12 Things School Leaders Should Stop Doing Today

by Institute 2018 Keynote Speaker Jimmy Casas

This guest blog was originally posted at https://jimmycasas.com/blog/. Reposted with permission from the author.

Stop Casas

A couple of weeks ago I was part of a group discussion where a building principal shared that he had been called to the superintendent’s office. You could tell by the tone in his voice that he was a bit nervous about why his superintendent had requested the meeting. He shared that it wasn’t the first time he had been called in to have “a talk.” This got me to thinking how often we behave in similar ways (both intentionally and unintentionally) as building and district leaders when it comes to managing conversations and our decisions, and the negative impact this can have on the overall culture of any organization. Please know I share these with you because at one time or another I have acted in the manner I describe below, even though my intentions were to want to be better, not only for members of my school community, but for my growth as a leader. As I grew and matured into the role of a building principal, I did my best to learn from my mistakes and not repeat them, knowing full well I would fall short at times.

As a building or district leader, here are a few things you might want to consider stopping today. Let’s begin by addressing the scenario above:


  1. Calling staff to your office without offering some explanation of what the meeting will entail. This causes a person’s anxiety level to increase because from the moment they receive notice, their mind will begin to swirl with possibilities of what the meeting is about. And in most cases, people will think the worse.
  2. Giving excuses when you fail to follow up. Understand that when you don’t get back to people in a timely fashion it gives others the impression that you are not organized or in some instances, that their needs are not important to you.
  3. Holding faculty meetings for the sake of just holding them. Unless you have a specific purpose to bring your team together, considering passing on the meeting and showing them how much you value their time by giving it back to them.
  4. Talking negatively about your staff to other staff. Speaking negatively about others actually says more about you than it does about the people you are singling out. Besides, you are kidding yourself if you think that won’t get back to those who you are gossiping about.
  5. Allowing the adults in your school to bully other staff. This is one of the biggest issues facing school improvement initiatives today. We cannot cultivate a high-performing learning environment in our schools if staff is intimidating their own colleagues through their words or actions. This type of negative behavior should never be tolerated and must be addressed.
  6. Using the word “they” when” referring to other members of your school community, especially when things are not going well or we are not happy about an outcome. Focus more on “we” when celebrating something positive or trying to work through any significant challenge.
  7. Making assumptions. It is never a good idea to go into a conversation or a situation believing you know more than you actually do. This has all the potential to create trust issues so avoid doing so at all costs. If you want to know what the issue or dilemma is really about, simply ask before you respond.
  8. Getting frustrated when you think people are not following your directions to your level of expectation. Begin by asking yourself if you provided enough clarity. In other words, were your directions as clear as they could have been? If not, own it, regroup, and try again, this time focusing on more specifics of what you want.
  9. Expecting everything to go as planned. Working in schools can sometimes be unpredictable because the variables (students and teachers) are always changing. How you conduct yourself in these moments will either inspire of deflate your team.
  10. Responding to harsh and not so complimentary emails you receive with an email of your own. Recognize that these moments of frustration, blame or accusatory language expressed in written form by others who are not happy is often more about other external factors and has nothing to do with you. So don’t assume or make it about you (see #7). Pick up the phone and call the person and ask, “What can I do to ease your frustration or disappointment?”
  11. Asking your staff for feedback and then not doing anything with the feedback. If your staff gets frustrated because they don’t think you did anything with the feedback and you think you did, then reflect on how you could have communicated more effectively so they would know the progress you were making with the information they provided you. By taking action and communicating your progress, you will get people to be more invested and honest in their feedback because they believe that something positive is going to come from it.
  12. Trying to manage and lead the school all by yourself. You cannot sustain this pace and do it effectively for any length of time. If you try, it will come at a heavy price – your health or your family. Both options are a loser deal for you.

There isn’t a day that goes by in the work of a school or district leader that is free of challenges. The never-ending stream of problems and challenges that flows across our paths during the course of an entire school year can leave even the most positive and passionate leaders feeling exhausted and depleted. It is easy to get sucked into the daily trivialities that drain our energy and overwhelm us with a laundry list of things to do. So what can you do to provide yourself with a little relief in order to stay fresh and energized in hopes of offering some of that positive energy to others?

Maybe we are thinking about it all wrong. Rather than ask what can we start doing, perhaps a better question would be to ask, “What should I stop doing?”

What thoughts do you have? I would love to hear about them.

Jimmy Casas has more than 22 years of experience as an educational leader, has won several awards (including 2012 Iowa Principal of the Year, 2015 Bammy Award for National Secondary Principal of the Year), and currently serves as the Senior Fellow for the International Center for Leadership in Education. Register today to hear his keynote at MESPA Institute 2018. 

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Fork in the Road: A Symbol for the School Year

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Emotions are the gateway to learning for our students as well as for our staff. How can we tap into that as we start the year? As we know, our first interactions with staff during August workshop week are important for setting the stage for our important work with children. Each school year, I try to find an activity or an object as a touchstone for the year. This year is the Year of the Fork.

Presentation Excerpt from Our Opening Staff Meeting

Everyone this morning received a fork with your name etched on it. I made it just for you. This small gift is a symbol and reminder as we start this important journey of the 2017-2018 school year together.

First, this fork represents a fork in the road. We have 19 new teachers and paraprofessionals this fall. Professionally, the beginning of this school year is a fork in the road for many of you as you join our Kimberly Lane family. Also, it is a fork in the road for all of us as we now get to learn with you and from you. We are so glad you are here. Welcome.

Secondly, each fork has your name on it. No one’s fork looks the same. It represents the personalization we will bring to our work this year. We need to meet each and every child where he or she is, and help each child be better, every day. Academically. Socially. Emotionally. That is our charge for the year. And it is our honor to dedicate our time and talents be a part of such meaningful work in shaping the future. Together.

Finally, I wanted to share a personal story that involves my Grandpa Orville – and forks. Orville carried a fork in the breast pocket of his shirt to every event that involved food. Family reunions. Potlucks. Coffee cake socials in church basements. You name it. All through my youth I didn’t really notice this idiosyncrasy until someone pointed it out to me. At that point, I remember asking Grandpa Orville why he carried the fork. He replied, “So I am always ready for dessert, and a reminder that the best is yet to come.” At his funeral several years ago, we made sure to place a fork in his breast pocket before he was laid to rest, and his eulogy included fond remarks about that trademark fork. Hopefully the fork you received will be a part of many meals, celebrations, and fond memories that you will share with this Kimberly Lane family this year and in the years to come.

As we look ahead to the school year in front of us, I want to thank you in advance for all of your hard work and dedication and for all of the great things we will accomplish together this year. Thank you for all of your efforts to personalize, to help each child be his or her best self every day as we take this journey from this fork in the road. Yes, I can feel it. 2017-2018… the best is yet to come.

Kari Wehrmann

Kimberly Lane Elementary, Wayzata Public Schools
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10 Quick Tips For A Great Year

Welcome to the 17-18 School Year! I hope you had a great summer and are ready to work with students and staff once again.  As you can tell, I didn’t win the Powerball, so I too am hard at work.
As we begin this year, I want to share with you my top ten tips to having a good year:
  1. Take time to build and foster relationships with staff, students and families.
  2. Empower your staff.
  3. Take care of yourself by getting enough sleep, exercise, and eating the right foods; yes, chocolate can be a food group!
  4. When the crazy train filled with other people’s drama comes by, remember that you don’t have to get on; wave and let it pass by.
  5. When you have a bad day, perform a random act of kindness for someone else.
  6. If it’s 5:30 pm and you are still in your office, leave. You aren’t very effective after 5:00 pm anyway.
  7. If it is Saturday or Sunday and you are heading into work, don’t; weekends are meant for family, friends, fun, and rest.
  8. Surround yourself with people who uplift you.
  9. Value yourself and appreciate others.
  10. Develop a new hobby or any hobby for that matter.
  11. Laugh daily, smile always, sing often, and dance for no reason.  (Sorry, it was only supposed to be ten. Ooops!)
As always, let me know if I can ever be of assistance.  Best wishes to a great year!
Nancy Antoine
MESPA President
Principal, Bridgewater Elementary
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Executive Functioning in Early Childhood


At conferences and talks, many early childhood educators are interested in information about executive functioning in children. Recent brain research is demonstrating that the skills and abilities of executive functioning are essential to academic success and effectiveness in the workplace. What can teachers and parents do to support these critical thinking skills?

Luckily for parents and teachers alike, there is a lot that you can do to support these developing skills and capacities. The foundation of executive functioning comes from responsive, consistent, language-rich, child-focused everyday interactions with children.

So, what is executive functioning?
Executive functioning is the coordination of several areas of our brain that allows us to tune out, remember information and manage our actions and reactions. Think of it as the Air Traffic Controller of the brain. The Controller deciphers and remembers information, focuses and prioritizes attention while disregarding the unimportant, and manages internal reactions and distractions, like panic or boredom.

Executive functioning is a set of skills and abilities that begin to develop early in life. It involves the coordination of capacities rooted in the brain. And, they can improve with practice and training. So, what do we want preschool age children to practice?  

  • Self-control. Young children are developing the abilities to regulate their reactions and attention. They are learning to express a full-range of emotions and manage those emotions. At the same time, they are learning to direct their attention and ignore distractions.
  • Flexibility in thinking. Problem-solving skills develop in the second year of life and continue to blossom throughout the first decade of life. Creativity and imagination are central to developing mental flexibility.
  • Memory continues to grow, develop and become more refined. Being able to reflect on what is remembered is an emerging capacity.

Preschool children are just beginning to develop these brain-embedded skills and abilities. The coordination of these areas is just coming on-line. For example, children are learning to focus their attention and solve problems. They are expanding their abilities to wait for turns and listen to others answer questions. Preschool-age children are working to coordinate their thoughts, feelings, and actions.

As parents and teachers, there is much that we can do to encourage three-, four-, and five-year-olds to practice these emerging skills:

  1. Play games that require memory, like I Spy or Simon Says.
  2. Invite pretend play that allows children to invent and reinvent themselves, props and themes.
  3. Encourage problem-solving by asking children to think about how something could happen. For example, we want to eat fruit salad, but there is no fruit in the house. Ask the children, “What should we do?”
  4. Build delay of gratification skills by encouraging children to follow three-part directions, use phrases like “first this, then this” (“First we will cut the fruit and place it in a bowl. Next we will set the table. And then we will eat the fruit salad. “)
  5. Play start and stop games. Count to 10 before starting something. Use “ready, set, go” to announce the beginning of an action. Dance when the music plays and have everyone freeze when it stops.
  6. When putting away clothes or toys, say aloud how the items group. “All of the blocks go in this bin and the cars in the other bin.” Encourage children to help.
  7. Ask children why and what happens questions. “Why do you think we fold the clothes?” “What happens when the letter goes in the mailbox?”
  8. Allow your children to retell stories of their day, their projects or their activities and events. While they may need guidance with the sequence and accuracy of the details, the practice of remembering and retelling is essential.
  9. Play board and card games with simple and “flexible” rules.

Executive functioning begins developing early and forms the foundation for being able to concentrate on important issues with focus and agility. Playing games, encouraging pretend play, supporting problem-solving in young children creates the foundation for future positive school achievement and success in the workforce.

Article by:
Dr. Terrie Rose, Psychologies and Child Development Expert

Dr. Terrie Rose is a licensed psychologist and wellbeing advocate who is transforming our understanding of emotional health and development by seeing from the child’s point of view. Follow her at www.drterrierose.com.

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2 Minutes to Better Relationships with Your Most At-Risk Students

There is much pride in the role of being an elementary school principal. There are many different hats to wear throughout the day and many different kinds of people to work with. One of my favorite aspects of the job is getting to build relationships with students at my school. Granted the job is also very challenging and I am looking for any efficiencies to carry out my work. Building relationships is not an area where shortcuts can be taken but I found an easy way for me to focus my energy and attention in a systematic way that creates more time for me to do my work elsewhere: The 2×10 Strategy! Continue reading

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Future Ready Leaders


Four Essentials of Future Ready Leaders

This is the statistic that disrupted my thinking as an elementary principal:

65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist.

Today’s schools are tasked with serving an increasingly diverse student body in an era of high-stakes accountability with rigorous standards, utilizing technology that is expanding exponentially while preparing students to be future ready for jobs that haven’t been invented. In order to do this effectively, schools need future ready leaders.

Continue reading

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Does Your Building Culture Promote Equity Education?


“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” is a phrase coined by Peter Drucker and made more famous by Ford president, Mark Fields.

Likely all of us in education resonate with that phrase and concept to varying degrees, and I assume everyone is unanimous in thinking that absent a strong culture it is more difficult to move forward with key strategies and initiatives, regardless of how compelling or sound in practice they are. Many of the recommendations outlined in independent studies surrounding equal access to education are embodied in the process of policy making. Policy gets tied up in legislation and politics at the national, state, and local level and is disseminated for implementation in the form of mandates which are meted out procedurally in school districts and ultimately implemented at the school building level. This type of change is slow, cumbersome, frustrating and can take years. In order to create conditions which foster educational equity in your schools, focus on creating a culture which supports equity education. Continue reading

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