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Mentoring Matters for Middle Level and Secondary Principals: December 2019

Leadership-life Fit: Maximize your Morning

Morning routines set the stage for you to get more of what you want out of your day. This one-minute video adapted from the work of Benjamin Hardy promotes eight things before 8 a.m. to propel you toward your goals.



Using Retrieval Practice to Deepen Student Learning


Do you hear teachers talk about students “knowing” the answers in the moment? They reread the chapter, review their notes, and highlight key points—they stuff information into their brains. They cram and they score well, but they don’t recall much at the end of the semester. Read on to learn how the strategy of retrieval practice can help students learn for the long-term. 


Cognitive scientist Dr. Pooja Agarwal has studied the practice of retrieval—the process of deliberately bringing information to mind—as a means of “enhancing and boosting learning.” The effort to retrieve information strengthens memory and helps to identify gaps in learning. Though progress may feel slow, the more difficult it is to recall or retrieve, the more likely it will be learned for the long-term.  


Opportunities for students to practice recall—writing prompts, quizzes, flashcards, for example, promote long-term learning. Generally, slower, more deliberate strategies yield long-term learning.   


Access Dr. Agarwal’s free Retrieval Practice Guide


Tending to Compassion Fatigue


Once a term associated with first responders, compassion fatigue has become a concern among all those on the front line serving the needs of traumatized individuals—teachers and principals included. What is compassion fatigue? How do I recognize it, and what do I do in response?  


What is compassion fatigue? 

Compassion fatigue is the negative impact over time on caregivers (teachers and principals) who serve the needs of traumatized students (and staff). School staff hear many heart-wrenching stories of student experiences—oftentimes from the same student who has had multiple traumatic experiences.  


How do I recognize it? 

Symptoms can include a shift to a negative attitude, attributable to the feelings of frustration and hopelessness at the plight of some of these students of trauma; over-identification with those for whom one is caring; forsaking self-care in favor of care of others; and other symptoms of chronic stress like exhaustion, sleeplessness, low energy, and frequent colds and illness. Additionally, educators may be “burned out” and emotionally unavailable, not present. They may have a lower tolerance for frustration and an aversion to working with certain students, all of which pose a risk to their personal well-being and their job performance. (See NAESP’s Principal magazine this month – subscription required). 


What do I do about it?

As with many problems, the first step toward addressing compassion fatigue is an awareness of the stress and its impact. Once you recognize you or your teachers and other staff may be suffering compassion fatigue, you can take strides to heal. This recognition may result from conversations you have with staff about how they are doing about how they’re handling the emotion associated with a particular student’s or students’ situation/s. Awareness is the key. You can still care for your students and your staff while re-directing some of your energy back toward yourself 


Strategies that help heal compassion fatigue include… 

  • regular exercise and/or movement 

  • healthy eating habits 

  • sufficient and restful sleep 

  • social activities with family and friends 

  • journaling 

  • getting out and experiencing nature (not always ideal in Iowa in the winter) 

  • healthy escapes and hobbies 

  • reflecting on purpose – what renews you and gives you hope  


As leaders, we attend to the well-being of all those whom we serve; and to show up our best, we must first take care of ourselves. When we are healthy, resilient, and present, we are better able to see what our staff needs and help them to take care of themselves so that they can be healthy, resilient, and present for their students.  


For discussion in your mentoring partnership: 

  • What indicators, if any, have you seen of compassion fatigue in your building? 

  • How have you responded to concerns about “burnout”? 

  • How do you promote self-care in your building?

  • In general, how do you support the health and well-being of staff? 


Navigating Social-emotional Learning 


Is character education SEL? What about Habits of Mind? Isn’t SEL just the same thing as non-cognitive skills? Where does CASEL fit? This new site created by Harvard Graduate School of Education helps leaders make the connection among skills, frameworks and terminology regardless of “brand” and identifies which skills and competencies are most important. 


Building leaders looking to implement SEL can begin by considering the needs and goals of their target population. Then they can use the site to identify, compare and align relevant skills and frameworks. With this information they can reflect on which types of strategies and measures will best fit the skills they have identified as important and from there, choose accordingly. The site allows you to sort via your prioritized focus area and compare options. 


Explore SEL


Monthly checklist

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!