Strategies and Tools for Leading

August 14, 2019

In this edition, we explore resources and ideas for leading professional learning.

  1. Summer is a time for recharging but also for renewal. In this post, Virginia Soukup shares her experience learning about classroom routines from Kristin Mraz.

  2. Harvard Graduate School of Education offers a variety of thinking routines for classrooms; click here to explore these free resources.

  3. Routines can be powerful for teachers too. In this post, Annie Palmer describes one of these protocols – The Experiential Learning Cycle – for engaging adult learners.

  4. If you are not familiar with the National School Reform website, check it out here. They have many tools for leading teachers in professional dialogue and discussion.

  5. For educational books with practical tools and strategies, I recommend The Reflective Educator’s Guide to Professional Development by Nancy Fitchman Dana and Diane Yendol-Hoppey.

  6. Leaders should make their listening visible. In this post, I shared how I gathered feedback from teacher leaders about an upcoming professional learning day and revised the agenda in real time.

  7. The teacher leaders mentioned previously attended an Adaptive Schools training this summer. This well-received approach provided strategies for supporting teacher teams in engaging in “productive conflict” regarding teaching and learning.

  8. For an introduction to the concepts of Adaptive Schools and Cognitive Coaching, check out the book Cognitive Capital: Investing in Teacher Quality by Costa, Garmston, and Zimmerman.

  9. In this post, we close out the online book study for The Listening Leader: Creating the Conditions for Equitable School Transformation by Shane Safir.

  10. According to Daniel Venables, PLCs often falter when teachers neglect the “how” of instruction. His article for Educational Leadership offers protocols and practices for better collaboration.

Professional Learning Through Listening

July 31, 2019

In this newsletter, I share posts and other resources on listening as a key skill for effective professional learning.

  1. Ryanne Deschane reflects on her inherent privilege in this post and how her reality has influenced her perspective as a teacher striving for equity.

  2. The writer referenced in the previous post is Mihn Lê, author of children’s books Drawn Together, Let Me Finish, and The Perfect Seat. Learn more at his website:

  3. I discovered this Medium article by Zat Rana, “The Purpose of Life is to Be a Nobody”. I found it helpful in reminding me not to take myself too seriously.

  4. Carrie Thomas shares her experience in this post of listening to parents through community walks for the Play Street initiative in Philadelphia.

  5. Allison Zmuda and Bena Kallick offer several ideas for teachers to build relationships at the beginning of the year in this post at Learning Personalized.

  6. Do we have a professionalism problem? Rita Platt explores this wondering in her post that connects with our summer study, The Listening Leader by Shane Safir.

  7. Last year I wrote about engagement in professional learning, specifically on listening to teachers while balancing the need for schoolwide coherence.

  8. This article in The New York Times describes an initiative where children’s books are placed in common locations such as laundromats to promote a love for reading.

  9. Is equity a journey or a destination? I wrote a post yesterday advocating for the former, sharing our school’s ELA results and exploring ideas to utilize “street data” to better inform our work.

  10. Shane Safir discusses street data more in depth for this Education Week article.

Top Ten Books I Read in 2018

January 4, 2019

I’ve been meaning to write this post since January. Even though I have delayed posting it until now, I am going to still backdate it until then.

The following titles are the top ten books I read in 2018 (hence the title). I want to stress that none of these books are directly related to education, i.e. professional resources. One belief I hold is it’s important we read widely; otherwise we can get trapped in our edu-bubbles and we start to lose an important connection to the world.

The following books are in the order on which I read them. The title links take you to the book’s page on Goodreads.

  • The Power by Naomi Alderman
    A book unlike any I have ever read. Barack Obama listed it as one of his favorite reads of 2017, and I would concur. When women discover how to project electricity from a muscle on their collarbone, institutions and practices around the world change, but not necessarily for the better. 

    How The Power is bookended (a conversation between two writers exploring the history of "the cataclysm") as well as the visual discoveries as asides give the story context. My understanding is Alderman counts Margaret Atwood as a major influence (see The Handsmaid Tale). I can see the influence, but like I stated, The Power stands on its own.

  • Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein

    This is a book that, I think, could sneak under one's radar. A journalist provides a close up of a few families and key individuals reeling from the closure of an automobile manufacturing plant in Janesville, WI. The stories interweave between people both struggling and holding from 2008-2013. 

    The reason I feel this writing could go unnoticed is that we might not appreciate how close Goldstein got with subjects of her story. The author took a significant leave of absence from The Washington Post to investigate this subject. She literally spent years living in Janesville with the only purpose of learning how innovation and globalization affect real people in our country. I can attest from experience that a reason a person attends to a subject is that they care deeply about it.

  • Sourdough by Robin Sloan

    Great follow up to Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. A computer programmer starts to question her work as she discovers a love for baking bread (with a mysterious sourdough starter). Sloan addresses a similar theme as his previous book - the integration of technology in an analog society - only this time through food. Both funny and critical of both camps. An excellent choice for a summer read.

  • The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)

    If you like crime fiction, and maybe even if you do not, check out this series. J.K. Rowling has successfully resettled into a new genre with The Cuckoo's Calling. She's a fantastic writer for all ages. I am tempted to pick up the next in this series immediately, which is focused on a war veteran turned private detective in England, Cormoran Strike. He and his assistant Robin are complex characters who complement each other well in this call back to the classic mystery/crime fiction novel.

  • Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon

    A brief text filled with many ideas and sketches for sharing your work and your creative process with others. I felt it was too short which is really a backhanded compliment. One of my favorite quotes:

    The best way to get started on the path to sharing your work is to think about what you want to learn, and make a commitment to learning it in front of others. Find a scenious (group of creative individuals), pay attention to what others are sharing, and then start taking note of what they are not sharing. Be on the lookout for voids that you can fill with you own efforts, no matter how bad they are at first.

    Also check out Kleon’s excellent weekly newsletter:

  • Educated by Tara Westover

    Wow, what a powerful memoir. The author describes her life growing up at the foothills of the Idaho mountains. Her parents are survivalists: trying to live away from society out of fear of the government. Mental illness and religion play a role in Westover’s story, but through her writing she was able to mine down to a deeper understanding of her upbringing isolated from the world.

  • Light the Dark: Writers on Creativity, Inspiration, and the Artistic Process by Joe Fassler (editor)

    I really enjoyed reading about different writers' creative processes, which starts with a favorite text. It's interesting how each writer would expand on their work after explaining what the text mean to them. There are themes that came up for me as I read: how writing is hard work; how important it is to read as a writer; how what is written is almost never what is happening in our mind and our imagination; how our lives and perspectives influence our writing.

  • A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

    A modern take on the exorcism/horror stories from the past. Tremblay tips his hat to his predecessors while offering original ideas to this genre.

  • Democracy in Chains by Nancy MacLean

    Essential reading for anyone who wants to (and should) understand the political motivations of today's conservative leaders. We come to understand the connection between an academic (Jim Buchanan) and a billionaire (Charles Koch) and how their loose partnership developed the language of libertarianism today. 

    MacLean lays out the facts about this movement while expertly weaving an engrossing narrative about what happened regarding the conservative movement right under our noses. Read this book and you will see and hear today's politicians with a new lens. The most frightening part about this study is that the movement to deconstruct our democracy is still happening.

  • Upstream by Mary Oliver

    I listened to Mary Oliver’s interview with Krista Tippett for the On Being podcast. This poet struck me as a unique voice. This is the first book I have read by her, a serious of poems. Oliver offers caring and candid thoughts on lives we lead, generalizing her experiences on the East Coast so that anyone could relate.

If I had to pick a favorite or two from this list, The Power and Janesville: An American Story stand out for me.

In The Power, the physical discovery serves as a literary catalyst for Alderman to explore how power corrupts regardless of gender or status. The main characters represent mass media, religion, government, and organized crime: four notoriously corruptible institutions. What are the parallels between this novel and current events? That I continue to think about The Power long after I’ve read it speaks to the capacity of well-written fiction to inform and enrich our lives as well as to entertain.

Janesville: An American Story takes place a little more than an hour from where I live. It was a personal read as I currently live in a “Rust Belt” state. What I most appreciate about Goldstein’s account is how she objectively describes the challenges that blue collar families must endure. There is little politicizing or trying to find some angle to sell more copies: the author tells the story of a city struggling to adapt to the 21st century. It’s respectful and honest reporting, much needed in our connected world.

Focusing On What Matters

July 16, 2019

In this newsletter, we highlight the importance of focus in our literacy leadership work.

  1. Are we really hearing what someone is saying? Rita Platt discusses “mature empathy” in this post as it relates to our choice for our summer book study, The Listening Leader by Shane Safir.

  2. In a past blog post, I described empathy as “the most critical skill for being an effective educator”. Would you agree or disagree?

  3. Paige Bergin reflects in this post about her work in practicing deep listening as an instructional coach.

  4. In this Mindshift article, Katrina Schwartz reports about schools banning smartphones because they have become such a distraction to student learning.

  5. What are your thoughts on staff meetings? Jen McDonough offers strategies for making meetings more meaningful for colleagues in this post.

  6. Planning your tasks and prioritizing your work are two strategies suggested in this Harvard Business Review article about avoiding burnout in your job.

  7. It helps to have a process for being intentional and focused in our conversations with colleagues, as described by Annie Palmer in this post.

  8. Looking for a resource to help you prioritize your days? Consider The Together Leader by Maia Heyck-Merlin, a resource I reviewed for Middleweb.

  9. Warren Buffet’s productivity habits were profiled in this Medium post, titled “Really Successful People Say No to Almost Everything”.

  10. Why don’t schools focus on literacy? I explored this question in this blog post from 2017.

Just joining us for the summer book study? You can find all of our responses to The Listening Leader so far linked at this page on the blog.

Leading from Within

June 29, 2019

This week we examine the capacity for leadership within ourselves.

  1. The posts shared in this newsletter edition are all thoughtful responses to our summer book club choice, The Listening Leader: Creating the Conditions for Equitable School Transformation by Shane Safir.

  2. Rita Platt asks herself, “Am I listening?”, in this reflective post. She differentiates between listening and telling leadership.

  3. Rita points us toward a blog post she wrote for Middleweb as an example of listening leadership in action (she reflects on her first year as a principal).

  4. Virginia Soukup speaks openly about a personal challenge which relates to her professional growth in this post about mindful listening.

  5. Social studies teacher Mark Levine wrote once a day for a year about mindful literacy on his blog - an impressive effort.

  6. Artist Austin Kleon uses the metaphor of a garden in this post to examine the conditions necessary for creativity and knowing oneself a little better.

  7. In his newsletter, Kleon also references this post, “Bring Out Your Blogs” by Marc Weidenbaum, about the benefits of blogging for reflection and self-development.

  8. Jamie Cicconetti is reminded about the importance of being listened to (after a challenging interaction with her young child) in this post.

  9. Jennifer McDonough implements ideas from The Listening Leader to improve her capacity as an instructional coach in this post, especially around asking questions.

  10. In this article found on Medium, Kris Gage reflects on what she has learned after reading 50 books a year for seven years.

Just joining us for the book study? Check out all of the published posts in response to The Listening Leader so far by clicking here.

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