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An Exercise in Reflection-Five Steps

What is the most precious commodity in any organization or even in any individual’s day? Time. Our days are so full and crowded with things to do, people to meet, and the perennial fire that needs to be put out, that we often don’t make time to think and plan.  The result is rather than thoughtful responses, we often react.  Summer time is a good time for reflection—with the goal of continuing the practice throughout the year.  Here are five steps to consider.

Learn from Reflection

Step One: Step Away from the Fray

The school year is over and students are enjoying their summer.  Just like most leaders, your work continues. The good news is that you can schedule some time to begin the practice of reflective planning.

For some, first thing in the morning works.  For others, later in the day is more effective.  What is important is to step away from the daily fray, and commit to carving out time for reflection.

Step Two: Leave your Bias at the Door

All of us see issues and situation through our personal lens. That, of course, is important because it allows us to use our experience, expertise and knowledge to interpret information and guide our actions. At the same time—and this is a balancing act that takes practice—we use our experience, expertise and knowledge leaders need to set the bias that is the result of experience aside. When reflecting we need to take time to look at information with a new lens-without the prejudice of past failures or even past successes. The goal is to improve and both the bias of failure and success can get in our way.

Step Three: Determine Your Focus

Reflection needs a focus.  The focus can be your goals for the next year. It can be a specific problem like teacher retention.  Whatever it is, identify the data you need to review to help you make informed decisions.  This presupposes that you have data to analyze. If not, then a good topic for reflection is what data needs to be collected during the year to help you make informed decisions.

Step Four: Create a plan

Create a description of your vision/position based on the data review.  What are you trying to accomplish? What behaviors are you looking for among teachers and students? What resources will be needed? How will you determine you if you are being successful or not?

Step Five—Sharing

Information, ideas, plans—knowledge—need to be shared with others.  Sharing, effective sharing, allows for input, especially input from the people that will be implementing your vision. The act of sharing is another instance when you need to set your bias aside and listen to others.  An indicator that you are sharing effectively is your vision or plan should be changed by the sharing.

Technology has made sharing easier and easier.  There are sites like SurveyMonkey-- https://www.surveymonkey.com/ --that offer a free option. Post your description and then set up a survey to allow for input and comments. Send it to all of your stakeholders. This can be teachers, parents, support staff and yes, even, students.

Here is an important part of Step Five that people forget.  Get back to the people and let them know the results of the sharing. Thank them for their participation and input. Be specific on how their contributions changed/improved your (really now it yours and theirs) plan.


Leading should be a thoughtful process. Time needs to be identified and set aside for leaders to identify what they want to accomplish or how they want to address an issue. Reflection is a time saving strategy.  Although we are often led to believe that leaders are born and what they do comes naturally to them, the truth is that leadership takes practice and reflection.

Friday Reflection: We teach by Example

What kind of culture do you want for your organization?  Most people, leaders and team members, answer “a positive one.”

Like everything else in leadership, creating and maintaining a positive culture is a thoughtful process-it just doesn’t happen by itself.  And like other things in leadership, culture is a reflection and function of your leadership. Your team watches and observes how you lead and how you react and they consciously and unconsciously mimic you.


Teach by Example

Students taught me this lesson years ago.  Each Friday students would gather for student government. Side conversations prior to the opening of the meeting were loud.  I would stand in front of the room and at 9:00 AM call for silence with my arms folded across my chest (please don’t do what I did, I have since learned much more effective behavior management).  Every once in awhile pearls would drop from my mouth like, “I have all day,” or “I can wait as long as I need to.”

One Friday a student approached me and asked if he could kick off the meeting. I said, “Sure.”

The young man got up in front of the group and at 9:00 AM sharp proceeded to do a perfect imitation of me. Arms folded. My tone of voice. The words I used. He had been watching and I had been teaching. He had been learning without knowing. I had been teaching without knowing.

  • What do your actions teach your team?
  • Are you aware of your impact on people?
  • How can you influence people for the good?

Identify a behavior you would like to see your staff emulate and think how you can best model it for them.

5 Low Preparation Strategies Every Teacher Can Use

Differentiation can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be.  Not all differentiation strategies require intensive planning.   After developing the habit of observing your students carefully and paying attention to the factors of high quality instruction, you can begin to add 3 or 4 strategies that require low preparation. Use these weekly for the entire year. By the end of the year, these things will have become second nature to you- they will be at an automatic level.

Here are five low preparation strategies that can be used to differentiate your instruction, your assessments and can also be used as formative assessments.

One: An Easy Way to Begin

Work with a small group for just 5-10 minutes a day. Review what they have learned thus far in the unit. Remediate anything they have mis-learned or failed to learn--help them “fill the potholes.”   Don’t forget to provide enrichment for those who are already rock solid.

Fill the pot holes

Two: Homework Assignments

  • When creating homework assignment, have two available rather than just one. One might be an extension activity for students who have mastered the basics, the other a review or practice of the basics. You might provide the two levels of assignments in folders of 2 different colors so that you can assign by color, not by a degrading label such as the “bluebirds” and the “buzzards.”
  • Another option would be to provide practice of the skills that have been taught in two different assignments, but allow for a choice on the part of the students. Most of the time, homework comes from the adopted curriculum and does not require much teacher preparation.
  • Below is an example of multiple choices for homework in vocabulary. This could be used over and over again, each time a new list of vocabulary words is to be studied.
    • Use any resource available at home to find other words that have the same prefix, suffix, or root word as the vocabulary words.
    • Write the vocabulary words and definitions on flash cards. (Tomorrow, you will trade with a friend.)
    • Create a short story using all of the vocabulary words.
    • Draw and color pictures that represent the meaning of the vocabulary words.
  • Here’s a math example.  The class assignment is to complete 15 problems, adding fractions. The directions for higher achievers is:

“Instead of doing all of these problems, pick two – just so I know that you remember how to add fractions. But I’d like you to spend the remainder of your homework time thinking through one of my dilemmas: We teachers tell you that fractions and decimals are the same. I’m not sure if that is true. When I add 1/3 + 1/3 + 1/3, I get 1. When I add 0.333 [repeating] + 0.333 [repeating] + 0.333 [repeating], I get 0.999 [repeating]. Those aren’t exactly the same. Can you help me figure out why? What happens to the extra 0.001?”

Three: Use a KWL chart

 KWL Chart

This is a simple 3 column chart.  The first column is labeled with a K for what is already known about a given topic.  The second column, labeled with a “W”, for what you want your students to know from the lesson.  The third column is labeled “L” for what is actually learned.

You can use these charts like cheat sheets to spot strengths or gaps in students' base knowledge. This chart attends to the meta-cognitive thought processes of our students- students must know what they know, but more importantly know what they DON”T know so they have fix up strategies- rereading, for example. Also attaching new knowledge to background knowledge your children already have ( K) enhances and deepens comprehension. When reading about the country, if I have only lived in urban areas, a lot of prep time on the part of the teacher would be necessary to ensure I could learn about this new content. IF, however, my grandparents had a farm I would have much more in depth and immediate knowledge of a rural area. These can be done as a class, or individually by students.

Four: Exit Tickets

Print two exit tickets. Present one or the other to each student based on their readiness. Every student is expected to know about the topic but the questions are based on skill level and degree of knowledge.

In the example below, students have been studying simile and metaphor. All students are expected to know both terms, however, you can offer two options for demonstrating that knowledge. Explaining the difference and giving examples, as seen on the first card, is much more sophisticated that simply identifying whether a phrase is a simile or a metaphor, as seen on the second card.

Exit Ticket #1: Explain the difference between simile and metaphor. Give some examples of each in your explanation.

Exit Ticket #2:Happy as a clam is an example of: Circle the correct response- Simile or Metaphor

Five: Non-Compromising Strategies

You can also offer assistance that does not compromise the integrity of what you are trying to accomplish. For example, provide a word bank for difficult words that may need to be used on a test or writing assignment. (Are you testing spelling or students’ understanding of weather? If you are testing knowledge of weather, providing spelling help does not invalidate the test.)

Offer to read any unknown words on any test other than a reading test.

Provide a multiplication table or number line for math. (Yes, we know all students should become fluent in basic facts- maybe you’ll remediate that during small groups. However, a multiplication chart may make it possible for everyone to work on the current skill.)


Remember, start small. You don’t need to create a new differentiated assignment each day for each subject. You can’t. You just can’t. Choose one subject. As you get more comfortable with differentiating assignments, add this strategy to other subjects.

Triggers, and I don’t mean the horse or it is not easy being green

When I was a boy and things were going right for me, the “green face” would appear.  It was something of a cross between nausea and nervousness. Whatever it was, people knew I was upset.


not easy being greeen

As I got older the “green face” evolved into the “jaw breaker.”  When I heard something that was frustrating or angered me, I ground my jaw.  During staff meetings, people would bet on how quickly the “jaw breaker” would appear.

Both of the “green face” and the “jaw breaker” were destructive to my leadership style.  They didn’t inspire confidence.  They didn’t make my staff feel safe.  They demonstrated my lack of self control.  If I couldn’t control myself, how could I expect to lead others and expect them to follow me?

Triggers and Cues

What I needed to do was first figure out what was causing “green face” and “jaw breaker.”  Yes, I know it was when I was upset, but it was important to determine exactly what was getting me upset.  I had the good fortune to have known and worked with Dr. Barry Glick.  He taught me about triggers and cue—if he is reading this, he might be wincing at my interpretation.

Cues are those physical reactions that let us know we are getting upset. It could be your body starting to shake, sweating or eyes tearing up. It could be a “green face” or a “jaw breaker.” When you identify your cues, take note what is happening.

This should help you identify your “triggers.”  The things people do or the situations that cause you to get angry, to think unclearly, to be stressed.  These are also the things that left unmanaged or uncontrolled can cause us to make bad decisions and to act rashly.

What can you do?

Keep track of the things that “trigger” reactions from you—a log is a great way to do this.  Regular reflection and recording your observations are great strategies. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Did I respond out of anger or frustration today?
  • What were the results?
  • Did I get my desired outcomes?
  • What happened right before I responded in anger or frustration?
  • Why did I get angry or frustrated?

Also keep track of the “cues” your body is giving you when you are reflecting on your behavior:

  • Did my body language change?
  • Did my facial expression change?
  • What if any, were my physical reactions? (Sweating, quickening of my breathing, etc.)

Use this information to determine your cues and triggers.

Now what?

Once you have identified your cues and triggers, think of specific strategies and alternative responses you can use to manage them.  Much like we teach students alternatives to fighting, yelling out or being disrespectful, leaders need to manage their responses so they can instill both respect for themselves and others, while allowing them to lead.  Here is an example of what we are talking about.

Frank is an assistant principal.  Whenever he is dealing with teacher observations, he becomes a bit anxious and starts to feel a little queasy. When he has to provide teachers with feedback, and he feels they are defensive, bordering on defiant, he then starts to feel his breathing increase.  He gets angry and his responses are a bit harsh.

In this example, the triggers are conducting the observations themselves and Frank’s perceptions about teacher responses to his feedback, specifically when they sound defensive or defiant.  The cue is his increased breathing.  When Frank feels this way there are some things he can do:

  • Take some deep breaths—controlling your breathing does help.  Practice deep breaths through your nose and out your mouth
  • Stop and think before you respond—if you can’t do this hold off responding until you are in more control

More importantly is once you know the “what” and the “why”, is preparation.    

  • What will you do when you feel one of your cues or are affected by a trigger?
  • Think about and decide on alternative responses and reactions beforehand.
  • Practice them—roles play-with someone you trust.


The first person leaders must lead is themselves.  Leaders need to be aware that how they respond, both verbally and physically (via body language) affects how people see and hear them. It affects the quality of their leadership and therefore affects the quality of their team’s work.  If people feel a leader’s anger or frustration, they most often miss the content of the message.   Delivery is just as important as content. 

Friday Reflection: Watchfulness



People like to be recognized—some because of selfish reasons, but most because we all like our work to be appreciated.  Study after study tells us that money is not the big motivator, satisfaction is.  As leaders we need to be watchful, grateful and expressive about the good work of our team.

Questions for leaders to consider:

  • Does your team know your expectations?
  • Do they know what you are looking for when you visit their classrooms?
  • Is your team aware of goals and objectives and how they relate to your school’s mission?
  • Do you set time aside every day to watch them at work and observe what they are doing?
  • Do you provide immediate feedback and if need be follow up with more explicit feedback later on?
  • Are you collecting the right kind of data and actively using it to guide your leadership and your staff’s work?

Watchful leaders are observant. Watchful leaders are proactive. Watchful leaders protect their people.  Watchful leaders are effective. 

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