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Mentoring Matters for Superintendents
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Mentoring Matters is a series of posts designed primarily for the use of mentors and mentees in SAI's Mentoring and Induction Program. All SAI members can also benefit from the assorted content.


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Top tags: leadership-life fit  board-superintendent relationships  coaching  COVID-19 reopening schools  equity  monthly checklists  reflections  relational capital  school board  school improvement plans  self-care 

Leadership-life Fit—Taking Care of Others Starts with Taking Care of You

Posted By Dana Schon, Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Many are depending on you for their frontline mental and emotional support. Be sure you have the energy you need to serve them well by tending to yourself first. These big ideas can help you stay strong. 

Tags:  self-care 


Reopening Schools Roadmap

Posted By Dana Schon, Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Having gathered questions and input from school leaders across the country and compelled by your heroic work, Opportunity Labs used the information they collected to create this roadmap to support decision-making as you reopen your schools. 


From Opportunity Labs: The roadmap focuses on seven areas of “workflow.” 

  1. Governance: Develop return-to-school and pandemic response committees at the district and school levels.
  2. Wellness: Encourage schools to implement mental health screening for all students.
  3. Instruction: Set the ambitious goal of ensuring that every student is on track for success academically and socio-emotionally by the end of the 2022 school year.
  4. Postsecondary: For the class of 2020, consider focusing whatever time remains of the academic calendar on postsecondary planning rather than virtual academic instruction.
  5. Facilities: Audit necessary materials and supply chain for cleaning, disinfecting and preventing spread of disease.
  6. School Operations: Evaluate whether new food vendors need to be sourced if there is a change in requirements (e.g., individually packaged items) based on guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  7. Technology: Develop districtwide procedures for the return and inventory of district-owned devices, including sanitizing device before a repair or replacement evaluation.

You will want to access the map because it is highly interactive and role specific (i.e., It has separate mapping activities for district leaders and building leaders respectively).

Tags:  COVID-19 reopening schools 


Learning from First-Year Reflections – 4 Key Insights

Posted By Dana Schon, Tuesday, May 5, 2020

As the year comes to a close and you review your successes and “wish I had a do-overs,” you may find these four leadership strategies detailed in this article from AASA helpful as you move into your next year of leadership. The questions are intended for processing in your mentoring partnership. 

  1. Invest in your leadership team. A first-year superintendent assumed that his cabinet was a high functioning, effective team, but realized quickly, he needed to cultivate relationships and develop this group as a team. 
    a. What specific leadership behaviors support relationship development?  
    b. What goals do you have for your administrative team moving into the 2020-21 school year and how will you get there?
  2. Encourage openness and honesty. Because of the positional authority of the superintendent, many will refrain from offering constructive feedback or raising difficult questions. Consequently, the superintendent should actively solicit feedback. 
    a. What feedback have you gathered this year and how have you gathered it? 
    b. What feedback do you wish you would have collected?
    c. What have you learned from the feedback? 
    d. In what ways will you change how you collect feedback moving into next school year? 
  3. Be “in service of” rather than brilliant. Listen to others and be judicious about the opportunities you take advantage of putting your voice in the room. 
    a. What ways do you have of monitoring how much you speak or contribute to discussion?
    b. How do you ensure every voice is heard? 
  4. Build relational capital. Quality relationships move the leader’s vision and the work of the district forward. Be sure you devote time to building and sustaining authentic relationships with all stakeholders in your district. See the full article for a list of ways in which leaders can build relational capital.
    a. How have you built relationships throughout the district and community? 
    b. With whom do you still need to develop a relationship? 

Tags:  reflections  relational capital 


Monthly Checklist

Posted By Dana Schon, Tuesday, May 5, 2020
Updated: Tuesday, May 5, 2020
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!

Tags:  monthly checklists 


Leadership-life Fit—Stability in Tumultuous Times

Posted By Dana Schon, Thursday, April 2, 2020

Build your resiliency and stay grounded in the midst of chaos with these impactful practices. 

Tags:  leadership-life fit 


Leading and Coaching Others

Posted By Dana Schon, Thursday, April 2, 2020

Use this POWER framework to up-level your coaching of principals and others whom you serve. 


Elena Aguilar introduces the POWER framework in The Art of Coaching: Effective Strategies for School TransformationI've adapted the effective application found in this articleThe POWER of Intentionality, Reflection, and Practice— for principal coaching (or coaching of anyone): 

P – Plan. Aguilar’s planning tool can help set the stage for an intentional, focused coaching conversation. It connects effectively to Anese Cavanaugh’s 5 Steps to Intentional Impact. 

Consider: What are my intentions for this meeting/conversation? What do I want my principal (or other) to think and feel by the end of it?  

Who do I need to be in this conversation? Who does my principal need me to be? How do I need to show up to be in service of this person? 

O – Observe. How do you create space for this other person in the conversation? Before speaking ask yourself “Will this support my principal in being self-efficacious?” Listen and use the power of silence. 

W – Write.  Jot notes while the principal speaks. Observe words and phrases as a strategy to slow yourself down and keep yourself from being directive (assuming that is not the stance that is called for). You can return to these notes to support your principal’s thinking by reflecting back to him/her. 

E – Empathize. Though it feels good to help someone solve a problem—to offer the option that works, prompting the person to come to his/her own solutions contributes to developing their self-efficacy. We can empathize with someone without “owning” their experience. We are in service of them when we create space for them to own their own experiences while providing support and understanding. 

R – Reflect. We can give those we coach the gift of self-reflection by scheduling time to process their experience with them. We might ask... 

- What went well?  

- How were you able to utilize your strengths? 

- Where do you see opportunities for shifts? Growth?  

- How will your leadership look different in a similar situation that might arise in the future? 

- What do you need moving forward? How can I help? 

Approach your next coaching meeting with intentionality and purpose using the above framework. 

Tags:  coaching 


Couple Your Improvement Plan with a Strategy to Get Real Results

Posted By Dana Schon, Thursday, April 2, 2020

In her Phi Delta Kappan article, Isobel Stevenson explains why an improvement plan is not enough — you need a strategy.  


Stevenson argues that current school improvement plans lack concrete, specific details about the “how” of the plan—the strategy. For example, it might be the case that the TLC plan in my district says that PLC leaders will facilitate their team meetings and submit minutes. The plan also directs instructional coaches to meet with teachers. However, it doesn't include specifics regarding what those PLC leaders will DO during the meetings or what the work of the coaches is in coaching teachers—what are the coaches to DO? Consequently, we arrive at the end of the year and we do not see the changes we had hoped for, so we claim the plan has failed or is not working. What we don’t really know is what happened when the PLC’s met or when teachers and coaches worked together. Absent any data regarding implementation, how can we really know if the plan is ineffective? Where do we miss the mark in writing our school improvement plans and how can we create more effective, impactful ones? 


Stevenson points to several typical mistakes in improvement planning: 

  • We confuse the product with the process. Our focus becomes creating the action plan and the format that plan should take (e.g. SMART goal, Theory of Action) rather than how we will implement the plan and what that implementation should look like. 

  • Under pressure of time, we follow a template and work quickly to get the plan written and check it off the list. What we need is time to clarify what roles staff will play in implementing the plan, what the work of each looks like, and how it can be supported, especially when barriers arise. 

  • We operate on assumptions about what will work and are unrealistic about the potential challenges inherent in any initiative. 

  • We try to do too much and we underestimate the time required for each project or initiative. 

  • We are not specific about who will do what. 

  • We underestimate the professional learning that will be needed to change practice and the time that will take. 


The path forward, Stevenson claims, includes 6 essential conditions that can be captured in the form of a one-page chart strategy map (see annotated template by Stevenson below):


  1. The strategy chosen will lead to attainment of the goal.

  2. The line of causation from what student behaviors we will see to what teacher behaviors will create those student behaviors to what teacher leader behaviors will support the teacher behaviors to what building leadership will look like in support of the teachers and finally, what central office leadership will look like, sound like, be like to influence/support the principal and building leadership is clearly explained.

  3. The steps involved are sufficiently detailed.

  4. Educators with roles in implementing the strategy are clear about what they will do and how they will do it.

  5. The learning that is required in order for educators to do what they are being asked to do is described –everyone involved has a personalized learning plan!

  6. For each column (see image below), evidence of progress is specified.


Tool 8 of the Iowa Professional Development Model can also be helpful to districts in describing strategy and articulating the details of how a plan will be enacted. 


Stevenson’s Strategy Map tool is straightforward and encourages thorough processing of each stage of an improvement plan. Learn more details by reading the full article 

Tags:  school improvement plans 


So you hired an equity leader. Now what?

Posted By Dana Schon, Friday, March 6, 2020
Updated: Friday, March 6, 2020

Kappan CEO Joshua Starr explains all the attention on equity and identifies three key conditions critical to the success of your equity director. 


The attention and focus on equity dates back to the early days of NCLB. NCLB required schools to disaggregate data, identify gaps, and plan to address them. Essentially, NCLB required schools to view their data through an equity lens. Districts response to their data varied. Some districts focused on test-prep and packaged curricula; others provided more resources for underperforming students while also supporting teachers with professional learning related to issues of equity like unconscious bias and institutional racism.Though NCLB raised awareness around issues of equity by focusing on test score gaps and graduation rates, it failed to address other examples of oppression and inequity.


In an effort to stand for social justice—to address, for example, the ways bias and favoritism impact system decisions, many districts have hired an equity director. But what authority do these leaders have to make real change? What is the scope of their responsibilities? Who will support them when they raise questions about the equity of long-held traditions, local rules, and policies that are supported by privileged parents?


The position of equity director demands the leader stands for social justice in the face of “intense personal pressure.” Starr offers three recommendations for a superintendent looking to hire or who has hired an equity director/leader:


  1. Ensure the equity director is a member of the superintendent’s cabinet. The position the director holds within the organization communicates the commitment of the district to social justice and equity. Additionally, the director should have their own staff "including people with expertise in data analysis, policy, legal issues, curriculum and instruction, and student and community engagement. A serious commitment to equity and social justice requires working across all of these areas.
  2. Be clear and communicate the scope of the responsibilities of the equity leader. Oftentimes, this person is expected to field complaints; review practices, policies and procedures for inequity and bias; engage with community members AND to provide guidance and support to schools and programs to help them address equity and social justice issues. " It can be very difficult, if not impossible, to play both of these roles simultaneously.”
  3. Have the equity leader’s back. Provide them the resources and access to information they need to do the job as described. Provide political and social cover when they encounter resistance. Harness a team to engage in the work collectively under the leadership of the equity director.

“Superintendents [need] to think very carefully about how best to bring a new equity leader on board and to make it abundantly clear that the pursuit of equity and social justice will continue to be everyone’s responsibility.”

Read the full article.

Tags:  equity 


Fostering Board-Superintendent Relationships

Posted By Dana Schon, Friday, March 6, 2020
Updated: Friday, March 6, 2020
Experienced superintendents offer effective practices for cultivating quality relationships with board members. 
  1. Be honest—tell it like it is, but speak with care.
  2. Keep your summaries succinct; “hit quickly on what you want, why you want it, the benefits, the cost and a succinct timeline for implementation.”
  3. Add your personal touch to your office—a new piece of furniture or a new arrangement.
  4. Go last. Hear all the input, and then have the final say.
  5. Keep stakeholders informed– share good news any time and bad news early and often.
  6. Praise often and publicly.
  7. Communicate – “Stay in touch in a way that is consistent, frequent, and familiar.”
  8. Be genuine and authentic – admit mistakes and ask for help when needed.
  9. Trust your team—delegate effectively and attend to the well-being of your people. Provide assistance as needed.
Improve Collaboration: 
  1. Clearly define roles and responsibilities and revisit them as needed.
  2. Develop and implement a clear plan for communication – note frequency, medium/s, content, etc.
  3. Utilize the evaluation process. Share documents and keep focused on the shared and agreed upon goals.
  4. Support board work with effective technology. Streamline reporting and access to documents through technological tools. 
  5. Build trust through open and transparent communication.

Tags:  board-superintendent relationships  school board 


Self-Care Strategies to Up-level Your Leadership-life Fit

Posted By Dana Schon, Friday, March 6, 2020
Updated: Monday, March 9, 2020

Adopt these eight practices for improved well-being and a better leadership-life fit.  

Tags:  leadership-life fit