By: Steve Gratz
Leadership is key in business and in education. Those of us in education understand the critical importance of the education leader in every school district and school building. While contemplating this blog post, I wanted to focus on the importance of leadership regardless of the industry and your position within that industry. As a result, I decided to reach out to my friend and leadership guru, Mark Sanborn, and ask him a few questions.
Mark and I have been friends since the 1970s and lived together as members of Alpha Zeta fraternity at The Ohio State University. Today, Mark is an international bestselling author and noted expert on leadership, team building, customer service and change. You can learn more about Mark at his website.
During my career, I have had the opportunity to be a personal coach to more than 200 individuals. A vast majority of these individuals have gone on to secure leadership positions, not only in education but also in industry. With the shared passion for leadership, I decided to ask Mark a series of questions on being a leader and leadership. Although the questions I asked Mark are fairly broad, they are transferable to those of us in education.
1. If you were beginning a career today or were still early in your career, what would you do differently? What advice would you give to those in that stage of life today?
Happily, I wouldn’t do anything differently. My strategy those many years ago is valid today: try lots of things. Get as much diverse experience as possible. More often than not, we find our true calling through experience — trial and error — rather than contemplation. You don’t find out which foods you like by thinking about them but by trying them. The same is true with career strengths, likes and dislikes.
2. What is the greatest change you've seen in the workplace since you began your career? Does that change the way you lead today? If so, how?
The greatest change is the complexity of business and life. We’ve always faced change and challenge, but technology has been one of many factors that has dramatically increased complexity. We are deluged with information. Nobody can know everything there is to know nor even hope to keep completely up to date. That means leaders need a carefully designed learning strategy that includes trusted experts and sources to help fill in the blanks, the things we don’t know.
3. What three words might people use to describe you as a leader?
The more accurate answer would come from those who have experienced my leadership, but based on feedback I’ve gotten, those descriptors would include erudite, intense and funny. I invest much time in thinking and learning (hence erudite). I’m very focused on what’s important (hence intense). People who don’t know me well would be surprised to find I’m a prankster who finds the humor in almost everything (hence funny).
4. You seem to write a lot about your experiences with others and what you learn from them, such as you did in “The Fred Factor.” What would you hope people most learn from you and your work?
I hope people learn how they can learn from everything they do and observe. That’s how I was able to extract good ideas and lessons from my encounters with my postal carrier Fred Shea. G.K. Chesterton said, “The world will never lack for wonders, only wonder.” If we stay interested, curious and engaged with life, we can keep continually learning and growing.
5. What is the hardest thing you have to do as a leader? What have you learned that has helped you in this area?
One of the hardest things I’ve done as a leader is let an employee go who was a good person and conscientious employee but not the right fit for the job. The person didn’t have the skills or demeanor to succeed in the role that was required. Employers and employees need to recognize that all jobs are role specific, and being good isn’t enough if the employee isn’t the right person for the job. I’ve learned the importance of clarifying what is needed in a position and to determine if a possible candidate is just a good employee or the right employee for the job.
6. What one business or leadership book would you recommend to young leaders, besides one of your own, to help them in their leadership?
There are many excellent books on leadership, but I’d suggest “Good to Great,” because Jim Collins does a great job of showing how the leadership piece fits into the bigger organizational puzzle. I like his take on Level 5 Leaders and that his book is based on quantitative research.
7. What motivates you personally to get up in the morning? What is it that keeps you pushing for more personally or professionally? How do you continue to find inspiration in life?
For me, it comes down to faith, family and friends. Those three aren’t the icing on the cake — they are the cake. If you are clear in your beliefs and care for the relationships that matter, the rest follows. After that, I am about combining purpose and profit. Making money is easy, but making money by being of larger service and benefiting others is a blessing. I feel fortunate in my work to be able to do both.
I encourage you to reflect on the questions I asked Mark and think about how you would respond to the questions. This would be a great activity to share with other school leaders in your district.
Dr. Steve Gratz is senior executive director of the Center for Student Support and Education Options at the Ohio Department of Education, where he oversees creative ways to help students in Ohio achieve success in school. You can learn more about Steve by clicking here.
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By: Virginia Ressa
I like to think of myself as a “lifelong learner,” but my husband keeps finding ways to challenge this notion. Do I really want to learn about classic '70s rock music? I’m fairly sure I could have lived without learning how to tile a foyer — though it did turn out pretty well. A while ago, he was watching cooking shows, finding recipes for “us” to try out. I was game for trying new recipes. I’m a pretty good cook, but my repertoire is definitely limited.
In the course of our mini adventure through cooking shows and new recipes, my husband told me about a video of Gordon Ramsay demonstrating how to make the perfect scrambled egg. Wait. I know how to scramble eggs. I’ve been scrambling eggs since I was a teenager. It’s simple, and there really is just one way to make scrambled eggs…right?
As adults, there are some things we’ve been doing for such a long time or so often that we have come to believe there is just one way to do that task, and we already know how. Teachers often think about their classrooms and instructional practices this way. We know what works, so we keep using the same methods over and over. Once we have found a practice that works well, we recreate it with each group of students with the underlying notion, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But is your method for teaching addition using buttons as manipulatives the only way to do it? Is it the most effective? What if you talked to other elementary teachers and asked what their best practices are? Maybe there’s another method that might also work well?
I eventually acquiesced and agreed to watch the video on scrambling eggs. I found out that there are, indeed, other ways to scramble eggs. There was Chef Ramsay using a pot instead of a nonstick frying pan. He had a spatula but not the flat kind I use to make eggs; he used the rubber kind that I mix things with. The most surprising part of his technique was the addition of crème fraiche. I was incredulous — I had never heard of anyone making eggs this way. I immediately got out the eggs, butter, a small pot, the spatula that Ramsay said to use and a container of sour cream (turned out I was all out of crème fraiche). I don’t know if I had set out to prove Ramsay wrong or if I was really intrigued about a new way of scrambling eggs. Of course, the eggs were really good. Light and fluffy, with a bit of a rich flavor added by the sour cream. Not only was Ramsay right, so was my husband. I had to swallow my pride and admit that there is more than one way to scramble an egg. Now, almost every Sunday, I make really good scrambled eggs for our brunch. I’ve experimented with some variations, like sour cream, and have found some small changes that work for me. I’m just confident enough to think I can improve on what Ramsay does.
When we think about our personal and professional lives, there are probably dozens of these types of everyday things we do that we would never consider doing differently. We have routines that we build into our classroom expectations because we think they work well. How do you help students get ready to leave the classroom? Do they wait at their desks for the bell? Do you have them line up along the tape on the floor? Here is a video from a teacher who uses music to focus her students on lining up for lunch. This is probably much more effective than the rush of middle schoolers I had waiting to push the door open and run to the lunchroom. Beyond classroom management, we also become comfortable with how we teach content. How do you teach the basic concepts of your subject area? Do you use a set of graphic organizers every year? Could you integrate technology to make the use of graphic organizers more effective? My point is simply that there are always other techniques to consider. Find out what your colleagues are doing. Check out the Teaching Channel for videos of all types of classroom practices. Take time to think about the teaching and learning happening in your classroom and how you might experiment with new ways of doing things that have become accepted practice.
If we are going to profess the benefits of being lifelong learners to our students, we need to be willing to be lifelong learners as well. I rewatched Ramsay’s video this morning and saw that it has more than 22 million views. Maybe we have more lifelong learners in our midst than I thought. In case you are feeling the need to learn how to do something differently, here’s an article from The New York Times with a series of videos about how to wash your hair. Yes, there is more than one way to wash your hair.
Virginia Ressa is an education program specialist at the Ohio Department of Education, where she focuses on helping schools and educators meet the needs of diverse learners through professional learning. You can learn more about Virginia by clicking here.
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By: Paolo DeMaria
Last fall, I invited Ohio’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) students to join the conversation about one of the biggest problems facing our state — the opioid crisis. I worked with the Ohio STEM Learning Network to issue a design challenge for students. I asked them to come up with innovative solutions to opioid abuse in our state. I know that Ohio’s youth are a great source of creativity and brilliance. So, I was not surprised when more than 1,200 students responded to the challenge and came up with hundreds of possible solutions.
On May 18, Battelle hosted the Opioid Solutions Showcase, where some of the best ideas were shared. These included a pill bottle that could be programmed to limit medication doses and an app that allowed concerned family members to track the whereabouts of a person struggling with addiction. I was really inspired by these young people. In the video, I interviewed a student team from the Dayton STEM Academy. The team created a piece of legislation that addresses the opioid crisis. The project is a fantastic example of how STEM education is so much more than rigorous coursework in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It is actually about project-based learning that allows kids to apply the skills they learn from a variety of classes to real-world problems.
Paolo DeMaria is superintendent of public instruction of Ohio, where he works to support an education system of nearly 3,600 public schools and more than 1.6 million students.
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By: Guest Blogger
Perry Local Schools, located in Northeast Ohio, is a small, rural district with a mission to inspire all students to achieve personal excellence, pursue world-class standards and become self-directed lifelong learners. We want all students to leave Perry Local Schools with hope and a skill set to be prepared for life. Authentic learning experiences are key to helping our students become workforce ready. To reach this goal of readiness, we are creating personalized learning opportunities for our students to ensure they have the tools necessary to be successful. At Perry, we want to find the right balance of traditional education and evaluation measures, along with authentic experiences, that have a performance-based assessment component. Student voice and choice play a key role in helping students have an awareness of their learning and understanding of their strengths and areas of growth.
We want our students to be able to answer the following questions as they navigate through their educational journeys:
- What are my strengths and interests?
- What do I want to be?
- How do I get there?
- Will I be successful once I get there?
Pathways at Perry, spearheaded by Todd Porcello, Perry High School principal, shows the educational pathways available at Perry High School. In addition, we began a Learning Through Internship course that provides real-world career experiences, along with building employability skills. Our Virtual Career Center has the information for parents, students and community partners. High school teacher Rita Soeder has worked to ensure that the course guides students toward career readiness. Robert Knisely, the principal at Perry Middle School, has led his school to ensure the students have a balance of academic, behavior and career skills. The scope and sequence is found here: Middle School Pathways to Success.
In order to move forward with authentic learning, we need to have assessment systems in place that will support authentic learning initiatives. Working toward that balance, Perry Schools has been part of two grants that focused on competency-based education.
First, we are part of the consortium (Perry Schools, Cleveland Heights-University Heights City Schools, Kirtland Local Schools, Maple Heights City Schools, Orange City Schools and Springfield City Schools), through the Educational Service Center of Cuyahoga County, that received a grant from the Competency-Based Education Pilot to create an innovative and scalable competency-based assessment system. Knowing that students must leave our schools with the abilities to learn at deep levels, pursue personal passions and strengths, and build skills to be career ready, we have been working to establish an assessment system that will capture components that standardized tests do not. Stanford University’s Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity (SCALE) supported this effort throughout the year. Perry Local has begun the implementation of our learning Six Practices for Self-Directed, Authentic Instruction (adapted from the Buck Institute and SCALE) and aligned it with the Formative Instructional Practices, which include the following:
- Setting a Clear task — focus, clarity and coherence; [FIP 2]
- Proficiency rubric clarifies expectations, measures progress and supports feedback/goal setting; [FIP 2/4/5]
- Relevant, challenging issue/question-connecting curriculum through life skills in real-world, worthwhile work;
- Student agency: voice, choice, decision-making and growth mindset; [FIP 5]
- Learning is personalized to student strengths and interests; [FIP 5]
- Exhibition: product is critiqued by public/experts to include clear feedback. [FIP 4]
One of the goals of our work with the Competency-Based Education Pilot grant is to have more valid, varied and richer measures of student learning. We have paired that with creating authentic learning experiences that are vetted to meet rigorous criteria for measuring the learning objectives. During this grant period, two cohorts of teachers received professional development, where our teachers created performance tasks in four content areas. We learned methods and components that are included to ensure that these types of tasks ask students to think and produce to demonstrate their learning. These tasks could be authentic to the discipline and/or the real world. We learned about the four types of assessments but concentrated on three: curriculum-based, on-demand and constructive response.
A highlight of our consortium team’s work included a critical dialogue between higher education institutions and K-12 districts to understand each other’s work, so we can begin to align and transition our students as they matriculate to postsecondary work.
As we looked closely at our instructional practices, we wanted to include not only content (cognitive learning), but also to begin to intentionally teach life competencies (noncognitive factors). Our second area of work for this year is collaborating with seven school districts (Perry Schools, Chardon Local Schools, Fairport Harbor Exempted Village Schools, Mayfield City Schools, North Olmsted City Schools, Olmsted Falls City Schools and Wickliffe City Schools) to identify, define and determine how to monitor and evaluate life competency skills (otherwise known as noncognitive factors, 21st century skills or employability skills). The district’s cohorts of 10-12 teachers worked with Camille Farrington, from the University of Chicago and EdLeader21, to identify, define and build the strategies of “how” we can embed life competencies into our instruction. In addition, using information gathered during the EdLeader21 Professional Development and the Competency-Based Education grant work, we are creating our graduate profile.
Three years ago, we began Authentic Learning Personalized for Higher Achievement (ALPHA), which is a twist on learning how to do the project-based learning process. This project not only provides instruction in the process, it is a collaborative between school districts where students are teaching students about project-based learning with teachers participating by having the process modeled for them. This is a great way to begin a slow introduction of project-based learning.
Career mentoring is an articulated plan from grades 5-12 that allows students to explore interests and passions; take assessments, interest inventories and job skill identifiers; and find a career pathway(s) for selection of coursework.
Personalized Learning at Perry Schools highlights the details of our ALPHA project and our career mentoring program, along with additional information on our Life Competency Grant work, which are just a few ways we are working to individually tailor the learning process for our students.
Amy Harker has been an educator for thirty-one years. Currently she is the Director of Student Services and College and Career Readiness at Perry Local School District. In 2017-2018, she will assume the role of Northeast Regional Career and Innovation Specialist. You can contact Amy by clicking here.
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By: Chris Woolard
It is important for Ohio’s students to be in class every day ready to learn. Ohio defines chronic absenteeism as missing 10 percent or more of the school year for any reason. This is about 18 days, or 92 hours, of school. Whether absences are excused or unexcused makes no difference — a child who is not in school is a child who is missing out on their education.
Cleveland Metropolitan School District understands the importance of getting every student to school every day. The district is wrapping up the second year of its citywide attendance campaign, “Get 2 School. You Can Make It!” The campaign promotes the importance of regular school attendance throughout the entire city with billboards, yard signs, radio commercials, social media, phone outreach, home visits and videos. The campaign lets students know that they can make it to school today, they can make it to school tomorrow, and they can make it to their college or career goals.
“Get 2 School. You Can Make It!” works to remove barriers that contribute to students being chronically absent and rewards good and improved attendance through a data-driven decision-making process. The campaign rewards students for on-track attendance, which the district defines as missing 10 days or less per year or 2.5 days or less per quarter in order to prevent students from becoming chronically absent. Before the “Get 2 School. You Can Make It!” campaign, nearly two-thirds of students in the district missed more than 10 days per year. After the first year of the program, the district reported 2,400 more students on track with attendance compared to prior years.
Cleveland Metropolitan School District leverages strategic partners to ensure the entire community works together to make attendance a priority for all students. Community volunteers have joined the district to ensure the success of the campaign. The Cleveland Browns Foundation is a signature partner for “Get 2 School. You Can Make It!” Cleveland Browns players have recorded phone calls, visited schools and appeared in videos to remind students to get to school. The Browns players have to show up every day to be successful, and they carry that message to students — you have to show up to school every day to succeed.
Beyond enlisting players to motivate students to get to school, the Browns Foundation and district partnership strategically removes barriers students face in getting to school.
The Browns Foundation convened a meeting with Cleveland Metropolitan School District and Shoes and Clothes for Kids to positively impact attendance by donating Special Teams Packages to 2,000 students in the district. A Special Teams Package provides students with three school uniforms, a casual outfit, socks, underwear and a gift card for shoes. This partnership helps students who may not be attending school due to a lack of shoes or clothing. Cleveland Metropolitan School District uses data to strategically target students who need clothing to get to school and tracks attendance of students who receive Special Teams Packages to ensure the program is making an impact.
A key part of the campaign’s success has been shifting the mindset from only recognizing perfect attendance to rewarding good or improved attendance. The Browns Foundation has partnered with the district to provide incentives to schools, classes and students who have shown improved attendance. The Browns Foundation has leveraged partnerships and brought other corporate partners to the table, including Arby’s Restaurant Group, which has donated monthly lunches to reward classrooms showing improved attendance and academic performance. GOJO Industries, Inc., is another partner to recently help out with this initiative and will provide Purell hand sanitizing products to schools. Starting next school year, GOJO also will help pilot a hygiene program at a network of schools to curb absences due to illnesses. Again, the district will track data to measure the program’s effectiveness.
As part of encouraging students to come to school, the district has created “You Can Make It Days,” which are days the district has determined to have lower attendance than other days of the year. Cleveland Metropolitan School District analyzed data and identified specific days students are more likely to miss, such as the day after a snow day or the day before a holiday. The district uses “You Can Make It Days” to encourage consistent attendance throughout the year and emphasizes the importance of attending school each day. On “You Can Make It Days,” students who are at school may be treated to surprise visits from Cleveland Browns players, treats from CEO Eric Gordon or raffles for prizes provided by community partners.
The district and the Browns Foundation recently hosted a Chronic Absenteeism Summit held at FirstEnergy Stadium to share their successes and lessons learned with other districts, policymakers and national experts.
To learn more about the program, visit get2schoolcleveland.com.
Chris Woolard is senior executive director for Accountability and Continuous Improvement for the Ohio Department of Education. You can learn more about Chris by clicking here.
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