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Mentoring Matters for Elementary Principals: March 2019

Leadership-life Fit—Meditative Moment

Try this one-minute meditation to calm racing thoughts and return your focus to the present. 

Managing Your Office Assistant


Your assistant has lived in your community forever. S/he knows everyone and has relatives also working in your building. S/he says and does things that put you on edge, but you’re not quite sure how to manage him/her… these tips can help!


1. Get clear about what you want from your assistant. What are your expectations?
2. Co-create a calendar of duties. 
3. Designate and honor a weekly meeting time. 
4. Be clear about your behavioral expectations for him/her. Give two weeks for any needed changes and then be prepared to evaluate as needed.  
5. Inappropriate behavior and language that you tolerate create stress for you and likely the building. 

Read the full article.

Leading Culture—Inspiring Happiness and Learning

Schools undoubtedly feel the influence of the current political climate and the impact of news media, both locally and nationally. Add to that one more snowflake, one more ice crystal, one more cloudy day in Iowa… and the outlook of our staff and students has the potential to be quite bleak this time of year. However, by adopting these four steps into your leadership practice, you can create and advance a happy, positive learning culture.

In “Joyful Leadership in Practice,” appearing in this month’s Educational Leadership, the authors share researched-supported strategies for creating positive energy that result in high retention and satisfaction rates, meaningful learning experiences, and teachers and students excited to come to school day in and day out.

Step 1: Adopt a strengths-based approach

Tune in to the strengths of those in your building and encourage them to become the best version of themselves. Specifically…

· Notice and name what is going well.

· Celebrate the big and the small on a weekly basis through a variety of platforms.

· Encourage staff to celebrate each other.

Step 2: Practice gratitude

· Look for authentic, sincere opportunities to express appreciation (research supports “a stronger sense of well-being in the thanker and a higher level of self-worth in the thankee.”

· Keep a gratitude journal – The authors recommend using the Five-Minute Journal for both you and your teachers as a way to up-level the positivity of your culture.

Step 3: Create and nurture a culture of collaboration

· Ensure each member of your staff, both certified and classified, is clear about his/her role, responsibilities, and purpose and how his/her individual role contributes to the work of the school as a whole. 

· Build collaborative structures to support your teacher teams.

· Schedule according to priorities.

Step 4: Focus on relationships

· Ask your staff about their daily lives.

· Be aware of their non-verbal cues and ask about their well-being.

· Find ways to connect with each student—there is power in human connection.

When leaders model a focus on strengths, an attitude of gratitude, belief in collaboration, and a value for relationships, happiness follows; and that happiness, according to research, leads to higher levels of success and achievement (not to mention a happier, more productive culture year-round).

Surveying School Climate

Access this free survey developed by PBISApps, a nonprofit associated with the University of Oregon, to help you gather data from your elementary and middle school students regarding their perceptions of school connectedness, school safety, school orderliness, and peer and adult relations.

Leading Learning—How well are you measuring learning?

  • Has your building determined what really matters in a contemporary education?
  • Have you decided how to assess those things that matter?
  • Have you considered how your assessments might enhance learning that matters, not just measure it?

Jay McTighe’s recent article in Educational Leadership explores these three essential questions. You can catch the summary below or read the full text.

Question 1: What matters in contemporary education?

McTighe offers four key educational goals of contemporary education and the type of teaching/assessment that best aligns to each:

Educational Goal:



#1 Knowledge:

What factual information and basic concepts should a student know?

Multiplication tables


Main characters from a story

Objective test or quiz

Teacher Questioning

#2 Basic Skills:

What skills should students be able to do to build competency and mastery?





Rubrics or other tool that measures along a continuum of proficiency from novice to expert

#3 Understanding:

What abstract or “big ideas” should students be able to understand?



Problem – solving


Assessment and instruction that requires students explain, justify, and defend with evidence. (generally, not multiple choice or fill-in-the-blank type assessments)

#4 Long-term Transfer:

What should students be able to do with their learning in new contexts or when facing new challenges down the road? What should they be able to transfer?

Cross-curricular units/goals

Habits of Mind

Critical Thinking

Authentic, performance-based tasks, with well-developed rubrics for evaluation


As McTighe notes, many transfer skills and abilities are those that are valued in the current work environment and sought on resumes as indicated in the following table from Job Outlook 2018. Interestingly, this report reflects a 10 percent increase from 2016 in both Problem-solving skills and Written communication skills. Leadership dropped from highest ranked to 4th in this same two-year span.



Problem-solving skills


Ability to work in a team


Communication skills (written)




Strong work ethic


Analytical/quantitative skills


Communication skills (verbal)








Technical skills


Interpersonal skills (relates well to others)


Computer skills


Organizational ability


Strategic planning skills




Friendly/outgoing personality




Entrepreneurial skills/risk-taker


Fluency in a foreign language


Source: Job Outlook 2018, National Association of Colleges and Employers

Question 2: How should we assess the things that matter?

We need varied and multiple measures of assessment that reflect and align to the four different types of learning goals as previously identified. McTighe references a single photograph as being informative, but not as complete or thorough as an entire album. Different cameras, different lenses, and different contexts may produce different images of the same subject—how well are we incorporating a variety of “photos” as evidence of student learning across these four goals to get a complete picture? Or, are we overly dependent upon standardized and objective types of tests? Although these tests have a place in our album, have we included other assessments that show how students think, problem-solve, and transfer their learning to new contexts?

Question 3: How might assessments enhance learning rather than just measure it?

Authentic tasks and projects integrate learning and measurement. Rubrics guide performance and provide feedback from the start; tasks derive from a realistic setting and require transfer and application of skill and knowledge; and collaboration and problem-solving are expectations. These are just a few of the assessment practices that serve to enhance learning.

What we monitor and what we measure communicate what we value. A shift in assessment practices necessitates a shift in instructional practices, both of which will require time and support for teachers. Still, the current demands of the work place behoove us to create a systemic plan for redesigning how we determine what’s important and how we measure what’s important.

Leadership 101—10 Skills Great Principals Have That You’ll Never See on a Resume

The amalgamation of 1 percent—it’s the little things done consistently over time that have great impact. This list compiles those “little things” that affect your culture, climate, and leadership influence. Processing these reflective questions in your mentoring partnership can provide additional insight to the “little things” and offer an opportunity for growth. 

1. How do you grow professionally and how do you model and communicate your love of, and passion for, learning? What daily routine supports your personal/professional growth?

2. How do you navigate conflict between and among staff? Do you have a conversation template you follow?

3. What little things do you do that you’ve noticed contribute to a more positive culture?

4. Do you have any go-to lines or key questions you use to engage staff in conversation?

5. What’s your “convenience store” story (your quick 2-3 sentences that celebrate a recent teaching and learning accomplishment in your building)? How do you decide on your story? What do you look for through your observations – both formal and informal?

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!