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Mentoring Matters for Elementary Principals: November 2019

Leadership-life Fit – Gratitude Is your Superpower 


Looking to level-up your energy and improve your leadership-life fit? Develop the habit of giving gratitude. Follow these steps to find more energy, more joy, more life:

  1. Start simply. Write down the basics for which you are grateful. Today, my gratitude list included my comfortable bed, my comforter, a steaming cup of coffee, warm socks, and a bowl of oatmeal. These essentials form the building blocks upon which a practice of gratitude is built. Even on those days when everything is coming at me, and nothing is going as I had planned, I can be grateful for a bed to sleep in and coffee to drink.
  2. Try saying your list out loud. Writing and speaking create a mental shift that helps reduce cortisol levels and activate the parasympathetic nervous system which slows the stress response and mediates anxiety and anger. The research benefits of a practice of gratitude are grounded in science.
  3. Whether handwritten in a journal or electronically, make giving gratitude part of your daily routine. Notice what shifts for you as a result of being grateful.  


Learn more about the health benefits of gratitude from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. 


Leading a Community of Support: The Principal's Role in SEL


Social and emotional learning pervades educational conversations across the country. What does SEL mean for principal leadership? How do principals foster a community of support for students? 


Experts from the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning provide four areas for recommendations regarding actions principals can take to build SEL supports in their schools (questions are adapted from that content): 

  1. Create an SEL team to build a foundation for SEL for students.
    a. When and how will adult learning regarding SEL take place?
    b. What is the school’s vision for SEL?
    c. What are the goals for SEL? (Iowa’s SEL competencies are expected to be released in January 2020. Meanwhile, you can access CASEL’s competencies
    d. What resources are needed to support SEL and how will they be allocated?
    e. How and when are you communicating about SEL in your building and beyond?
  2. Develop and strengthen the SEL of the adults in your building.
    a. How can you support staff in developing their own social and emotional skills? 
    b. What self-awareness and learning would benefit staff?
  3. Promote SEL for students.
    a. What community partnerships will advance SEL for students?
    b. What SEL strategies (and possibly programs) will strengthen SEL development for all students?
    c. What environmental changes/supports will facilitate SEL?
    d. How can teacher leader/s support implementation of SEL strategies and programming?
    e. How might you engage families in building SEL competency in their student/s?
  4. Practice continuous improvement.
    a. Are you reviewing attendance, tardy, office referral, and other data related to SEL to gain insight into the impact of your SEL efforts? 
    b. How will you know if your approaches are working?
     What opportunities do you take to model your reflective practice with SEL and how you’ve learned from mistakes? 

Access the full article where you will also have access to a webinar and slide deck 


Additional SEL Resources:


QUIZ – Answer these eight questions to get a sense of what you know about SEL and you can see how your score compares to your peers and get the correct answers with detailed explanations. 


You might also be interested in a recent publication regarding the importance of the principal’s own social/emotional competence.


Ready to Lead: A 2019 Update of Principals’ Perspectives on How Social and Emotional Learning Can Prepare Children and Transform Schools offers links and references to additional resources related to implementing and assessing SEL, among other SEL-related issues.


Leading Teacher Coaching: Using a Clear, Common Language


This month’s Educational Leadership includes specific advice for fostering a culture of coaching and an excerpt of action steps from Get Better Faster. 


Paul Bambrick Santoyo offers succinct advice for optimizing coaching and supporting teachers in getting better faster.  


  1. Create and use a common language around key action steps so that all educators understand what is meant when this language is used in feedback.

  2. Chunk the feedback—deliver micro feedback. If the teacher can implement the action step in one week’s time with practice, it’s appropriately chunked.

  3. Identify the highest leverage action step that will make the most difference in the moment.

  4. Make sure the action step (i.e., feedback) is crystal clear. It should be observable and the principal, the coach, and the teacher should all know exactly what is meant by that action step.

  5. Promote practice. What’s practiced most is valued most—how often do we see teachers practicing? 


You’ll want to access the full article to see a sample of the Action Steps from the “Get Better Faster” scope and sequence. 


You may also be interested in the full scope and sequence.


Leading Learning: Through an Equity Lens


Leading professional learning across three dimensions—beliefs, actions, and systems—can advance equity in our schools. Learning Forward’s The Learning Professional provides starting points for inquiry and direction for leading equity-focused efforts. 


Learning simultaneously across three dimensions creates the greatest potential for lasting change. Beliefs and assumptions serve to keep us psychologically safe, so we resist pushes to change them. However, we must surface mental models we hold and confront those beliefs and assumptions that have most likely unintentionally contributed to inequities. At the same time, we must take action—we must align our actions to our evolving beliefs. This may mean changing long-held patterns of behavior and routines to ensure they are equitable. Finally, we need to recognize widespread or systemic practices that create inequities. By inquiring into our beliefs, our practices, and our policies and procedures, we may very well become aware of ways in which some populations are prevented from accessing and experiencing all that our educational system can offer. Addressing only one at a time creates frustrations and limitations in the other two dimensions, so simultaneity is key. 


Where does a leader start and how? For each dimension, the authors provide strategies for the individual educator, the learning team (e.g. PLC), and the school as a whole. This chart summarizes the three dimensions and includes an example or two – for more information access the full article.


  Beliefs    Actions Systems 

Engage in activities to surface beliefs.

Learn about students’ families and cultures.

Reflect on how classroom practices and strategies influence students’ sense of self-efficacy—implications for homework, calling upon students, group projects, etc.

Become a leader in professional learning that advances equity.

Call out inequitable practices and routines.



Set high expectations for learning and behavior.

Get connected—build quality relationships with ALL students.

Review curriculum materials for bias. 

Identify and build upon students’ strengths.

Examine grading and assessment practices for potential bias and inequitable impact.  
 School Review school practices and policies and note how they promote or inhibit equity. Use learning walks to increase awareness of school-wide practices that inhibit equity. Collaborate to make changes.   Discuss opportunities in your building and whether all students have access? After school learning opportunities? Homework and project expectations?  

Find additional resources including free downloads


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!