Podcast with Catlin Tucker

2022catlintuckerpodcastWhen the always-marvelous Catlin Tucker invited me to be a guest on her podcast, The Balance, I accepted immediately. I think the world of Catlin’s work.

My episode was released a few days ago. Catlin and I talked about my new book (Leadership for Deeper Learning), leadership during the pandemic, how school administrators could (and shouldn’t) support educators’ self-care, and much more. The folks at StudySync did a nice job of summarizing some of what we discussed. Hope you enjoy our conversation

Happy listening! 

Slide – Organize around the opportunity to contribute

2021 Difference Making 01 REVISED

“It’s ironic that a shift away from a focus on preparation (take Algebra 1 because you need it for Algebra 2, which you might need to go to college which you might need to get a job) to a focus on difference making is the best possible form of preparation for the innovation economy. A portfolio of work that demonstrates expanding contribution to causes that matter — to a young person and their community — is far more valuable to most colleges and employers than a list of courses passed.

What if, instead of a list of required courses, high school was organized around the opportunity to contribute?”

Vander Ark & Liebtag, Difference Making at the Heart of Learning, 2021 (p. 80)


Download this file. See also my other slides.

3 big questions to ask after a visit from an outside helper

Outside Consultant 03I’ve been blogging about bringing in outside helpers…

Here are three big questions to ask AFTER a visit from an outside helper:

  1. Are we tangibly better as a result of their visit? [or did we just waste everyone’s time?]
  2. Can we actually do something differently as a result of their visit? [or did they just take the money and run?]
  3. How do we know? [what evidence do we have?]

Great times to ask these questions include about a week after the visit (when the gloss has worn off) and also about 3 to 6 months after the visit (when the work should be well underway)…

How much of your work with outside helpers has resulted in tangible, concrete, actionable, beneficial changes in your school(s)? If not much, why is that?

Some good questions to ask before hiring an outside helper

Monkey puppetSchool resources are always limited, whether they be time, money, attention, energy, or personnel. Before you hire an outside helper for your school(s), here are some questions you might ask…

  • Are we bringing in this person to actually help us do something?
    • Or do we just want to dabble and/or pretend that we care about the topic? 
    • Or are we just doing it because others are / it’s a hot topic right now?
  • How does this work fit in with our other current initiatives?
    • How will we help our employees, students, and families understand the connections with our other work?
    • How much of a priority is this work compared to our other initiatives?
  • What will we do beforehand to optimize our employees’ chances of being successful with this?
  • What’s our follow-up plan afterward?
    • What additional support structures, leadership behaviors, professional learning, expectations, timelines, deadlines, financial and time resources, personnel, monitoring mechanisms, etc. will be put into place to support this work?
    • Will this work be supported at the very highest levels of the school organization? How?
    • Are these new supports adequate for the work to be successful?
  • Do we have a fighting chance to actually do this right now?
    • Or are we just fooling ourselves?
    • Do we have both the will and capacity to actually make this happen?
    • What are we currently doing that conflicts with or will obstruct our success with this new work?
  • What concerns will our employees, students, and families raise about this work?
    • What is our plan for addressing those?

Some questions to ask the outside helper (before you hire them) include…

  • Can you actually help us do something? (i.e., can you help us with the WHAT and the HOW, not just the WHY?)
    • Or are you just going to tell us we should do something and then leave?
  • What should we do beforehand to optimize our employees’ chances of being successful with this?
  • How much time do we need with you to get started successfully on this?
    • What will that work look like (and why)?
  • How much time do we need after you work with us to get started successfully on this?
    • What does that work look like (and why)?
  • What barriers, challenges, and other concerns should we expect as we head into this work?
    • How can you help us with those?
  • What kinds of follow-up resources and supports can you provide us?
    • What do those look like (and why)?

These are just a few to get started… What else would you add here?

Put your outside helpers to work

Outside consultantThis fall I started working with the Mattoon (Illinois) Community Schools. They are doing some really important transformational work for such a small district, including significant investments in

  1. students’ leadership capacity through The Leader in Me framework;
  2. competency-based education and student progressions;
  3. deeper learning modalities in their schools, classrooms, and external partnerships; and
  4. career and technical education through their upcoming, multi-school district, regional innovation hub, LIFT.

The gods in charge of airport travel smiled upon me this pandemic week, which meant that I had the pleasure of spending Monday in person with teachers, coaches, administrators, school board members, and families in Mattoon. Here’s what my schedule looked like:

  • Workshop 1 (all teachers and administrators) = reconciling competency-based education and deeper learning
  • Workshop 2 (leadership teams) = leadership challenges related to deeper learning
  • Workshop 3 (elementary teachers / instructional coaches) = redesigning elementary lessons for deeper learning
  • Workshop 4 (secondary teachers / instructional coaches) = redesigning secondary lessons for deeper learning
  • Workshop 5 (families and community members) = evening conversation on why school might look a little different these days

It was a long but important, productive, and incredibly fulfilling day. We made some great progress on Monday and I am looking forward to our continued work together this spring. These long-term partnerships are where the magic happens!

Which brings me to the title of this blog post…

Schools, are you putting your outside helpers to work? I see so many one-and-done keynotes or workshops. We know that they don’t really make a difference, right? Sure, it’s nice to get uplifted for 90 minutes about the importance and value of our teaching and leadership work. And, yes, we can get a taste of something helpful in an hour or so. But long-term transformations don’t stem from short-term engagements. If you don’t have the time, inclination, or budget for a longer-term engagement with someone whom you think can help you, at least insist on more of their time during the day that they’re with you. Why would you ask them to only spend an hour or two with your educators and community? Ask your outside helpers to focus deeply on the WHAT and the HOW, not just the WHY, and have a follow-up plan for implementation and support of your educators that goes beyond wishful thinking: “We heard about this for an hour at our district kick-off meeting so go off and do this now at a high level.” Anything less seems like you’re just wasting time, energy, attention, and money? Maybe you have an overabundance of those in your school organization but I’m guessing not…

Want to learn more about the work I’m doing with Mattoon and others? Please don’t hesitate to reach out!