How do I lead school from my living room?

April 9, 2020

Principal's Office Sign--How to lead your school remotely

This is surreal!

“This just doesn’t feel right! I miss the kids.  I miss the teachers.  I miss visiting classrooms, shaking hands with students as they enter the building, laughing with teachers at lunch duty!”

This, or some version of this, is what I’m hearing from the principals I work with.

Most school leaders hate to be out of their schools.  Whether it’s being called away to a district meeting or staying home sick (a rare occurrence), most principals will do anything to avoid being out of the building.

So, sitting at home–or behind your desks in empty schools–is no doubt a jarring experience. 

Yet all over the country, principals like my friend Anne in Maine tell me the current crisis has raised their game.

In conversations with school leaders over the phone, Zoom, and Twitter, leaders have shared the ways they are making connections, supporting learning, and–perhaps most importantly–demonstrating their own vulnerability.

Here are some awesome examples of leading remotely:

Fostering connection:

  1. Asking teachers for names of students they are concerned about.  Depending on the size of your school, call one or 2 from each class, each week/day. On a schedule that works for you.
  2. Sending a thank you note to each staff member with something you’ve admired about him/her and perhaps never said. One or two sentences goes a long way. 
  3. Creating themed weeks–connect to school spirit and/or school mission

Instructional Leadership:

  1. Dropping in on a synchronous zoom session.
  2. Sharing an article/podcast resource. 
  3. Offering  1:1 office hours with teachers to check in and provide any support or feedback requested

Vulnerable Leadership:

  1. Set up calls with teachers–ask them how you can do more for them–in crisis and not.
  2. Try a new tool publicly.  It won’t be perfect, but that’s ok–we’re all in the same boat right now! 
  3. Use this time to try something new–painting, poetry, etc–and share the results.

Thanks to all who are leading…and sharing!  To share more examples or get some coaching support, you can contact me here.




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Padlet Block Parties: The Jazzed-Up Online Staff Meeting!

April 1, 2020

For years now, great principals have moved away from the nuts and bolts staff meeting in favor of interactive professional learning and dialogue.

While the current crisis likely demands a return to orderly info sessions, there will soon be time to engage with our colleagues around professional matters.

So, why not host a Block Party?

If you’ve ever used this, you know how engaging the Block Party can be.  It’s my go-to opener for staff meetings and professional learning sessions and it’s never disappointed. (I’m a huge fan of protocols and rely on the School Reform Initiative for their great list of resources.)

It goes like this:

The facilitator chooses quotes related to the topic or theme of the meeting.  (You can do this with pieces from one specific article/reading, but I’ve had great luck with these quotes.)

In a face to face meeting, I print the quotes and cut into strips.  (There are usually multiples.)

Then, spread out the strips on a table and allow folks to choose one that resonates with them. Give some thinking time and then have people get up, find a partner and share what they chose and why.  After both have shared, they move on and find new partners. Repeat as long as you wish. (Usually 3 rounds)

In a large group, people share themes, poignant remarks from partners, etc.  

A well-planned “block party” never fails to ignite minds and prepare us for good work.

Now, take the party online…

  1. Create a Padlet in Grid format. 
  2. Put a different quote at the top of each column.  (As many or as few as you want.)
  3. Make sure you’ve adjusted settings to allow for comments and reactions.
  4. Ask participants to make sure they choose at least one quote, comment  on at least one other person’s response and make sure every response has at least one comment. 

Click on the link to access a Block Party Padlet that I’ve pre-populated with relevant quotes.

You’ll need to make a copy.  Here’s a quick tutorial for how to do that. 

I hope this provides a space for meaningful staff engagement.  I’d love to hear reactions and suggestions – contact me here



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Teachers, Innovation and the Evolution of Schools

April 3, 2014

Last Friday afternoon at the Business Innovation Factory, four teams of teachers, including a team from my network, shared their stories of collaborative design thinking. This “storytelling” event was the culmination of a six week project called TD4ED, in which teachers were given the space and time to consider a problem of practice and design their own solution.

While the four teams’ projects differed, a common thread appeared. Each team had clearly been energized by the autonomy given them and came out of the experience not only with a sense of empowerment and enthusiasm, but with a tangible product to improve their schools.

Their enthusiasm was catching; I can honestly say that I teared up more than once, overwhelmed by this reminder of the collective power of teachers–and perhaps saddened by the realization that I’m not doing enough in my role to create the necessary space for such sparks to catch fire. After all, when I explored the concept of “change-mindedness” many years ago for my dissertation, I found partnership with colleagues as a key factor in that mindset. And the empowerment of teachers as a key lever for change guided my work in building professional learning communities?

Yet, I know that I have not empowered this team as much as this experience did. I wonder, have my core values changed? Or is there simply an incompatibility between the structure of school and the nature of innovation? What can we collectively do to give teachers the space, time and freedom to not only solve the problems in front of them but also to devise solutions before they even arise and to allow for the free-flow of ideas as Steven Johnson artfully discusses in his phenomenal book, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation.

In describing the impact his team’s work can have on his school, one teacher used the term “evolutionize”. Indeed, thinking differently about teachers’ work and support their sense of purpose, power and partnership can both revolutionize and evolutionize both the profession and the field. For my part, I thank the teams for powerfully reconnecting me with and reinforcing my values and beliefs about teachers’ capacity for innovation.

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