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Mentoring Matters for Elementary Principals
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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  communications  COVID-19 family communications  IDEA  mental health  monthly checklists  online instruction  Special Education 

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

Posted By Dana Schon, Monday, May 11, 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:  leadership-life fit 


Leading Teachers through the Shift to Online Instruction

Posted By Dana Schon, Monday, May 11, 2020

Do I focus on their attitudes and beliefs about online instruction? The practices that best support online learning? Student results? Which comes first in the change process?  


Thomas Guskey notes that most professional learning follows this order: 

  1. Change teachers’ attitudes/beliefs about a practice or approach.

  2. Then, implement the new practice.

  3. Then, get results.


However, little success derives from trying to change peoples’ attitudes and beliefs. The key is in changing the experience. Leaders need to identify which practices, adapted to their context, will be most successful in increasing learning for their students as evidenced by research or other success stories. Using evidence or research-based practices significantly increases the likelihood of success in each context, which contributes to teacher efficacy. When teachers see their work has resulted in positive change in student learning, they believe more strongly that their efforts matter. They grow in their confidence to try additional new strategies and practices.  


Change produces anxiety—the fear of not knowing for certain that this new way will work, and it feels threatening. Taking a risk means I might fail, which runs counter to teachers’ commitment that every student learns. Consequently, they hold fast to what they believe has worked in spite of evidence that shows another approach would likely work better.  


This is why it's so important to avoid implementing new practices that are not correlated to success and impact. Unproven practices increase the possibility that teachers will see their efforts as disconnected from student learning. Such practices contribute to low self-efficacy—teachers’ belief that their work doesn’t make a difference. This does not mean that schools should not innovate. It means that leaders should be aware of their teachers’ sense of self-efficacy and collective efficacy. The stronger the teachers’ beliefs that they make an impact for their students, the greater flexibility in being able to choose among promising practices. 


In our current context, many teachers who have not experienced online or distance learning are feeling anxious, threatened, and uncertain—some to a greater degree than others. More experienced teachers have spent years teaching in ways that they believe has resulted in success. For them this new context is even more unsettling. The leader can help in several ways: 

  1. Identify evidenced based instructional practices to support online learning—the higher the rate of success with a particular approach, the likelier the teacher will experience success sooner and begin to grow his/her confidence in incorporating other strategies for engaging students online. For examplemorning meetings have been shown to strengthen relationships, build community, and set the stage for learning in a face-to-face environment; they can serve this same purpose in an online space.  

  2. Discuss what adaptations might be needed in your particular context. Be aware of the teacher’s workload and the demands of the new practice. What key components of the approach are necessary to maintain the fidelity of implementation in order to get the expected resultsFor example, finding ways to connect students to you and each other is fundamental to the morning meeting—how can that happen in this online space? Can Seesaw or Flipgrid help? 

  3. Provide the teacher regular feedback. Help him/her to notice and celebrate successes. For example, join the teacher’s morning meeting. Affirm the efforts even when only 15 of 25 students are online. Notice what’s going well. Discuss challenges he/she is having and support him/her in brainstorming.

Encouraging and expecting teachers to take small steps and then celebrating their victories builds their confidence and subsequently their willingness to take another step into the unknown. Behavior precedes change in attitude and belief. 


Discussion questions for mentoring partnership: 

  1. What do your teachers currently believe about online learning or learning through multiple mediums?

  2. How do you currently lead change? 

  3. What expectations do you have for teachers to engage their students in learning face-to-face? Online?

  4. How are you supporting them?

  5. What does your feedback look like? Sound like?

  6. What have you celebrated?

Tags:  online instruction 


Leading with Mental Health in Mind

Posted By Dana Schon, Monday, May 11, 2020

Connect with any of these resources to better understand anxiety and how to support your students and teachers who suffer from it, particularly in our current context. 


No one-size-fits-all treatment will address all those who suffer anxiety. This makes it especially challenging to serve their needs; however, these practical resources can pave the way to better understanding anxiety and strategies to support both students and staff. 

  1. Teachers Are Anxious and Overwhelmed. They Need SEL Now More Than Ever.

  2. Anxiety and Depression Association of America - … “a leader in education, training, and research for anxiety, depression and related disorders.”

  3. National Alliance on Mental Health - Learn about anxiety disorders and options for treatments as well as strategies for caring for those who have the disorder.

  4. Apple Podcast: Panic Attack Recovery - This series of podcasts includes contributions from those who have suffered anxiety and how they have navigated their disorder.

  5. NPR Podcast: Helping kids with anxiety.

  6. What to Say (and Not to Say) to Someone with Anxiety

  7. Mental Health First Aid – How to Help Someone with Anxiety.

  8. Classroom Interventions for Children with Anxiety Disorders (medically reviewed article)

  9. State of Iowa Mental and Behavioral Health Resources

Tags:  mental health 


Monthly Checklist

Posted By Dana Schon, Monday, May 11, 2020
Updated: Monday, May 11, 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, Monday, April 6, 2020

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

Tags:  leadership-life fit 


What to Say When You’re Put on the Spot

Posted By Dana Schon, Monday, April 6, 2020

Dan Rockwell offers several “go-to” lines that will help you stay authentic and connected when you’re confronted with a spontaneous conversation. Additionally, you can buy yourself some “think time”: 

-   Your concern is important to me. I wish I had an easy answer. 

-   Wow, that’s an important issue. That’s on my to-do list. 

-   Great suggestion. I’m going to need some time to think about it. 

-   Thanks for bringing that up. What are your thoughts 

-   This issue affects lots of people. I can’t shoot from the hip. What are your thoughts? 

In your mentoring partnership, add to this list!!


Tags:  communications 

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Connecting with and Supporting Families​

Posted By Dana Schon, Monday, April 6, 2020

2019 Teacher of the Year Rodney Robinson penned this open letter to parents in the midst of this pandemic. His words may resonate with your families as well.


Tags:  COVID-19 family communications 


Coronavirus, Continuous Learning, and IEPs​

Posted By Dana Schon, Monday, April 6, 2020

How do we support ALL students in continuous learning in the midst of the coronavirus? Three national experts’ opinions converge around several key suggestions.


Schools should: provide services to students as soon as possible; worry more about making progress than following the letter of the law; and understand that much of federal law wasn't written with online education in mind. 


Selene Almazan, legal director, Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, encourages schools to focus on families and to work together to determine what kind of learning will be accessible to their child with an IEP. She is encouraging families to gather and document (via video or other) their own data about their student's progress (or lack thereof) so that when students return to school, the IEP team can meet and determine appropriate supports moving forward. 


Julie Weatherly, attorney and founder of Resolutions in Special Education, notes IDEA wasn’t written with this current context in mind. She advises schools and families to work together to establish and document informal agreements so they can move on to answering the questions: 'What can I do right now? What can we do right now for your child?' 


Weatherly says, “For the most part, the IEP itself is not going to be able to be implemented as written, but rather than amend those documents or anything like that, I think most parents would be amenable to agreeing that, 'Hey, let's keep that intact for now. But what are we going to do in the meantime?'” 


Perry Zirkel, professor emeritus at Lehigh University College of Education, encourages leaders to worry less about procedural issues and more about getting as many services as possible to students—being as effective as we can in light of the unprecedented circumstances. “The ultimate priority is on making good-faith, reasonable efforts to deliver services to eligible children under the IDEA. And whatever else you can do procedurally is a bonus. It's gravy,” argues Zirkel. 


Tags:  IDEA  Special Education