General Leadership

Be Memorable

It is job search time for many people.  The international teacher fairs are going on right now all over the world.  Teachers and administrators are trying to connect for the perfect hiring spot.  Everyone is looking for the perfect fit.

The reality?  The hiring process at an international job search fair for teachers is a efficient, necessary evil.

You have roughly 3 days from start to finish.  That is time to get there, hand out resumes, have first meetings, set up interviews, have interviews, set up more interviews, try to remember who you are interviewing with and what they are on about, and hopefully, if all goes well, you walk out with a job.

I recently presented at an MYP Job A Like in Beijing.  During my time there, I met a lot of people.  Names, faces, shaking hands, answering questions during the speaking, all of it becomes a blur.  It does not help that I don’t remember names all that well, but I do remember faces.

At the end of the event, we had a nice social gathering.  Of course, the obligatory handshakes, introductions, and exchanging of business cards occurs.  Standard meet and greet things.

During this, one man, whom I had spoke with early says, “I should give you my business card”.  While I am finding mine he asks where I am from, I tell him the Seattle area.  He then starts to mumble a bit under his breath.  Something about “Seattle, who is from Seattle”.  Then he says, something along the lines of “oh I will give you this one.  He is a good player.”

He hands me a player card for Ray Borque of the Boston Bruins.  Let’s just say I was very confused.  Until he explains it is his business card.  He hands out hockey player cards with his business information on the back side.  You see, his role is that of a developmental coach and helps run an ice hockey academy.  He explained he tries to give cards of players to people from their home town or some where close, which is why Seattle confused him.

Now, I still have Michael’s business card.  It has his information on one side and a picture of him and a hockey team on the other.  I won’t forget Michael, he is memorable.

What makes you memorable?  What makes you stand out?  What are you known for?  And looking ahead to this new year, what do you want to be remembered for?

I am looking at this card thinking of the time and place I met Michael.  He stood out.  If I ever needed to hire a hockey coach, I would consider contacting him.  Consider how you might stand out in the coming year in your field.

I think I am going to make a change to my business card now.

General Leadership Instructional Leadership

Leadership Styles – What is your Style for 2020?

As a leader, we have style.  A way we lead our group.  Our leadership style impacts how our groups perform underneath us.  Our style dictates how those outside our organization perceive us in our actions.  Looking ahead to the year 2020 we should ask our self, what is our style?

Have you ever asked yourself that question?  Especially as a new leader?  What is my style?  How do I organize and take leadership of a group?  And most importantly, is what I am doing effective in the organization I am leading?  As a new leader in an organization, this question will drive your style and how you are perceived by those you are in charge of.

In the book, Great Teams: 16 This High Performing Organizations Do Differently by Don Yeager, four leadership styles are presented.  Consider the four styles that Don Yeager presents and ask yourself the question, is this the style I want to use and present to my organization?  Then ask the follow up question, is this the best style for my organization and the people I lead?  That leads to the final question, what can I do to become the leader I want to be seen as?

  • Command and Control.  This is a leadership style that many people are familiar with but may not be comfortable with.    Many great leaders are of this style.  They are in control.  The leader makes the decisions.  The leader does not draw on information from those below their position.  They may even micromanage their teams.  We must be in this role as leaders at times, especially when critical decisions must be made quickly.  A former principal of mine once said, “There are times I will make the decision.  That is what I get paid to do and sometimes I have to do it.”
  • Relational.  This is could be considered the opposite of command and control.  This type of leader takes care of people first.  They want happy teams and groups.  They are approachable and might even say “my door is always open” and it is.  This leadership styles build powerful relationships with their teams and can bring out the best in them.  These are leaders you would trust.  However, these leaders may also get caught in between people or groups by trying to care for everyone and, in the end, making more people unhappy.
  • Expert.  The expert knows his or her content or field.  They are extremely knowledgeable, have a highly specialized sets of skills and use this to guide their teams.  Their name carries high value simply because of what they know.  These are smart people, but with that, may come some of the challenges of simply knowing more than everyone else.
  • Charismatic.  These are people are visionaries.  They are engaging, fascinating people that can read an environment, scan and process the group, hone their words and actions to fit the group, and create vision and ignite the passion in the group.  These people are powerful leaders.  At its best, these people are great leaders, at worst, they are powerful social manipulators.  History is full of examples of both sides.

At our best, and worst, we fit every category.  We make decisions absent others, we build relationships, we are the expert, and we are the visionary for our group.  The trick is not to settle into any one category, rather to be in all categories, when we need to be.

Don Yeager calls it the “Synergistic” leader.  I have heard the word “Charismatic” to mean the same thing.  As a leader, we must learn to recognize when it is time to make decisions absent anyone else.  We need to know when to set aside our leadership hat and build relationships with others.  We should recognize when we are the expert in the room and step into that role.  And finally, we must be charismatic leaders and develop the vision to ignite the excitement in our profession.

I once observed a great example of a leader who was being synergistic in her role.  She was a professional volcanologist and one of the smartest people I have ever met.  In a talk about glaciers on Mount Rainier, she was fully in command of the group and answering questions.  She was leading the group.  Then, she was asked a question about plant life, which was not in her field.  Rather than answering the question, she asked for another park ranger who was in the group to step forward and answer the question because the park ranger knew more than she did.

We should all strive to become leaders who are willing to both lead, and step away and allows others to share the leadership roles in their areas of expertise.  In 2020, I encourage you to look at your leadership style and consider if it is what you want it to be.  Push yourself to build out the other areas of leadership that you find are not your strengths.  Become the synergistic leader you hope to become.

If you wish to read more about this topic, I encourage you to check out the book, Great Teams: 16 This High Performing Organizations Do Differently by Don Yeager.

General Leadership School Culture

A Father’s Wisdom

At the end of 2019, I have had the opportunity to reflect back on some of my father’s wisdom as an educator.  He was a career Physical and Health Educator and a wrestling coach.  My dad had a very successful career in teaching, but he also warned me about how difficult it could be once you entered the profession.  In fact, he was the first person to tell me that, if there was anything other than education that I wanted to do as a career, to do it.  Since I am my fathers son, I didn’t listen.

However, over the years, my father did give me a great deal of advice about teaching and coaching.  Much of it is stored somewhere locked away in my memory and it comes out on occasion.  At the end of 2019, there is one piece of advice that has come to the forefront of my memory as wisdom from my father.

As a new teacher trying to get my first full time job, I was lucky enough to land an assistant wrestling coach position at a local high school.  My father, being a successful coach, was a storehouse of information.  I knew that he would be willing to give me coaching advice if I asked so, sitting down over coffee, I asked him what I needed to know to be a good wrestling coach.  It was a conversation that has stuck with me and parts have come become very important in my life.

Keep it simple.  That was his first piece of advice.  People like to complicate things and get to fancy.  Wrestling can get complicated, but you are coaching kids.  Keep it simple until they understand it and can do those well, then teach them more complicated skills.  And not everyone will get the complicated skills, and that is okay.

Read the rule book front to back so you know it as well as the referees.  Know the rules you are working with so you can use them to your advantage if necessary.

Teach every wrestler a few basic moves and train them to be better than anyone else at them.  You can win state championships with a good takedown, move from the top, move from the bottom, and pinning combination if you are better than anyone else.

Now, these first three pieces of advice were practical and translate into education very easily.  Keep things simple so all students and teachers understand what you are doing.  Know the rules you are playing by so you are familiar with the system.  And do a few basic things better than anyone else and you will find success in that.  But it was his final piece of advice that has stuck with me the most in my career as of late.

If you end your career as a coach with a record better than 50% wins, you have had a successful career as a coach.

This piece of advice was the one that I have wrestled with in my career, and most importantly, this year.  He talked about win / loss records in athletics.  But it is so much more than that.  It is the question of what is a win?  What do you consider a win?  Is it only the big things and victories?  If that is the case, you will be sadly disappointed.  If that is your metric for success, you will be unhappy in your career as an educator.

What if we looked at wins as any success we had.  Anything that was a positive went in the win column.  In my career, this was driven home these season after my dad told this advice.  We had a perfect record as a coaching team.  We didn’t win a single dual meet.  We were zero and about twenty.  If we measured success by our wins, we failed horribly.  However, what if we looked at successes in other ways?  The kids who had never tried wrestling but came out, stuck with it, then came out the next year?  That is success.  What about the lifelong friendships that were made?  That is a success.  What about the kid whose life was headed down a dark path who turned himself around?  Yep, that is a success. 

As educators our metric is often big wins.  The flashy successes that everyone can see.  What if we looked at success as smaller but just as tangible.  How would our view on the year be different?

As you end 2019, I would encourage you to do two things in reflection.  First, look at all of your successes this year, no matter how small and add them as wins.  Second, think back on the advice and wisdom of your parents and elders.  See what they taught you that is still valuable today.

May you find success in the small things this year.  You never know how those small successes may blossom in the coming years.

Classroom Management School Culture

Student Motivation = Better Classroom Management

There are many ways to improve classroom management.  In this article we will look at one way that classroom management can be improved: increasing student motivation.  The implication is that if students are motivated they will be less likely to engage in disruptive classroom behaviors.  The following are ten ways that teachers can increase motivation with their students.  School leaders can use these tips to coach teachers on how to motivate students to improve teaching, learning and classroom management.

  1. Provide students with choice.  Choice leads to feelings of autonomy and self-efficacy which increase motivation according to Daniel Pink’s work in his seminal work ‘Drive’.  Total choice is rarely an option, however teachers can provide students with choice within parameters.  
  2. Be excited.  If the teacher isn’t excited about content, why would the students get excited? When students are excited about learning, motivation goes up. 
  3. Get students intrinsically motivated.  Find ways to help students see the value of the content of your course by relating your course to their lives, their aspirations and their passions.  
  4. Use extrinsic motivators.  Positive reward systems such as earned positive praise can motivate students.  Keep the golden ratio in mind for positive feedback: 3-5 positive interactions for every corrective feedback.  
  5. Set realistic expectations.  Individual learning rates and goals can help keep students motivated to try their personal best and not get discouraged by standardized goals that may not relate to their zone of proximal development.  
  6. Reduce students’ fear of trying and anxiety.  Failure is an option, and a less critical approach can reduce students anxiety. Keep your classroom positive by focusing on a growth mindset.  If students do not succeed the first time, be supportive and understanding and teach resilience.  
  7. Be empathetic.  Attempt to see things from your students’ point of view when possible.  This doesn’t mean you need to be completely relativistic, but putting yourself in your students’ shoes will help your students feel supported and safe which according to Maslow can lead to students realizing their full potential.  
  8. Make things fun.  School should be enjoyable, students should look forward to coming to school and all the exciting activities you have planned.  Not everything has to be fun, however sprinkling enjoyable activities into your routine can keep students motivated. 
  9. Harness student interests.  What are your students interests, do they love sports, dancing, theater?  Find out their interests and work these interests into your content, increasing relevance and student-centeredness. 
  10. Allow students to work together.  Social interaction may increase levels of motivation for some students.  A common group goal can increase levels of accountability. Group norms and roles are recommended to keep students accountable for group work and reduce free-loading. 

While there are many other ways to motivate students, hopefully you now have a working list of ways to keep students interested in your content via motivation.    As educational leaders, we can work to coach teachers on how to motivate students. If students are motivated, you may very likely see classroom management improve and behavioral concerns reduce.

Works Cited: 
21 Simple Ideas to Improve Student Motivation. 2017. 

The Ideal Praise to Criticism Ratio. Harvard Business Review. 2013.
Motivating Kids in Physical Activity. Weiss, Maureen.  2000.

General Leadership School Culture

Check the Culture of the School: Intent or Internet?

Do you regularly complete a school culture or school climate survey?  If you do, is it used to improve the school culture and climate?  Do you take the responses to heart, evaluate them, then move forward with pressing issues?  If you have generally answered yes to these questions, then your school is likely in a good place and on track.

However, do you find that there are those who do not believe a school climate or culture survey is necessary?  Perhaps you have heard comments such as “our school is in a good place” or “We don’t need another survey to tell us what we know”.  These comments are well intentioned, but perhaps made by overconfident individuals who might not have a full picture of the school climate. 

Checking the culture of the school is a valuable use of the administrations time.  Some might consider the time required to check the culture and climate of the school to be a waste of time.  Time that could be better spent on other more important tasks or pursuits.  Perhaps the belief is that everything in the school and community are just fine simply because there is not uproar and turmoil.  However, just because things are moving along well on the surface does not mean that the school climate and culture is healthy.  The only real options are to review our school climate and culture ourselves or, read about issues on any number of the school review sites on the internet.

As administration, we need to be intentional about the school culture we are trying to build or maintain.  If we do not actively build a positive, healthy school culture, then we are maintain a status quo that may not be healthy.  Worse, with the many school review sites online, and of course teacher word of mouth, if the school culture is not positive, then the word will be spread to others.

The internet and word of mouth is fickle.  Far too often, the message that spreads is only partly true.  Misinformation is always spread based on one persons opinion or word of mouth.  There is often truth in the information shared, but it is often skewed to one persons point of view.  With this in mind, we have a choice to move forward with intent or allow the internet to do its work.

It is recommended that we review our school climate and culture.  Ask questions about your goals, beliefs and values.  Review the responses for consistencies and concerns.  Then, make adjustments as necessary to address the concerns and move in the direction the school intends.  As educators, we are expected to reflect on our practice and adjust for improvement.  If we expect that educators should do this, the school should set the example.  This sets a positive tone for the school and for educators.

Some administrators set a positive tone for internet reviews simply by recommending that all teachers review the school each year.  This may seem strange, to request that teachers are asked to add new reviews each year, but it is a wise decision.  Most schools, and administrators, simply do not have many reviews online, unless there are issues that are not addressed.    Every school wants to read or hear positive comments made by their teachers.  The school that encourages their educators to write reviews also stands strong enough in their belief that they are doing the best by their educators and community.

Consider how your school reviews the culture and climate regularly.  Build in steps to address challenges the school faces, no matter how small.  And remember, if the school is not strong or confident enough to ask the staff how the school is doing, the staff will communicate that somewhere else.  Decide if you wish to operate with intent or allow the internet to do its work for you.

Research and Surveys:

Chris Wagner writes in Principal Leadership in the article School Leader’s Tool (2006), that utilizing a tool, such as the one recommended in the article, showed that schools with higher, positive school culture scores also scored higher on academic assessments.  Those with lower school cultures scores, also scored lower on academic assessments.

John Jennings provides an example of a school cultures survey and recommendations for how to score it at the site Advancing K12.  The advantage is that the scoring and recommendations are already provided for you are able to access a copy of it online

The John Hopkins School of Education provides a professional option for school culture surveys.  As they compile information, your school can be compared to other similar schools.  Contact John Hopkins School of Education for more information on this process.


Once the results have been gathered and scored the school needs to evaluate them.  If the school finds that there are many things they are doing well, then celebrate them.  These are the ideals and beliefs you hoped to instill and are demonstrating them.  Areas where the data shows mixed results should be dug into more.  Delve into the questions and possibly follow up with additional questions specific to the topic.  Ask why and seek to learn what is underneath the mixed results.  Perhaps it was just poor questioning, or mixed views on the same topic.


However, if the data shows areas of concern, these should be the primary focus.  If mistakes were made, acknowledge them, apologize, and move forward.  Work to correct these mistakes and not make them again.  For other data that is negative, triage it.  Evaluate what is of highest concern and what are issues that are addressed easily.  In those issues that can be resolved quickly and easily, do that immediately to show your staff movement forward.  Areas where there are high concerns and may be more complicated, gather people together to support the process to address the issue.  

General Leadership School Culture

Reflecting on the Culture of Your School

“School culture refers to the way teachers and other staff members work together and the set of beliefs, values, and assumptions they share. A positive school climate and school culture promote students’ ability to learn.”

Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development

Are you happy when you walk into school on a Monday morning?  How would you describe your feelings about the place you enter?   Is there a sense of expectancy?  Are you excited about the week ahead?  Does the space feel positive and healthy to you?  What about to your staff?  Or the students?  Or the parents?  Or visitors who are entering your space for the very first time?

All schools have a culture and a reputation that precedes them.  As an educator or administrator, that reputation is tied to us as well.  Too often, we are so focused on the work of the school day that we fail to check in with our staff, students, and parents and ask how we are doing.  Are we meeting our stated purpose and goals?  This reflective feedback will tell us if we are on the right track or not.  It will tell us a lot about our educational space and if we have developed a positive school culture based on our belief system.

If we take a look at the Hattie Ranking from the Global Research Database, we will find that Collective Teacher Efficacy has an effect size of 1.39.  The only factor with a higher ranking is Teacher Estimates of Achievement at 1.44.  Hattie states that the average effect size was 0.4 and anything higher will have a positive impact on the student.  Can you imagine a group of committed teachers who all believe that they can have a positive influence on students?  Many administrators are willing to say that they do work with such a group.  But is this an accurate report about our school culture?

The author “Anonymous” at the Guardian asks parents a simple question, “can you spot a toxic school?”  As parents, we would never want to send our children to a school with a toxic culture.  It is not healthy.  Instead, we want to send our children to a school that is healthy, thriving, and one where our children will grow and succeed.  Yet, in this article, parents are now being told what to ask teachers to determine the culture of the school. As an administrator, this should at the very least, make us think.   The article is below:

“Parents, can you spot a ‘toxic’ school?  A headteacher writes…” 

As an educator, you are partly responsible for the climate and culture within your classroom.  I say partly because your classroom is impacted by factors outside the classroom that affect what happens within the four walls of your room.  For example, if we take Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, do our students come to school fed, rested and feeling safe from the night before or for the day ahead?  If not, then their ability to positively interact in the education of the classroom is hindered.  Your role as an administrator can have significant positive, or negative, impacts on the school culture and how the parents, students, and teacher view the school community.

The cited article from The Guardian provides parents with questions to ask the school administration and teachers.  If we are wise as administers, these are questions we should ask in advance and consider the impacts on school culture.  How many staff do we turnover each year?  How much marking do we require of teachers?  What is the required response time to emails?  When are emails sent and expected to be read?  What is the vision for the school and is it shared by all educators in the building?

If we believe that Collective Teacher Efficacy is an important part of our collective school culture, we must work to ensure that it is.  Articles such as “Parents, can you spot a ‘toxic’ school?  A headteacher writes…” are written as a warning light to good schools.  Toxic schools exist and often, the administration does not recognize the culture they have created.  As administrators, we need to ensure that we are practicing what we preach and reflecting on our best practice in the school and classroom. 

A positive school culture can be built through hard work, intentional practice, and relationship building.  It takes time to do it right.  It can also be torn down in a very short time if we do not care for the people who work for and with us.

So, as we move forward after these first months of the year I encourage you to do a check of your school.  Ask a few people you know and trust how the year is going.  As hard questions and expect a few answers that you may not like.  But be willing to listen and make changes as needed.  If you are in a school with a difficult culture, know that you can make positive changes through building positive relationships, active listening, and acting on the recommendations you are given.

Classroom Management School Culture

Building a positive classroom environment before class starts?

Whether it is a 45-minute period or a 75-minute block, I challenge you to identify teachers who take advantage of the entire period.  As part of this challenge, school leaders, I suggest you take a walk around your school’s hallways tomorrow and see how many teachers are making connections with their students even before their class starts. 

At Tsinghua Univ. High School International (THSI) in Beijing, one of our Secondary School’s year-long goals focuses on building and establishing positive classroom learning environments.  We are a young school that is still going through some growing pains, however, we are making great strides on establishing this positive classroom environment from the start of every class.  If you take a walk down our hallways before the start of each period, you will see our teachers standing by the doors of their classrooms, interacting with each student as they walk in.  We have recently integrated the Positive Greetings at the Door (PGD) classroom management strategy outlined by an article by Cook et al. (2018) titled “Positive Greetings at the Door: Evaluation of a Low-Cost, High-Yield Proactive Classroom Management Strategy”. 

The PGD approach will minimize the externalizing behaviors that cause classroom interruptions and limit student focus and attention.  Many teachers that I have seen over time handle student misbehavior using a reactive behavior management approach which, as the article states, affects student-teacher relationships and loses instructional time.  Reactive management of behavior usually comes immediately after a student misbehaves during class, interrupting the flow of learning.  Teachers using the PGD strategy, on the other hand, use proactive classroom management that can reduce misbehavior over the long run while maximizing instructional time.  The magic lies in the few seconds that teachers have at the door to positively connect with each student as they walk into class.  What teachers say verbally or non-verbally (a simple nod or smile) to each student has monumental effects on how the student will approach the class, resulting in less time off task and decreased misbehavior.  To break this strategy down further, I want to highlight 4 specific ways our school has been using the PGD strategy, as referenced in the article:

  1.  Teachers use these few seconds to privately encourage students who misbehaved last class.  “Johnny, do you remember I had to remind you to stay on task last class?  Let’s see if we can stay more focused today.”  “Erica, I noticed you were a bit chatty with Rachel last class.  I would appreciate it if you could talk to her instead at lunch next period.  Are you able to do this?” 
  2. These precious seconds are also being used to deliver pre-corrective statements and reminders on expected behaviors.  “Javier, remember to start on the warm-up problems as soon as you take your seat.” “Sam, did you bring your laptop?  We’re going to need it in class today.”
  3. The PGD approach also is used to deliver praise to reinforce positive behaviors.  “Leo, I loved how many times you raised your hand to volunteer answers last class.  I’d love to see more of that today.” “Jenny, I noticed you on task during yesterday’s group discussion.  I hope you saw how valuable your contributions were to your group.”
  4. Students are feeling a stronger sense of belonging in our classrooms.  Teachers at the door immediately are able to make and reinforce position connections with each individual student.

We are noticing reduced student misbehavior and more meaningful student-teacher connections.  Student learning is maximized when they feel valued, respected, and cared for by their teachers.  I invite you to reflect on how something similar could look like at your school.

Referenced article:

Cook, C. R., Daikos, C., Fiat, A., Holland, E.A., Larson, M., Renshaw, T., Slemrod, T., & Thayer, A.J. (2018). Positive greetings at the door: evaluation of a low-cost, high-yield proactive classroom management strategy. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 20(3), 149-159.

General Leadership

The Importance of Our Work – Building Relationships

          I just read one of more disturbing things I have read in a long while.  I first heard it on the radio yesterday but had to verify it first.  In an opinion poll completed by YouGov, 20% of millennials say that they have no friends in real life, 27% say that they have no close friends.  The report is titled “Millennials are the Loneliest Generation”.  The full research methodology is on the site and appears to be well done, however, this is the first time I have reviewed research on YouGov so further review would be necessary.

          If this research is accurate, it has a significant impact on how we view our role as educators, educational leaders, mentors, students supervisors, or adults who work with students.  We have observed over time research that suggests that social media impacts relationships and personal connection.  If this research follows that trend, it suggests that those using social media are not building personal relationships outside of the internet.  We should be worried.

          This school year is about to begin or has already started for some educators.  As educational leaders, we need to be aware of this type of data.  How well are our students connecting with each other?  What impact does electronic devices and social media have on your students?  Are your students building positive, healthy relationships with each other?  Do staff members build positive, healthy relationships with students?  Do adults model healthy relationships to students?

          We are in a position to have the greatest impact on these numbers.  We can build programming into our schools to help students develop relationships.  We can demonstrate and practice healthy communication within the school.  We can move from the use of electronics to personal contact and discussion.  If healthy students and healthy adults are a goal, we must do more than just teach content.

          As you enter your school year, I encourage you to consider the information from this report.  If 20% of millennials feel like they do not have friends, how many more of our students might feel the same, or worse?  How can you make small shifts to your school year to have a greater impact on the mental wellness of students?   What time can you trade from academics or help build well rounded, resilient men and women? 

          This piece of research gave me shudders just thinking about the implications of it.  Educating students is only part of our job. Developing and guiding students to become healthy, mentally strong young adults is in many ways more important. One of my goals this year is to ensure I am doing all I can to help students build positive relationships with each other and adults in the time we work with them.  What is your goal for the year?  I look forward to your responses in the comments section.

General Leadership

Breaking Down Your Approach: Become More Approachable

          Shelly shared a wonderful blog post on the importance of how you come across as a leader in meetings.  Your approach with the group is critical for your group’s development, and for how the team perceives you.  You must understand how you appear before the group as an approachable leader, but also a credible leader.  Both sides of you must be understood for you to be an effective, charismatic leader.  First, we must understand what each leader looks like.

          Shelly mentions the importance of running a good meeting.  She cites cases where the leader has said “we have 15 minutes to hold this meeting…”.  Obviously, this is not going to build a positive environment for your team, nor will it accomplish what you hope it will.  More importantly, it leads to frustration with the team and an unwillingness to support these meetings in the future.  To put it bluntly, your team may be smarter than you on the issue you want to discuss, and you need to listen to them.  Without dragging this out, if you are not sure about how to run a good meeting, or it is not your strength, research it on the web.  Set up your plan for running a meeting, then stick to it.  I will write more about how to run an effective meeting in the future for others to reference.

          The question of leadership and holding meetings is more than just can you run an effective meeting.  You must be clear on the intent of the meeting.  What is it you hope to accomplish?  What are the goals?  How much time is needed to accomplish those goals?  And what position must you take as a leader for the meeting to be effective?  I will look at the position of approachability and focus on the behaviors, not the content, of the leader to give you some guidance in this area.  I hope to answer the underlying question above, how do I present myself as approachable?

          It is my belief, and that of others that I have trained with, that we are over trained in the practice of the approachable style.  As educators, we do it all the time because we are told to be good listeners and pay attention when others are speaking.  The verbal and non-verbal behaviors I share below should be very familiar to you.

The Approachable Leader

          As a leader or teacher, the approachable style should sound and look very familiar.  I would suggest that you observe a few people around you and see if you notice these behaviors in them:

  • Look at the person speaking
  • Body faces the person speaking
  • Lean forward towards them
  • Nod your head as they speak
  • Make sounds of acknowledgement such as “yes”, “uh-huh”, “I see”, etc.
  • Smile
  • Palms are up
  • Our voice tone goes up at the end of our sentences
  • Gestures of approachability such as gesturing towards yourself and the other person
  • Breathe low in the abdomen

          Do any of these behaviors sound familiar?  We do them very naturally when speaking with others with whom we are trying to build rapport.  They show we are listening and responding to the person who is speaking. These gestures show we are interested.  They are the gestures of engagement with the speaker.  So, the question is, why are these important to the leader who wants to be approachable?

          Before I answer the last question, I will digress a bit to some underlying beliefs we must value before moving forward.  As leaders, we must value other people’s opinions and desire feedback for improvement.  To do this, we must separate the content of the discussion, from the person sharing it so we understand it is information only, not personal values we are discussing.  We must be willing to make adjustments so that we can hear other people and value their ideas.  For example, if our meetings are 15 minutes in length, there is likely frustration, and we must make the adjustment so people can be heard.  I would strongly recommend a mentor who can be the third party to identify these issues for the leader to address.  Once the willingness is there and the mindset is being developed or fully developed, then non-verbal cues can become valuable.

          As the leader of a group, if we wish to be more approachable in our position, we must align our verbals and our non-verbals.  In simpler terms, if our body language is out of alignment with what we say, people will be confused about the message.  Developing our non-verbal skills of approachability will likely not be difficult.  You are likely doing them already.  The practice becomes aligning them with the message you are working to get across.  I would suggest taking one of the above behaviors to identify it, understand what it feels like, and become aware of how you feel when you are practicing it.  Once you are aware of it, you will recognize it in practice, or be able to shift to it when you want to become more approachable.

Skills to Practice

          In order to better understand what it means to be approachable, I would like to suggest that you try a couple of these drills below to better grasp how it feels to be “approachable” at least in practice.

Tone of Voice

          As a simple practice for this, think of a phrase you may say in a meeting.  Ideally, it could be one that you use regularly when trying to get feedback, or connect with the group.  A phrase such as “what do you think?” or “does anyone have any thoughts?” can be easy to use if a phrase does not come to mind.

          The drill is simple and I would suggest you practice in a mirror, or perhaps video yourself while practicing.  Say the phrase you have selected.  When you get to the last word, allow the tone of your voice to rise or go up, not in volume but in tone.  If it helps, you may even lift your chin slightly as you do this.  You should notice a lifting tone of the voice and one that is friendly.  This is an approachable tone of voice and one that encourages a response.  Much like an airline stewardess asks if you would like something, we hear the tone and think “this person would like a response” they sound pleasant.

          The second part of the drill is also simple.  Use the same phrase and do the same thing.  However, at the end of the phrase, allow the voice tone to drop lower and slightly lower your chin at the same time.  Repeat the phrases and notice the difference.  When your tone drops, it sounds like a command voice, much like a police officer or airline pilot.  It is not friendly nor does it encourage a response.  Non-verbally, we hear the tone and think “the person says they want a response, but it does not sound like it” or “they may be angry”.

          The tone of one’s voice can drive how one is perceived in conversation or meetings.  Tone of voice is very powerful.  If you couple the tone of the voice with a non-verbal skill, the result can be very powerful in determining how someone responds to you.

Palm Up versus Palm Down

          This skill practice is quite easy.  There are many variations to this same practice, I will keep it simple.

          In this practice, I would suggest the phrase “does anyone have any questions?” however you may use any phrase you are comfortable with.  In this first practice, you will again use the approachable tone where you lift the tone at the end of the phrase.  Say the phrase, asking for a response with the tone lifting.  However, also use an open hand and either place your palm up in front of you or lift your hand like you were asking a person to raise their hand.  As you complete this, the combination of the verbal and the non-verbal encourages a response from others.  Try this a couple of times.

          Repeat the same phrase as above.  This time, the tone of your voice will drop at the end of the phrase to use a command style or sometimes called credible style.  At the same time, your palm will face down in front of you.  This combination is best used for sending information.  The intent is not to receive information rather to tell others information with no response needed.  One quick note about this style, you may be uncomfortable with this style.  However, understand what it sounds and feels like for you so.  Recognize that there are times you will need to use this style, and times where you should not.

Body Posture – lean in versus remain still

          This skill is a listening skill and requires a partner who is willing to chat with you.  I would suggest you alert your partner as to what you are doing rather than trying this on them without their knowledge for the health of the relationship.

          You may do this seated or standing.  Your partner will begin to talk to you about any particular topic.  You will lean in, nod your head, make eye contact, and verbally acknowledge that you are listening by responding with simple phrases such as “uh huh”, “yes”, “I see”, and other common phrases.  A short amount of time is all that is needed to practice this.  Repeat this, with a willing partner, and exchange roles.  Discuss how you felt.  Were you listened to?  Did you feel like the person listening valued you?  Share your feelings about this experience.  This is an approachable pattern of listening and acknowledging the other person.  They should feel valued and listened to.

          Repeat this practice again having a discussion.  However, this time, sit or stand with a straight back.  Listen and make eye contact.  Do not respond or acknowledge the conversation unless asked a question.  Again, repeat this with the other person.  Discuss your experience with the other person.  The feelings should be different this time.  This is a credible pattern of listening and really one that does not encourage response.  The other person may not feel listened to or that you heard what they had to say.  It may be very uncomfortable for both the speaker and the listener. 

What to do with this

          The intent is for us to recognize what we are doing.  We need to recognize our own patterns of behavior and communication.  Whether you are approachable or more credible, it is okay.  We need to recognize our patterns and know when to shift from one style to another. 

          As the leader, you need to be aware and acknowledge that your non-verbals and verbals may be out of sync.  You may be asking for responses with one or both palms down and your voice tone dropping at the end of the phrase.  You are not seeking information, you may appear angry to your group or simply indicating you don’t actually want responses.   

          My suggestion is that you practice this during the summer.  Look for these patterns of behavior in other people.  See if you can identify simple patterns as described above.  Also, practice these patterns and consider when you would use them in your setting.  Knowing when to use one pattern over another is critical.  Knowing how to shift from one to another is a key piece of communicating consistently and effectively.  With practice, this can become and effective set of tools in your toolkit.

What Next?

          The logical next step is practice.  Work on your communication skills of connecting verbal and non-verbal communication.  If you have people who believe you are not approachable, work on becoming more approachable.  Practice lowering the tone of your voice at the end of the sentence.  Practice speaking with your palms up and perhaps also gesturing back and forth with the person.

          If you want to move forward in your practice, I would encourage you to check out Michael Grinder and Associates and consider the purchase of the book ENVoY, or review Michael Grinder’s YouTube Channel where a wealth of videos are currently housed.  If you are in Asia, I would suggest you look for a course by Kendall Zoller on Adaptive Schools where he presents this information and more for leaders.

          If you have additional questions about this information, feel free to contact us through the website.  Please add your thoughts in the comment section below to help guide our thoughts on future blog posts for leaders.

General Leadership


“A good intention, with a bad approach, often leads to a poor result.”

Thomas Edison

We often find ourselves in a position where we would like to share a new idea or concept with a team of educators and we are hoping it will be well received.  Or maybe we feel it is time for a change and we want to offer a new way of doing something and hope the idea will be accepted by others. In leadership, we often hear about teacher buy-in and we are shown ways to lead meetings or work with others.  Even if we have all of the skills to lead a meeting and generate ideas with teachers, it will not be successful if we do not have the right approach.

I have been in meetings where the leader talked over the teachers as they were talking.  I have worked with a leader that started a meeting by saying “We have only 15 minutes to accomplish A, B, and C, so here is what we will be doing…”, and I have been in meetings that were timed, with a timer and when someone tried to ask a question, they were told “No questions. This is not the right time to do that!”.  The meeting goals were accomplished, but after the meetings many members were talking about how offended and turned off they were to attend another meeting with that leader. We are always going to have things that we need to share with others or moments where there are tight deadlines and much needs to get accomplished.  There are ways we can do that with our voice, attitude, and, especially, with help from others.  

Voice and words can make or break how we run a meeting.  The same idea of “We have only 15 minutes…” can be said in a way that is respectful and received well by others.  The meeting can begin by sharing what needs to be accomplished and then mention the short time to meet. “Okay all, we are hoping to have a plan for this child that involves all stakeholders and we only have 15 minutes to do this.  Does anyone have an idea for how we can stay on task to accomplish this goal in the given time?” Most likely, others will offer to be a timekeeper, recorder, norm the way to share ideas, etc (and that happens within about 2 minutes).  Now, teachers understand the guidelines of the meeting, but it did not have to come from you, the leader, or in a way that will stress out others. Eventually, if this is the way you lead meetings, it will become natural for others to feel they are helping to lead the meeting and they will offer to be a timekeeper, note taker, or planner. 

Another way to approach a meeting is with our attitude.  If we have the attitude that things are positive and we are working with highly capable educators, others will take on the same attitude.  When teachers are empowered in a meeting to share ideas, express their feelings, and feel validated as members, they will want to actively participate.  It is our role to listen more and talk less. When questions are asked at a time that is not ideal, it is okay to nicely say, “Let’s hold off on asking questions until after this portion of the meeting is through.”  When being respectful, teachers will be more thoughtful and engaged and will begin to model this type of wording with their colleagues.  

When approaching a stressful meeting or situation, it is important to involve a team of teachers to lead the meeting. If you know you have a difficult meeting coming up, ask a teacher if they have any ideas of how to best approach the meeting.  Instead of putting the task fully on your shoulders as a leader, ask another teacher to start a portion of the meeting. I have found that meetings that are led by organized and competent teachers tend to be more interesting and show the teacher leadership in a school.  The administrator does not need to be the one who leads the meetings each time, especially in a committee. Choose some of the more passionate and strong teachers to take ownership over parts of the meeting, which helps take attention away from you. It is often our goal that teachers view their relationship with educational leaders not as top-down but as a supportive position that can help teachers grow their own leadership skills. 

Teachers may not remember all of the things that are said in a meeting or feel like they had much to offer, but they will remember how they felt when they left the meeting.  Let’s hope they feel valued, listened to, and respected.