5 ways to increase student learning through leadership

Step One

Understand all teachers and administrators are on a hero’s journey:

Maybe they’ve just received the call to adventure to change students’ lives for the better. Maybe they’re in a crisis. Maybe they’ve been transformed by the adventure but are now back in the status quo. It’s important to recognize we’re all in different places.

Step Two

Determine your “Why”. Why do you do what you do? Not “How” or “What”, but “Why”?

Many institutions start with the “What?” Others have a large number of “Why’s”, and this results in a lot of implementations. When there’s no coherence between “Why’s”, things tend to get out of hand. The drivers for decision making become out of whack, and it’s possible the wrong drivers surreptitiously sneak into even the best well-intentioned program implementations.

The “Why” should lack boilerplate jargon and cliches. A great “Why” I heard from a colleague recently was: I want to teach every student as if he or she is my own child.

What a wonderful “Why”! It says so much in so few words. People understand what you mean when you say a “Why” like that. It means every decision is for the benefit of the child. All things will be done (or not done) because it’s good for the kids.

Step Three

Once the “Why” has been established, it’s time to spread the word. You need to find someone to follow you.

Notice how important the first follower is. The first follower is the person who turns what the “lone nut” is doing into a movement. This person is responsible for getting the “Why” adopted. Leaders must tell themselves the following statements:

  • My position of power does not guarantee followers.
  • My first follower will become just as important as me.
  • My authority may diminish as others are empowered.
  • Everything in the above bullet points is fine with me.

Step 4

OK, you have a “Why” and a following (or at least a first follower). How does the message spread? If the message is spreading fine on its own, what can you do to help refine it and move to the next level?

Tell your story (Why) in a simple, direct, and supercharged way.

Communication is important and frequently overlooked. Oftentimes, leaders believe there’s good communication when in fact there isn’t. I recommend telling your story (Why) over and over in a way that’s simple, direct, and supercharged.

Step 5

When everyone has an approximate visualization of where he or she is on the hero’s journey… when the “Why” has been established… when the first follower is attracting others to the tribe… and when the story is being told in a simple, direct, and supercharged kind of way… then capacity can be built.

Here’s the equation I believe will help a school or district build capacity:

Common “Why” + shared skill = Capacity

“Shared skills” is where coherence is so key–all members must understand the common tools and programs being used to help students learn. The only way this is possible is to have a small number of programs, simple systems (lowercase “s”, by the way), and an established way of teaching teachers and administrators.

Steve Jobs once said the following:

People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.

To be a leader, you must say no to a thousand programs, interventions, devices, apps, and philosophies before saying one “yes”. This sentiment, in conjunction with the five above steps, will create an outstanding leader in the field of education.

Flash Fiction

More information about flash fiction here.


Mort sat at the bar. The GLARE eyeWEAR rested high on the bridge of his nose. When the woman looked up from her empty glass, GLARE scanned her face.

This is Tiffany, GLARE wrote on the lens. Her favorite drink is a gin and tonic. According to Wikipedia, it is made with gin and tonic water poured over ice. It is usually garnished with a slice or wedge of lime. The amount of gin varies according to taste. Suggested ratios of gin-to-tonic are 1:1, 1:2, 1:3, and 2:3. It is commonly referred to as a G and T.

“Would you like a G and T?” Mort asked.

She looked at him with blurry eyes. “Oh my God. Are you seriously wearing those glasses?”

GLARE opened her Facebook profile. Tiffany enjoys nights out with friends and Fifty Shades of Grey

“Yes,” Mort said, “I mostly use them for reading. I just started Fifty Shades of Grey.”

“Wow,” Tiffany said, “when I didn’t think it could get any lower.” She drank melted ice and waved her glass at the bartender. “Frank, this guy is hitting on me with those creepy internet glasses.”

Frank slapped a white towel over his shoulder and crossed his arms. GLARE scanned his face.

Frank is very active on social media. His likes include CrossFit, protein, and Fireball whiskey.

Mort dabbed a cocktail napkin on his forehead. “Do you know of any CrossFit gym locations?”

Frank nodded toward the exit, and the bouncer walked over. Mort tried smiling. “I’d like to buy a round of Fireball for everyone,” he said.

“Now you’re using those things to look me up, aren’t you?” Frank said. He looked at Tiffany. “What kind of world are we living in?”

The bouncer breathed heavily. Mort turned so GLARE could scan him.

Brian is interested in opening a 401k. He has been asking his friends for advice via Twitter. I think this information is your only hope. 

Brian grabbed Mort’s collar and pulled him past the pool tables to the side door. He was about to throw him into the alley when Mort said: “I won’t charge to help you tax-defer up to $51,000 in taxes for 2013!”

Brian stopped. “Those glasses just don’t quit, do they?”

“I don’t know how to turn them off.” Mort couldn’t hear himself over the beating of his heart.

Brian looked around as if they were being watched. “I’ll let you go nicely if you can find a way to charge less than one percent in fees.”

“I can do that,” Mort said. “GLARE is already bringing up the information–”

“Just get out of here,” Brian said.

“Sure thing. I’ll email you when I get to my office tomorrow morning.”

“How do you have my…? Get the hell out of here.” Brian slammed the door.

Mort looked around. A rat darted into the middle of the alleyway.

According to Wikipedia, a 2011 controlled study found that rats are actively prosocial. They demonstrate altruistic behaviour to other rats in experiments, including freeing them from cages. When presented with readily available chocolate chips, test subjects would first free the caged rat, and then share the food. All female rats in the study displayed this behavior, while 30% of the males did not.

“Interesting,” Mort said.