of the time, or not. If you want the former to happen, then classroom and everything else must revolve around student learning.”


Final Thought
We are preparing students for life as citizens of a global community. They need to be problem solvers, risk takers, inquirers, collaborative, reflective and confident individuals. We can help build that foundation.  I challenge you to think about how you will provide the necessary skills and strategies for building tomorrow’s leaders…..today.


Today’s guest blog is written byTeresa Gross, a passionate life long learner  and middle school literacy teacher in New York.