3 Ways School Leaders Can Put Transparency into Action

3 Ways School Leaders Can Put Transparency into Action


Most school leaders would say that transparency is one of their guiding principles in their school. But when faced with tough opposition in the midst of change, consider this: is your lack of putting transparency into practice hindering growth? Teachers will listen to their leaders when they perceive their leaders as co-learners alongside them in the journey. When leaders open up about their own failures and are transparent about their motives, teachers are willing to share the same. How do we move from a “feel good” word to an action that can transform culture? Here are 3 ways leaders can increase transparency in their schools.


Transparency in Walkthroughs. Principals belong in classrooms alongside of teachers, period. Principals also give frequent and sincere affirmation and effective feedback. Even with these two actions in check, there is the question of “what are you basing your feedback on or from?” If principals and teachers are co-developing student success outcomes and classroom “look-fors,” there is a mutual agreement on the kinds of evidence that will be collected.  A google doc or OneNote is a great way of communicating and tracking walkthrough data. This living document would be co-created with the teacher, and each time the principal engages with the classroom, a simple checklist, narrative, or other agreed upon indicators are addressed. The teacher doesn’t have to wait for the email that comes late at night or the next day, it’s updated live in the classroom.


Transparency in 360s. As an administrator, it was tough to receive anonymous evaluations from teachers. Yes, there were always the positive comments, but as humans, what do we tend to fixate on? Yes, those constructive comments. As leaders we know that the only way to grow as a leader and help our teachers and students grow is to unearth and illuminate those challenges, failures, inefficiencies, etc. And when I say illuminate, I mean, share those anonymous survey results with everyone. This sends a clear message: I’m willing to share my shortcomings for the sake of our growth.


Transparency in Perception. What do teachers and students perceive about the school environment? Does it embrace diversity and equality? Is it conducive to positivity, creativity, innovation, and collaboration. Principals should find this out and find this out often. A weekly and very brief survey can be shared digitally, asking teachers and students to rate the areas mentioned above, with an opportunity to share suggestions and wishes. The “scores” from the surveys are shared with everyone and should be used to not only take a pulse of the culture, but continuously track it for the sake of growth.


Transparency is an often overused term but and underutilized action by leaders. Modeling this kind of “no holds barred” or “everything is fair game” mentality, can turn a stagnant culture into a thriving one that hinges on open communication, sincere relationships, and trusted leaders.


Dr. Nathan Lang, is currently an Edu Strategist  with an extensive background in serving various K-12 schools and districts as an administrative leader. Additionally, Nathan is a husband and father. For further reading by Nathan check out his posts here. 

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!


Culture is Key…then Comes FOCUS!


There is, perhaps, no greater obstacle to all students learning at the levels of depth and complexity necessary to graduate from high school ready for college and a skilled career than the overwhelmingly and inappropriately large number of standards that students are expected to master – so numerous in fact, that teachers cannot even adequately cover them, let alone effectively teach them to mastery. Moreover, students are far too often diagnosed with a learning disability because we have proceeded through the curriculum (or pacing guide or textbook) too quickly; we do not build in time for the pre-teaching and re-teaching that we know some students will require; we do not focus our efforts on the most highly prioritized standards and ensure that students learn deeply, enduringly, and meaningfully.




We must focus our content and curriculum, collaboratively determining which standards are “must-knows” and which standards are “nice-to-knows.” This does not suggest that we will not teach all standards; it guarantees that all students will learn “must-know” standards because we will have developed a viable plan. To those who would suggest that all standards are important or that non-teachers can and should prioritize standards, we respectfully ask: Will teachers feel a sense of ownership if they do not participate in this process? Will teachers understand why standards were prioritized? Will they stay faithful to first ensuring that all students master the “must-knows,” or will teachers continue, as they have for decades, to determine their own priorities and preferences regarding what is taught in the privacy of their classrooms?




Focusing content and curriculum also requires that we collaboratively create clarity; that all teachers have the same interpretation of the meaning of standards. The “educationese” in which standards are typically written must be interpreted by the teacher teams that will guide the teaching and learning process that ensures that students master standards. There are processes that can guide teams in this process – processes that will guide instruction and instructional decisions, while also informing the creation of common formative assessment items.




Once prioritized, teacher teams determine the number of must-know standards that can be viably taught so that all students can deeply master them. This step often involves teams flexibly placing standards within maps or calendars that ultimately define units of study. Optimally, the process of mapping academic content is conceptually-organized and articulated vertically, from grade-to-grade or course-to-course.


The word “fidelity” continues to challenge our decisions when concentrating instruction. While we recognize the benefits of, and necessity for, curricular materials, we believe that fidelity to standards and student needs is the very best way of ensuring a guaranteed, viable curriculum.


We are stressing educators and students with the overwhelming number of standards that fill most sets of state standards and textbooks. While this stress directly impacts student learning, it also impacts the depth of mastery at which learning can occur. There is an overwhelmingly amount of research and policy positions that advocate depth over breadth (see TIMSS reports and the work of William Schmidt and Robert Marzano as a start). Until we address a lack of focus…for the outcomes that we expect all students to master…the high levels of learning that we expect of all students to ensure that they graduate ready for college and a skilled a skilled career will elude us.

Dr. Chris Weber is a passionate educator and is currently a Senior Fellow for the International Center for Education. He has been a teacher, principal, and district leader. You can connect with Chris at www.chriswebereducation.com