Give Thanks For Your Communities

By Judith Brockway, Principal, New York Mills Elementary, New York Mills, MESPA Western Division President Elect


With Thanksgiving and the giving season just around the corner, I can’t help but feel grateful for the wonderful staff, students, parents, and community that I work with and within. We are a team. We are a school family! We truly rely on each other to help make a difference in the lives of the students that we teach. Without each other, none of that is possible!

Thinking about giving and sharing made me think about a true story that I once heard. Jamie Vollmer, a self-proclaimed critic of public education who also happened to be the keynote speaker at a conference I once attended, shared a true story about himself at that conference and his words were so powerful that I feel compelled to share his message with all of you – some of you may even be familiar with it.

Vollmer was a businessman whose company made “the best blueberry ice cream in America.” Because of his business expertise, he was asked to make recommendations for and speak to staff in schools. He and others in the business community felt that schools should be run like businesses. One day during one of his lectures about “accountability measures” and how schools needed to “reward success and punish failure,” a teacher stood up and quietly asked him what he did when his blueberry shipment didn’t meet his AAA standards. He immediately replied that he “would send them right back!” That brave teacher reminded him that students are not blueberries that can be sent back if they don’t meet our standards. We accept and teach them all just as they are. That is why we are a school, not a business. This teacher changed his life forever with her simple words.

Hundreds of children arrive at our schools each and every day. This mass of diverse and demanding bodies requires constant attention from the moment they arrive, and teachers spend their entire day immersed in the task of teaching their students so that they can meet the standards. From early morning to late afternoon, teachers and all staff run at full tilt. They are prepared and determined every day to make a difference. Our teachers teach more children to higher levels in more subjects in more creative and dynamic ways than at any other time in history.

But we cannot do it alone. We need help! We need our parents and our communities to share in the joys (and heartaches) of raising and educating our next generation of respectful, kind, caring, and responsible citizens.

Vollmer states, and I believe, that a fundamental transformation is continuing to take place in America. The future of everyone is tied to the quality of our schools as never before. No one can accurately predict what jobs will be created in the next 20 years. This shift and others have triggered a dramatic increase in what our students need to know when they graduate. In a single generation we have raised the bar to universal student achievement and for ALL students to be college- and career-ready by the time that they graduate. No generation of educators in the history of the world has been asked to accomplish this goal until now!

We have tripled the amount of curriculum that our students are expected to learn. There has been an explosion of standardized tests and test preparation. We have expanded early childhood programs and increased opportunities for remediation and enrichment all while trying to support the mental, physical, and emotional well-being of every child who comes through our doors. All the while, failure is just not an option!

I am awed by the rigors of the job and moved by the effort and dedication of the people who teach and support our students every day! Abraham Lincoln once said “Public sentiment is everything. WITH it, nothing can fail; AGAINST it, nothing can succeed.” Parents and the communities within which we all live have the final word regarding our schools and our children’s successes or failures. We continue to need their ongoing understanding, trust, permission and support to be able to help kids succeed in the 21st century.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Give thanks for your parents and the communities that you live in! I know I will!

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We Can’t Do It Alone and We Shouldn’t

By Josie Koivisto (@Eaglecreekers), Principal, Eagle Creek Elementary, Shakopee, MESPA South Suburban Division President Elect


We often talk about teachers being isolated or teaching in silos. We want to break down the silos and foster collaboration. We want them to share with each other, learn from each other and grow together. School administration is also isolating, but for different reasons. Being a school administrator can be a lonely job. You were a well-respected teacher with support from your team and then you crossed to the dark side. Many administrators are the only one in their school and some in their district, so they do not have a group to readily lean on like when they were a teacher. I encourage you to find ways to connect with other administrators to break down your silo, share with each other, learn from each other and grow together.

There are ways to connect with other administrators on a daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly basis.


  • Twitter: follow people or organizations. Many share inspirational quotes or ideas. They also share articles and resources.
    • To get started create a Twitter account (directions).
    • Find people or organizations to follow (search directions) and follow them. Start with @MEPSAprincipals and see a Twitter list of suggested follows from MESPA.
    • Begin scrolling through the posts, as you read more you find others to connect with and follow.
    • Once you are comfortable accessing Twitter and following others, start posting yourself (how to tweet).
  • Facebook: follow groups created by principals for principals. There are private groups you must ask to join. You can ask questions and share ideas or resources.
    • To get started, create a Facebook account (directions), and make sure you list your profession as principal or assistant principal and the name of your school, as many groups verify you before approving you to join.
    • Search for groups and ask to join. Here are two that I like:


  • Twitter Chats: You can follow and participate in Twitter Chats with other principals – search by their hashtag, like #NAESPChat or #PIAchat (See for more Twitter chats to follow).
  • If you have at least one other principal in your district, hold a weekly meeting to collaborate. Share ideas, problem-solve together, conduct book studies, and just listen. It’s important to connect. I am fortunate to be in a district with five elementary principals and one early childhood principal. We meet weekly for two hours to discuss new learning (book studies, PD, initiatives) and nuts/bolts (questions, mandates, sharing of non-curricular ideas).


  • Read professionally
    • Books on topics of interest to you
    • ASCD has great books, articles and “The Principal Magazine”
    • Use the MESPA forum to connect or share ideas. It is created by Minnesota elementary principals for Minnesota elementary principals. Together we can!

A Few Times a Year

  • Attend your division meetings – Find your division information here. These are great meetings to connect with other administrators in your area of Minnesota. The meetings are set in the fall, so make a plan with your staff to make your attendance a priority. The connections made with other administrators at these meetings help you understand you are not alone, those issues happen to others, and give you hope that you are doing the right work. It’s hard work, but it’s the right work.


  • Attend MESPA Winter Institute in February (February 6-8 this year)! Learning from other administrators in Minnesota and having time to network, meet new people, and connect with others you have not seen in a year is worth every minute. Start making plans today so you are able to leave your building for this event.
  • Attend Professional Development opportunities provided by MESPA. Great content, but also a great opportunity to connect with other administrators. The networking at professional development is positive and powerful.

We have 900+ administrators in Minnesota connected to MESPA. Use the resources and opportunities provided to connect with other administrators to break down your silo, share with each other, learn from each other and grow together. We don’t have to do this job alone and we shouldn’t.

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How Can One Meeting Produce Energy and Inspiration?

Craig Anderson (@Craig_SPPS), Principal at Battle Creek Elementary and MESPA St. Paul Division President


Today was a great day. I feel energized, inspired, and ready to tackle another school year! Why? Because today we had our first MESPA St. Paul Division Meeting. You may be asking yourself, what made this an inspiring meeting? How can one meeting produce energy and inspiration?

It’s good to remember that culture matters. We must honor staff, celebrate new beginnings, be generous with compliments, break bread together, and reach out to colleagues. I’d suggest a MESPA Division Meeting, getting in touch with another principal, or just a phone call to a friend. And you can take the lessons of a division meeting and apply them to your school meetings as well!

Let me describe the St. Paul Division’s recent meeting and you can be the judge.

craig.pngEvery year the St. Paul Division of MESPA caters a luncheon to kick off the school year. We ask all of the St. Paul Elementary School principals to invite their office staff to the luncheon.  Fortunately, Gary Havir of Horace Mann Insurance picks up the tab for the office staff and the principals and assistant principals pay their own way. (That tricky gift statute!) Today we had more than 80 people in attendance and it’s a great time to collect sunshine and EPAC dues for the year. (This is why the St. Paul division always ROCKS the EPAC charts at Institute!)

We welcomed everyone to a new school year and introduced St. Paul’s MESPA leadership for the year. Then, principals honored their office staff with compliments. Principals and assistant principals told the others at their table all the great things about their office staff. Then, after a few minutes we called for public appreciation for office staff for everyone to hear. Two or three people shared.

Next, we welcomed and introduced new principals, assistant principals, and administrative interns. (The sunshine committee gives them a gift for their office: a nice plant. We always joke that they have to keep it alive!) This is when you could introduce new teachers and staff at a meeting at your school and give them a welcome gift!

We ended the meeting with a buffet lunch at Burger Moe’s, a nice place in downtown St. Paul.

It feels good to chat with friends. It feels good to honor those who work hard for kids, families, and the entire staff. It feels good to break bread and relax during this crazy time of year. And it feels good to connect all of our schools through kindness, food, and fun.

This is why I feel energized, inspired, and ready to tackle another school year! Attend a MESPA Division Meeting this year, and take some lessons back to apply to your own staff meetings!

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What is ENVoY and How does it Impact Teacher Efficacy?

Dr. Amy Reed (@AmyReedEDU), Principal at Ramsey Elementary and MESPA North Suburban President-Elect


As a former classroom teacher, interventionist, and instructional/Educational Non-Verbal Yardsticks (ENVoY) coach, I have seen the many benefits that ENVoY has provided our educational system over the years. ENVoY by Michael Grinder is a classroom management program that allows the teacher to systematically build relationships with students while increasing their independence through clear visuals and consistent verbal and non-verbal communication.

The most significant byproduct of deep levels of ENVoY implementation relates to teacher efficacy, which gives teachers the ability to perform at higher levels while having a positive mindset about their work as a professional.

As a principal, the benefits of continuing my journey with ENVoY and advanced coursework focused on group dynamics and coaching are essential to my focus as a leader. These opportunities have allowed me to continue to practice and refine my skills with students and staff in an even more meaningful way and enhances my capacity to lead with influence.

The article below is a summary of my dissertation, which is titled An Examination of Educational Non-Verbal Yardsticks Implementation (ENVoY) and the Impact on Teacher Efficacy. It is my hope and dream that this research will reach the hands and hearts of educators, administrators, and system leaders as it demonstrates the statistically significant impact that ENVoY has on positively impacting individual and school-wide efficacy.

Relationships Precede Learning

Classroom management has long been recognized as a potential problem in our educational system and deserves serious attention, as the landscape of today’s classroom continues to evolve and change as the students who are served become more culturally, academically, physically, socially, and emotionally diverse. The analysis of peer-reviewed research clearly shows that creating a safe and nurturing classroom environment is critical to meeting the emotional, social and academic learning needs of students and that classroom management training is a key component to supporting both pre-service and in-service teachers (Emmer & Stough, 2001).

Classrooms are increasingly culturally and linguistically diverse and have a wide range of learning abilities in every class, and because most teachers are Caucasian and derive from middle-class backgrounds (Tileston & Darling, 2008), these educators may be unintentionally unaware of the needs that diverse learners require, which include the following: significant relationships, assistance with prioritizing and planning, problem solving, locus of control, ability to trust, and responding to criticism.

It is imperative that teachers are provided with an effective classroom and behavior management program that is centered on building relationships and trust with students to support high levels of student engagement while building educators’ ability to teach high-leverage instructional strategies. Marzano’s research (2003) showed that students in the classes of the most effective teachers demonstrated four times the gains of the students in the least effective teacher’s classroom. Over the course of one school year, highly effective teachers can expect to see a student achievement gain of 53 percentile points, while a least effective teacher is expected to see an increase of 14 percentile points (Marzano et al. 2003). This meta-analysis conducted by Marzano (2003) demonstrates that optimized learning occurs in the presence of a calm and safe classroom environment which values all students as member of the learning community while fostering risk taking and academic growth.

Shifting from Power to Influence with the Educational Non-Verbal Yardsticks (ENVoY) Framework

Managing with influence involves the teacher using less eye contact, proximity and voice volume in order to preserve the teacher-student relationship while fostering increased productivity through getting the student on task in a more respectful, calm and indirect manner (Grinder, 1993).

Proactively supporting the learning environment through clear and consistent non-verbal communication, such as implementing consistent non-verbal messages and using visual supports increases student relationships, time-on-task and student memory (Mundschenk, et al., 2011; Grinder, 1993; Marzano et al., 2003). Effective non-verbal communication that focuses on using influence instead of power is the most successful in preserving relationships and fostering productivity (Zuckerman, 2007; Grinder, 1993). Teachers who are systematic with their non-verbal messages are able to communicate more effectively and efficiently with their students (Grinder, 1993). The non-verbal empowerment patterns that teachers employ include proximity, eye contact, silence, and explicit body language (Grubaugh, 1989; Marzano, Marzano, & Pickering, 2003).

The ENVoY classroom management framework is centered on building relationships and trust, fostering independence and responsibility, and responding to students using influence instead of power (Grinder, 1993).

Developed by Michael Grinder in 1993, ENVoY was created after researching over 5,000 classrooms world-wide in order to establish effective patterns of non-verbal communication. The clear patterns that successful teachers demonstrated became the Seven Gems of ENVoY, which include the following: Freeze Body, Above Pause Whisper, Raise Your Hand vs. Speak Out, Exit Directions, Most Important Twenty Seconds, Off/Neutral/On, and the Influence Approach. Grinder (1993) has also developed a professional development model that is committed to “reversing the trend of over-training and under-implementing” through a coaching model that allows the practitioner to receive refinements and suggestions that can be immediately implemented. Additionally, the ENVoY certification protocols developed by Burns, Brickman, and Grinder (2013) enable staff to clearly understand the verbal and non-verbal communication strategies that support consistent communication during the four phases of the teaching lesson: getting attention, teaching, transition, and seatwork.

Grinder, Burns and Brickman (2017) have created ENVoY certification requirements that support teachers with clarity around the certification criteria processes aligned to ENVoY certifications and a more rigorous ENVoY Demonstration Certification.

ENVoY Gems and Requirements for Whole Group Certification (click to view)

ENVoY Gems and Requirements for Demonstration Whole Group Certification (click to view)

Teacher Efficacy

While self-efficacy is directly related to the belief about personal competence in a given area, teacher efficacy is defined as the belief and the ability as an educator to promote student success. (York-Barr, Sommers, Ghere & Monte, 2006).

In contrast to self-efficacy, the construct of teacher efficacy is more humanistic in nature and plays a critical role in relation to effectively implementing classroom management procedures (Johnson, 2012; Grinder, 2009). Understanding the differences between self-efficacy and teacher efficacy allows the educator to interact with their students in a manner that produces less power and control in the classroom when operating through the lens of teacher efficacy (Thomas and Mucherah, 2014). This distinction directly aligns to the work of Michael Grinder’s (2015) belief of operating with the power of influence instead of using power and control to produce a result while managing the classroom. According to Jerald (2007), Efficacy beliefs have been found to “exert an indirect influence on student achievement by virtue of the direct effect they have on teachers’ classroom behaviors and attitudes” (p. 3). Additionally, Jerald’s (2007) review of research highlights the following positive influences that stem from teachers’ positive efficacy beliefs: greater levels of planning and organization, a willingness to experiment with new teaching methods to meet the needs of their diverse learners, increased persistence and higher levels of resilience when facing a setback, being less critical of students when they make mistakes, and being less likely to refer a difficult student for a special education evaluation.

A Study of ENVoY Implementation and Teacher Efficacy

A statistically significant difference exists in teacher efficacy in the areas of student engagement, instructional strategies, and classroom management for teachers who were highly implementing ENVoY and have achieved advanced certification.

The purpose of this correlational study completed by Amy Reed was to explore the relationship between Educational Non-Verbal Yardsticks (ENVoY) implementation (independent variable) to determine if this innovation has an impact on teacher efficacy in student engagement, classroom management, and instructional strategies (dependent variables). Additionally, the study confirmed whether or not teacher efficacy is viewed the same by all teaching staff across 24 elementary schools or if there are differences based on a teacher’s level of ENVoY certification. To determine if a relationship exists between the variables, the district modified Teachers’ Sense of Efficacy (TES) survey was administered by the district Research, Evaluation and Testing department to all licensed staff at all 24 elementary schools in the district of study, with the one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) selected as the statistical test. The sample size was 1,182 licensed elementary teachers. The strongest impact of ENVoY was felt in the area of classroom management between the demonstration, certified and not certified teachers. It is also important to note that the difference between ENVoY demonstration teachers and certified teachers is significant in the areas of engagement, instruction and management. Additionally, there is a statistically significant difference between the ENVoY demonstration teachers and not certified teachers in the areas of engagement, instruction, and classroom management.

These data show that ENVoY training and certification levels definitely changed how teachers felt about their practice. It is important to note that the more advanced levels of ENVoY training and certification occur with the demonstration group, and the data supports that this group of teachers has the highest perceptions of teacher efficacy in engagement, instruction, and classroom management.

Concluding Remarks

The results of this study specific to ENVoY implementation and teacher efficacy have implications for potential positive change on the individual level and organizational level. ENVoY is aligned to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) as a provision in this that is aimed at supporting and growing local innovations—including evidence-based and place-based interventions developed by local leaders and educators. Additionally, the data may inform local and national school leaders to incorporate ENVoY as an innovative school reform or improvement strategy by measuring the impact it has on staff, students, and the entire school system.

Dan Domenech, the Executive Director of the School Superintendents Association (AASA) stated the following after visiting an ENVoY certified school: “As I was observing, what occurred to me is one of the things we are trying to do nationally, and one of the things that our new education law, ESSA, attempts to do is to introduce into the classroom, all of the social emotional factors that are so critical to learning. That’s what I saw this morning, I saw a classroom where the social emotional needs are being met by the teacher at the same time that they are teaching, so that has to have a major impact, if not immediate, on achievement. (Retrieved at

Educational systems must continue to research the effectiveness of innovative school reform strategies, such as ENVoY, to create implementation plans that are aimed at comprehensive school improvement. It is imperative to consider the findings to determine how innovative programs such as ENVoY, are related to ESSA and could impact teachers at the school district and national level.

We look forward to hearing your thoughts and feedback on this study!

Looking for references? Find them in the comment section!


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Reforming Dysfunctional Teams

Dr. Tracy Reimer (@TracyReimer53), Bethel University Program Director: EdD Leadership in K-12 Administration

Mrs. Becky Gerdes (@BeckyJoGerdes), Bethel University Adjunct Faculty: Special Education Department



Trust matters because it is at the core of everything we do. With trust, few things are out of reach; without it, efforts are undermined. Dysfunctional teams often have a history of miscommunication, misuse of school resources, and conflict. Reforming a dysfunctional team to functional requires more than establishing trust; it requires restoring trust. The restoration of trust can be a long and difficult process.


Principal leadership is essential to restoring a trusting environment through the direction of the school’s mission and vision; team members know where they are heading and why they are headed there. Principals committed to restoring trust create formal structures such as PLCs, staff meetings, and grade-level meetings with established norms that shift control from the principal to the teachers. Trust focused principals ensure that clear, scaffolded expectations for group task(s) and products are articulated and supported with modeling and examples.

Principals begin the restoration process by planning low-risk exchanges that are social in nature and identifying easily accomplished group tasks. Trust grows through positive interactions with increased frequency and duration. Low-risk exchanges reduce vulnerabilities and set the stage for future high-risk exchanges such as sharing student achievement data and addressing classroom instructional practices (Kochanek, 2005). Positive team momentum builds and fosters a shared purpose. Individuals realize they have a genuine contribution to make, and the team realizes they can leverage their talent to achieve significant results. Group members become confident, entrusted, and empowered. Trust grows through interactions, perceived intentions, and sense of obligation.


Some teams use norms very well and others don’t.  Highly functional teams develop norms and follow them.  When norms are not followed, a school leader can hear a variety of complaints from teams and their team leaders.  Sometimes a frustrated team leader will tell the principal that her/his team developed norms but they are just ignored. Other teams appear to get along very well but don’t get very much accomplished.  This team leader will probably say his/her team is pretending to follow the norms.  Other teams might not accomplish very much yet resist having norms because one or more team members think they are unnecessary.

Steps principals can support and enforce to ensure that norms work:

  1. Develop norms as a team.  Most teams have completed the process, perhaps many times.
  2.  Post norms in the meeting area or have them listed on the agenda. An additional step teams can take to commit to the norms is to have everyone sign them and post the signed copy on the wall in the workspace where the team meets.
  3. Verbally review the norms at the beginning of team meetings.  Although this may seem unnecessary, the verbal review is a group reminder and usually takes less than a minute.  As teams work together, they may find that the review of norms at the beginning of each meeting is unnecessary, but this typically only happens after a team has worked together for an extended period of time and consistently followed the norms the group set.
  4. Remind team members when someone is not following one of the norms.  Often times there are one or two norms that a team struggles with.  Determining a signal such as the time-out signal or holding up the number of fingers for the number of the norm being violated provides a non-confrontational strategy to address norm protocol.
  5.  Evaluate how well the group followed the norms at the end of every meeting.  This only takes a few minutes.  It can be as simple as going through the list and having everyone give a fist to five on each norm and then discussing norms that are less than a five to establish a commitment to improve.
  6. Discussing and role modeling how to handle conflict amongst team members are helpful steps that leaders can take so they are prepared to support teams with norm setting and handling situations when team members break norms.


Trust is the foundation of a successful team relationship. Any time a group forms there is a play for roles, power, responsibilities, and positioning.  This is natural and happens in professional settings.  The engagement becomes dysfunctional if it goes unchecked.  It is common for team members to have triggers, quirks, and behavior issues.  The goal is that the team manages their interactions. When norms are developed in collaboration and adhered to, a safe place for teamwork is created.  It is important to remember the quality of the team impacts student performance, the school environment, and the overall school operations (DuFour & Marzano, 2011).  A leader has the ability to create an environment where people are encouraged to work together using their talents and skills to achieve common goals.  Intentional planning builds connected and collaborative teams.


DuFour, R., & Marzano, R. J. (2011). Leaders of learning: How district, school, and classroom leaders improve student achievement. Solution Tree Press.

Kochanek, J. R. (2005). Building trust for better schools: Research-based practices. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

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Don’t Forget to Celebrate

by Chris Bjerklie (@ChrisBjerklie), Principal, J.A. Hughes Elementary School


Each May I find myself reflecting on the current school year and wondering if J.A. Hughes Elementary School made a difference in the lives of our students. Did we better our students? Did we better our school? Is our community of Red Lake Falls better because of our actions?

Like most all of you, we have multiple forms of data and assessments telling us how our students performed over the year. We look at MCA results to measure growth from year to year. We look at formative and summative assessment for proof of the difference we made in student learning and how to drive our instruction. Did our students respond to the interventions we gave? Did we make our students better people for the world in which we live?

This year J.A. Hughes Elementary and its 190 students in Northwest Minnesota did its part to better the world. The best part is not a single test score will show the impact!

Every April in Red Lake Falls the Diane Brumwell Memorial Hoops for Hope basketball tournament takes place. It is more than a tournament though; it is a spaghetti feed, silent auction, fundraiser, and a basketball tournament. Hoops for Hope is organized by Diane’s sons Jason and Ryan, husband Dick, and daughters Heather and Stephanie. Due to the wonderful people involved, Hoops for Hope continues to grow each year from its humble beginning thirteen years ago.

Hoops for Hope is made up of a group of everyday people that have become one big, extended family. When this family gets together, they do their part to better the world by raising funds to rid the world of cancer. Every penny raised during the Hoops for Hope weekend is donated to the V Foundation to help fund research to end cancer.

This year J.A. Hughes Elementary School joined the family and jumped in full swing. We challenged our students to donate $1,500. If we met our school goal, 4 teachers and I would get Mohawks.  What happened next was amazing! Over the next 2 weeks J.A. Hughes Elementary didn’t just meet this goal, we smashed the goal – to the tune of $2,505.00! So, we celebrated in true J.A. Hughes Elementary School fashion. Four teachers and I got Mohawks and others dyed their hair. There was lots of laughing, chanting, smiling, and a few tears were shed.


Undeniably, we made a difference in the world. The difference I’m referring to is not measured by tests, report cards or any other form of assessment though. The difference I’m referring to is almost impossible to measure. We made a difference; we bettered the world.

“The difference I’m referring to is not measured by tests, report cards or any other form of assessment.”

Some might say we wasted valuable instruction time in the heart of MCA season. Instead, I say we learned some valuable lessons over the 2 weeks we raised funds. We learned it is okay to give and not receive a prize. We learned it is okay to celebrate an accomplishment. We learned it is okay to help someone you’ll never meet. We learned that it takes everyone to reach a goal. Most importantly, we learned that a small elementary school in Red Lake Falls, Minnesota with 190 students has the potential to change the world!

As you are ending the school year, don’t forget to celebrate! Missing an hour of instruction during the school day will not cause the world to end. All too often we look at what else we could have done, or have yet to do instead of all we accomplished. We have all accomplished great things over the last 9 months, don’t forget to acknowledge them!

Have a great summer, but don’t forget to celebrate first!


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Lessons Learned as a Focus School

by Jen Larva (@jlarva4371), proud principal of Lowell Elementary School in the Duluth Public School District


As we are wrapping up our four-year designation as an MDE Focus school, I spent some time celebrating our work with my leadership team. I started on this journey with the team after they had completed their first year in the process. The struggle of putting together a Leadership Team structure and defining the work to be completed the first year is often mentioned as we realize how easy it all seems now.

Our leadership team has definitely grown into the role and is currently able to share the knowledge and experiences gained with the other teams being implemented across our district. The following are a few key lessons learned as we received our MDE supports and training and made significant improvements to the growth and achievement of our students:

Lesson 1: Leadership teams are integral

Continuous improvement efforts begin at the leadership team level. Our teams do a bulk of the heavy lifting when it comes to examining the data, making instructional decisions, implementing and then monitoring our plans.

Our works starts with the comprehensive needs assessment (CNA) where different types of collected data are recorded and analyzed. Reflection on the review helps to identify the next steps and provides us with more opportunities for collecting data. The team then does the hard work of determining how to address the root cause and make necessary changes.

All our work gets brought back to the grade-level teams through the PLC process.

Lesson 2: Laser-like focus on instructional practices

No longer is a leadership team responsible for planning potlucks! Practice profiles are the drivers that get all of our staff on the same page with our instructional strategies to address the gaps revealed in our CNA. Our leadership team carries the load of researching instructional practices, developing a practice profile, determining how the staff will be trained in the new practice and then analyzing the data collected during walkthroughs.

Each meeting basically has the same agenda that focuses on identifying celebrations, reviewing our progress on our practice profiles, reviewing data, updating the team on PLC work being done in the grade-levels and determining what needs to be communicated back to our stakeholders. This consistency has allowed us to focus on the important work that needs to be accomplished to make changes.

Lesson 3: A fidelity check is a learning walk

As our staff rolled out our practice profiles, we wanted to ensure that teachers were adopting these instructional practices to fidelity. As a building principal, I felt it was important to include the Leadership team on these walkthroughs. We created a Google form for each profile and began scheduling our fidelity checks.

The most powerful learning that happened was way more than the data; it was the self-reflection of the teachers doing the fidelity checks as a team. Through reflection, teachers would make great connections and further their understanding of the instructional practice. Teachers on the leadership team now take along grade-level partners to conduct checks using the shared tool. The learning has spread out, impacting more teachers.

Lesson 4: Accountability

Who do we want our teachers to be accountable to? Obviously, we want our teachers to follow through on embedding the instructional practices in order to make improvements for the benefit of our students. Leadership has taken on the role of holding teachers accountable to each other through the PLC process. Each Leadership team member is part of a unique PLC and is responsible for documenting at each PLC meeting and sharing progress at Leadership. I used to think the building principal needed to rotate between all PLCs to ensure that the work was being done. This was almost impossible!  However, by allowing leadership to take the lead, my time is better served with my MTSS Data Review Team that meets with each PLC every 6 weeks.

“To lead people, walk beside them. As for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence … When the best leader’s work is done, the people say, ‘We did it ourselves!’” – Lao Tsu, Chinese philosopher

by Jen Larva (@jlarva4371), proud principal of Lowell Elementary School in the Duluth Public School District

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