781: Practical Ways to Develop School Leaders Now
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John Davis (announcer and producer)
This is the Ten Minute Teacher Podcast with your host, Vicki Davis.
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So today, we’re talking with Chris Chappotin, assistant to the superintendent for Boyd ISD in Boyd, Texas.
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Thanks for coming on the show, Chris.
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No problem. Cool Cat Teacher, it is great to be with you today.
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Yes. And today, we’re going to talk about leadership development. This is such a unique time, and teachers and administrators feel so overwhelmed. But don’t we need leadership more than ever? But it’s hard to ask anybody to do anything else.
So how do we develop leadership now?
Leadership Begins with Relationships
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Part of this is definitely rooted in relationships. As we already know. The power of those relationships has definitely been on display as we have needed high levels of trust to navigate the uncertain times, especially over the last two years.
And I would say that first and foremost, that occurs through availability. If I’m going to be a part of the leadership development of those in my organization, in my district, I have to be intentionally available by reserving time in my own schedule for conversations that need to occur.
Sometimes those conversations are proactive in nature. Sometimes those conversations are situational in nature. But I would take a learner’s posture with my people. Availability is really that that first step.
How Do You Make Yourself Available in Practical, Doable Ways?
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I want to park on that for a second. So when you say make yourself available, obviously you’re probably not super close to where all your principals are right there in another building.
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Actually, in my case, I’m in a district that has just a little bit less than 1300 students. And I have three campuses within walking distance. But in a in a larger setting, yes, there would be more sites to navigate for sure.
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So are there time blocks on your schedule where they know they’re available, or do you do that with some sort of calendar or make it easy? Or does your assistant say, “hey, if this person calls, they get immediate access?”
How do you make yourself available from a practical standpoint?
Standing Meetings on the Calendar
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So one way is standing meetings on the calendar in collaboration with a former colleague, developed a system of wildly important goal sessions, kind of based off of Franklin Covey in the Four Disciplines of Execution™ work. And so we have standing weekly meetings where we look at campus academic goals and we look at the principal’s weekly commitments towards accomplishing that goal and have a collaborative system of accountability there.
Use Voxer to Communicate
I’ve got one principal who will reach out, and you know, the intro is typically, “hey, newer administrator question coming here,” which is completely fine. And so Voxer is a great way to keep that going.
Planned Classroom Visits Conducted Together
And then sometimes there are planned classroom visits where we walk through together in order to build capacity and to calibrate what we’re looking for in terms of classroom instruction.
Spontaneous Conversations with “Come Alongside You” Leadership
And then other times, there are spontaneous along the way conversations. You know, I’ve had mentors in my past who there were formal times of leadership development, but there were also call them organic times that happened along the way in a come alongside you type of leadership.
And so I look for those opportunities too, because that’s where those situational conversations can occur that are specific to the context or to the time or to the situation that are fun.
What About Keeping Your Distance to Prevent Administrators from Getting Ill?
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And it’s tough because hasn’t the message to a lot of administrators been, don’t be available, don’t make contact, keep your distance so that you don’t get sick? I mean, isn’t that kind of in the back of a lot of administrators’ minds? “If I get sick, what’s going to happen?”
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Definitely. I think this year in particular, you know, what we’ve noticed is that teacher absences, student absences due to illness, whether COVID or otherwise, because we’ve had a resurgence, if you will, of the flu, especially in our younger grade levels.
This particular school year, those absences haven’t necessarily subsided, and in some cases, they’ve actually increased. We’ve had to close the district a couple of times this year due to the number of illness absences. And so, you know, I believe that those concerns exist and are prevalent in our experience this year just as much or maybe even more so than they were when the pandemic was first beginning. And we weren’t quite sure, you know, what was happening or the speed at which things were happening. And so with that in mind, the challenge unique to to my district has been that at our elementary and intermediate campuses in particular, we’re involved in school improvement work because we are attempting to improve academic performance away from improvement required type dynamics with our state agency.
So anyway, all of that kind of wrapped up together has made for a challenge in terms of availability. But I would say that our, our community has been super responsive and there was know we had our season of mask wearing, which was helpful. But as we’ve transitioned away from masks and back to face to face and and learning without masks, then about adaptability, it’s been about flexibility, been about doing our best for our students and our staff in order to see the improvement we need to see.
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So you feel like you’ve had enough face time or you just feel like Voxer has kind of helped you in those times when you couldn’t go face to face?
The Challenges of the Times Will Either Bring Us Together or Drive Us Apart
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In our district? We have been primarily face-to-face since May of 2021. I’m not sure I’m getting that date right.
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But, you know, after the pandemic, it all blurs together! Like sometimes, I don’t even know what year it is.
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I’m in a rural setting that did not wear masks, you know, terribly long when compared to larger metropolitan areas. So I get 20 and 21 blurred. It would have been 2021. We more we wore masks a majority of 2021.
It has been primarily a face to face learning, which has been a refreshing advantage for our smaller, more rural district. But bringing the conversation back more specifically to leadership development, we’ve also had to grow capacity of our leaders in terms of state accountability and academic performance.
And so in a smaller district with four schools, but I have two principals that have a little bit more experience in the role. And then I have two principals who are fairly new in the role. And so together we’ve been on this journey of learning the state accountability system, learning, teaching best practices, learning how to inspire and nurture the development of relationship with students through staff. And that’s been an exciting journey. And and we’ve seen even during the pandemic student performance increase, which has been super encouraging. And I think the challenges of the time, they’re either going to draw us together around a common mission, which is our kids or draw us apart.
And we’re going to, you know, lose traction in conversations of, you know, taking stances on certain issues or whatnot. You know, in my district, it’s been great. That allowed us to come together and we’re doing a lot of learning along the way, which is drawing us together.
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That’s great. Okay, so what was your second thing?
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The second thing was going to be situational conversations. What I’m finding is as we navigate uncertain times, whether we’re in leadership or not, we are all learning along the way. And so, there are conversations that come up because they’re specific to a context or to a situation.
And as a leader, I can do my best with books and with preparatory experiences to prepare for those. But there’s another thing. When I’ve got somebody on the phone, I’ve got a report of something occurring on campus, or I find myself, you know, as we talked about with some of the academic challenges that we’re working through in my district. And so availability is key because I have to be present in order to have those conversations, in order to listen well and in order to provide guidance, which would lead me to a third piece.
Situations Are Different So Be Careful About Sharing When You Were In the Classroom
And that is I had a mentor in the past when I first became an assistant principal who would say with a smile, “Nobody cares what you did in your classroom as a teacher.So don’t go around telling stories about, ‘well, when I was in the classroom, I did so and so.’”
I’ve taken the same approach to the development of principals in the sense that you can’t tell teachers or even sometimes other administrators because the situations are different
The times are different, the people, the people are different in those situational conversations. I have to find a way to facilitate the growth and the thought process of the colleague that I’m working with.
Helpful Leadership Coaching Technique – “Have you Considered? You Should Consider. You must consider.”
So something that’s been real helpful for me that I, I learned from a mentor in the past.
“Have you considered? You should consider. You must consider.”
I try to do a lot of questioning when I’m working with people in general, but in particular with leadership development. And so the entry level question of have you considered is purely to spark the limitless thinking of the person that I’m working with.
You should consider, though, is a step in a direction. There are certain aspects of this dynamic or this situation that you can’t not do something about or that you can’t necessarily ignore.
And then we get to you must consider, which is a kind of a have to we can’t let this particular part drop or, you know, we can’t forgo this particular communication. And so using that model has been helpful in my own development. And in turn, you know, I’m getting the opportunity daily to share that with the folks I work with.
The Worst Mistake Now: Adding to the Teacher’s Plate
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So Chris, as you consider the current time, what is the worst mistake that you think administrators could make with leadership development right now.
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Are we adding to the plate? A good leadership friend of mine posted on Twitter probably at least once or twice a week, “How are we taking off the plate, especially for our teachers?”
“We’re asking you to teach, to be counselor, to be active in the community, to nurture kids socially, all in the midst of our own care and the state of the world today.
Help Teachers in Positive Ways or How Can We Remove Things From Their Plate?
And so how can we intentionally look for ways to either jump in and help in positive, presupposed ways that are supportive and that are responsive? Or how can we actually remove some things and be more strategic and intentional with our approaches to teaching and learning?
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Our administrators said, “Hey, we’re going to take lunch for the year and allow you teachers to meet two times a week. You guys will eat together and you can get away, you can talk, you can have teamwork.”
And I’ll tell you, that was a big load off. It sounds small. It’s not small. It’s actually a big deal to get to eat lunch with colleagues and figure things out.
Districts Need to Earn the Trust of Their Employees
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Absolutely. I was in a city meeting at the Alliance Airport area here in the northwest DFW area, and it was a collaboration between District CT&C, college and career military readiness leaders and leaders in the business world.
So there was a representative from Facebook parent company there, Google, Amazon, Air Con Global and Charles Schwab, and it was this dialog about preparing students and the workforce. A couple of things stood out to me in terms of leadership development.
One is the trust of employees. So in these corporations, I was in a breakout with a East Regional Manager of Meta and a couple of other site leaders for their Fort Worth branch.
Management and Influence over Their Own Time
And they talked about having the opportunity to have some management and influence over their own time.
Educators. I think sometimes we feel like we’re doing something wrong if our day isn’t crammed, packed with something every moment of the day. And so they talked about an intentional time to do things like play ping pong, intentional times, and rhythms of rest throughout the day.
They talked about a chef and a cafeteria experience that was outstanding. I mean I’ve seen some of these play out visits to Apple and Google facilities. All of that may not be practical for a school setting.
Give Teachers Trust and Time
However, there are small wins, like you just mentioned, with administrators taking lunch where we can give trust, and we can give time to our teachers. I found in my career that if we can give those two gifts to our teachers, they come up with amazing ideas, and they bless and influence kids in ways that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. And so that was an amazing part of the experience with the city and corporate meeting.
Cultivate Integrity and Collaboration
The other part was the corporations were talking about how what they were looking for was honesty, integrity, collaboration and team players when it came to what are the skills in your workforce or in your company that you are looking for the most?
Those were the skills. Their approach was the technical aspects of the jobs. We can train people in that, but we can’t necessarily train you to operate with integrity or to have a team first disposition in regards to your job.
You know, as I was thinking about leadership development, whether that’s administrator development or teacher development, those are the skills that I’m looking forward to and those are the skills that I’m attempting to develop in the people that I work with.
If those are the primary skills, then there’s there’s a certain part in the leadership development where I need to back away and empower the person to live out their values and know that we have had the necessary conversations and foundational experiences and that I’m always going to be available in regards to anything that comes up.
But there is a gradual release nature to the leadership development process that if you’re operating with honesty and integrity, if you have a team first, a teacher first as a as a principal, because, you know, the teachers influencing the students at some point, I’ve got to empower you to fly.
And those are, of course, the most exciting parts of leadership development.
Busyness Can Keep Us From Doing the Essential Business of our Job
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Well, one thing is I’m finishing up six weeks at home with due to a broken foot. That I have learned is that busyness has kept me from doing the business for me.
Innovate like a turtle has been my philosophy. So two times a week, 15 minutes, I experiment with things new. And as I’ve been subbing for other teachers and in all the busyness that’s happened since the pandemic started, my innovation time has just been what is sacrificed. And I’ve been doing some really cool innovation and playing with some new apps and doing some cool things with my students, maybe even cooler than if I had been face to face, because we need that time to innovate, to tinker, to play, to learn.
Pep Talk for Administrators
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So, Chris, I want to finish up. Just give a motivational sentence or two to all. Administrators listening who need a pep talk right now.
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One day, one moment at a time. And love on your people. Find ways to intentionally and proactively love on your people.
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Absolutely. Because love is definitely not a four letter word. Thank you for coming on the show. Chris.
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You’ve been listening to the Ten Minute Teacher podcast. If you like this program, you can find more and coolcatteacher dot com. If you wish to see more content by Vicki Davis, you can find her on Facebook and Twitter @coolcatteacher.