Taking Time to Build or Strengthen Relationships

It’s the beginning of a new school year in my district; we work on a modified year-round calendar. Many leaders have already hit the ground running, filling up their calendars, facilitating professional development, planning activities, and preparing for our students’ arrival. Today’s advice in the Time Management for Leaders Series is all about slowing down!

A new school year brings leaders the opportunity to build or strengthen relationships with individual staff members (and students!). While I am a big advocate for maintaining an organized calendar for efficiency sake, now is the time to step away from your office and lead by walking around.

As an assistant principal and a principal, I made a point to visit each teacher’s classroom during the opening set-up days before students returned. While these visits took me out of the office and away from the non-stop stream of emails and phone calls I received, they were a powerful way for me to build new relationships or renew past relationships with each staff member. Not only could I check in with people about their summer and their family, but I was able to see how their room set-up was going (very important in an elementary setting!), and I could offer my support physically, emotionally, or professionally. These short little personal visits told a story about my staff members as individuals and as members of our learning community.

My Superintendent is a great example of this throughout the year. She will pop in to various department offices just to say hi and greet staff members.  In a district with over 40,000 students, you can imagine how many staff members we have, and she makes each one feel like she knows them personally (and for many, she does!).

My advice to new leaders is:

  • make time to build relationships with new staff members (or all staff, if YOU are the new one!).
  • strengthen past or current relationships by checking in; don’t assume that one positive interaction last year is enough to maintain a good working relationship this year.
  • lead by walking around – make time to visit individual classrooms, departments, and other settings where your staff members work.
  • make time for this relationship-building by adding it to your calendar and prioritizing this work!

The time you invest in relationships leads to deeper trust, which can enhance your team, school or system’s culture.

What other advice would you offer leaders with regards to building or strengthening relationships at the beginning of a new school year?


Time Management for Leaders Series

Calendar 911

No More Inbox Ailment

Making Time for Classroom Visits

Organizing Resources to Share

Working with an Assistant


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My Blog is 5 Today!

Each year, on July 14 (or later if I forget to hit publish on time!), I take a moment to reflect on my blogging journey. In 2012, after attending my first ISTE conference, I started this blog for my own learning and growth. I use this blog as a place for my own written reflections. It’s nice to capture what I’m reading and thinking about and then to be able to look back at it over the years.

In five years, I have written a lot about coaching and listening and reflecting. This year I started a new chapter- The Time Management for Leaders Series. As I support new leaders, time and again I see that time management is a struggle. My hope is to capture in one place the advice that comes out of coaching conversations I have with new leaders.

My word of 2017 is challenge. Though I haven’t blogged about it a lot, I have continued to focus on ways to challenge myself personally and professionally. A simple challenge I give myself each year is to read more books than I did the previous year (since I started keeping track again via this blog).

  • In 2015 I read 44 books.
  • In 2016 I read 69 books.
  • So far in 2017 I’ve read 22 books, so my challenge is to pick up the pace!

Some days when I click publish, I never know if anyone will read the words I’ve put out there into the universe. When certain blogs are read or retweeted, I’m happy to know that my words resonated with someone. When you, my reader, comments on my blog, I appreciate the dialogue we can begin around these topics. Thank you for reading my words. I appreciate you taking time from your busy life to step into my reflections for a moment. If any of my thoughts give you pause for consideration, I honor your time and I’d love to hear from you.

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June ’17 Reading Update

This month I read 3 books, bringing my 2017 total to 21.

  • Golden Prey (Lucas Davenport Series #27) – by John Sanford – I hadn’t read a Sanford Prey book in over a year, and I really enjoyed this one. However, I feel like I skipped at least one book in the series, so now I have to go back and figure that out! In this story, Davenport is a new U.S. Marshal, and he goes after a long-time criminal who is hiding out all over the south. Davenport eventually needs the help of Bob and Rae, two other Marshals, and they make a great team tracking cell phones of killers all over the place until a final, deadly shoot-out. This was a fast-paced, classic Davenport mystery.
  • Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance – This book has been on my list for awhile, and I was able to borrow a copy of it from a work friend. I remember first hearing about it around the elections, and someone said this was a good read to understand Donald Trump’s popularity in various states. What I appreciate about this story, is the first-person perspective from a young man who survived a childhood with a lot of trauma, came out the other side more successful than any of his family members, but still struggling with the emotional trauma he endured. Reading his statements about work ethic (or lack there of) and the importance of school (or the lack of any belief by some) within his own “hillbilly” Appalachian community was fascinating. Everything he described was so different from my own lived experiences, which is why this is an important read for many, especially those of living on either coast and familiar with our unearned advantages in life.
  • D.C. Dead (Stone Barrington Series #22) by Stuart Woods – This is a book by another one of my old favorite mystery writers, who I just rediscovered! I realized I haven’t read a book by him in MANY years, so I have A LOT to catch up on! I went back as far into this series as I can remember and I’ve jumped back into the Stone and Dino detective life. I love these books because they are quick, fun, silly stories that ridiculous characters and unlikely bad guys (though I guessed this one pretty early on).
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Revisiting My Core Values

A year ago I explored my core values with an activity by author Elena Aguilar. I wrote about the experience here. My three core values, based on that activity were:

  • Equity
  • Making a difference
  • Trust

This weekend I participated in the first two of five sessions of the Women in Educational Leadership (#WEL) Institute, here in San Diego.  One of the activities we did was to discuss our core values.

The presenter provided us with a set of at least 25 words, on individual cards. We were told to put each card face up so we could read each individual card, on which was written a core value. Our deck of cards also included blank cards on which we could add a word that was important to us, if it was missing from this collection. Because of my previous work with core values (see the post linked above for more details), and the passion I have for this concept, I added the word “equity” to my deck of values.

We slowly had to turn over sets of cards so that we had fewer and fewer words face up. In the end, we were to select our top four core values. These are the four I ended up with today:

  • Equity
  • Integrity
  • Empathy
  • Creativity

Similar to each of the times I’ve taken the Strength-Finder quiz, I was interested to see my list of core values shift slightly since lat year. Granted, the list of words for each activity was not identical, but neither is my current state of mind. After a day and half of focused work with a large group of women leaders representing 27 districts across Southern California, I had a different perspective than I might on another day.

Looking at this list of four words today, I’m reflecting on what resonates with my leadership and learning world.

My leadership vision is to provide equitable learning opportunities for student and adult learners. After attending a two-day workshop with the National Equity Project, getting to know my colleagues through an equity lens, and really reflecting on my unearned advantages and disadvantages, equity is more important to my leadership work than every before. I believe I will continue to be driven by this core value until I know that each and every student receives a quality education that sets him or her up for success in life.

Integrity resonated with me today more than “trustworthiness”, which was in my top ten list of words. I respect leaders who do what they say they will, who follow through, who are morally just, and who are honest. I still believe that trust is a critical factor in building relationships, which build a positive school culture. However, when it comes to transformational leadership, integrity is what drives me and what I seek out in colleagues and mentors.

I know that empathy would not have been on this list had I done this activity 10+ years ago. It is only as I get older, more experienced, and possibly a little wiser (lol!), that I know how important empathy is to my leadership. Due to my life experiences, which are very different from that of the students I serve, as well as many of the colleagues with whom I work, I cannot speak from experience about certain situations. However, I can have empathy, by listening to understand the feelings of others. Empathy makes me a stronger leader, one is more prepared to fight against inequities on behalf of students who may not have a voice, or alongside colleagues ready to take up the cause.

Creativity surprised me today! If I had to narrow this list to three, creativity would not have made the final cut. But I kept it in the top four after an interesting discussion I had in a small group during the Women in Educational Leadership Institute. After reading a short excerpt about Steve Jobs, and his unwillingness to accept mediocrity, my group and I discussed how often we, in education, are willing to accept programs and instruction that is mediocre, in favor of building or maintaining relationships. The more we talked, the more I realized how important it is for leaders to encourage educators to be creative, to get out of routines that aren’t serving our students.

As always, I appreciate the opportunity to take time to reflect. I think that every educator is a leader and that every leader should be able to share their core values. Our core values are what drives us to do what we do, say what we say, and be our authentic selves, no matter where or how we lead. IMG_2180

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Pay it Forward

This year has been a year of mentoring for me. I had the amazing opportunity to participate in the AASA More Than a Power Lunch series for Women Educational Leaders, where I received regular mentoring from a Superintendent across the country. I also facilitated an aspiring administrator program in my own district, where veteran assistant principals served as mentors to aspiring leaders.

These experiences have reminded me of the value of mentoring, at all stages in a career. They also highlight the importance of paying it forward. One of the best parts of education is that there is almost always someone who has walked a path before you, someone who can help you along the way. But that means that we need to be that person for those who come after us.

I have been an educator for 20 years, serving as a teacher, a peer coach, as assistant principal, a principal, and a director. I am blessed to have worked for a number of amazing leaders who became my mentors along my journey.

Recently two people approached me separately, on Twitter, asking if we could meet in person so I could share my leadership journey with them. On their own, each of these educator was seeking out mentoring and researching different leadership pathways. While few of us travel the same path, we can all benefit from talking to someone who has traveled before us. I was happy to meet with these educator and share the choices I have made to be the leader that I am today.

As a self-proclaimed introvert, I am not a fan of forced “networking” where a large group of relative strangers end up in a room together, forced to discuss a list of questions provided by yet another stranger. I much prefer to have personal, 1:1 conversations with other educators. This not only makes me less anxious in an awkward social situation, but it allows me to get to know someone at a much more personal level.

I would like to encourage all of my fellow educators to do two things this summer as you rest and relax and read:

  1. Reach out to someone whose career you admire, someone from whom you could learn, or someone you just want to get to know better. Schedule time to meet with him or her in person (or via video chat) and talk.
  2. Be open to others reaching out to you, seeking advice. We all have something to contribute and you never know when someone might benefit from an experience you are willing to share. Pay it forward.


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May ’17 Update

I read only 2 books in May, making my 2017 total 18 so far.

  • You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott – I’m not sure where I heard/read about this book, but it was an interesting, sad, mystery. Devon is a teen and an elite gymnast with aspirations and talents to make the Olympic team. This is a story about some of the harsh realities that families face to make a dream like that happen. The hit-and-run death of Ryan, a friend of the gym, turn their gym family upside down as people point fingers and tell lies to protect Devon’s chance for success. The story is told from Katie’s perspective and Katie is Devon’s mom, so it’s a unique point of view for the story. I found myself not liking many of the characters, but liking the story and racing to see how it ended.
  • Night School by Lee Child- I bought this paperback to read at the pool (since paper is easier to read than tablet in the sun!) and it was great to have on my Memorial Day weekend trip. Lee Child never disappoints! This was another flashback to when Reacher was still in the Army, and tasked with a secret mission in collaboration with the CIA and the FBI to find a missing thief. The thief ended up stealing ten nuclear bombs that were leftover from WWII. The story was fast-paced and international and a quick, fun read.
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Working with an Assistant

Today’s Time Management for Leaders Series post is about how leaders can work collaboratively with an assistant*. This is something I work on with new leaders who have come from a classroom teacher position, having never had an assistant before. This is an important transition for new leaders and if it’s done well, it can save you significant time.

*For the sake of continuity, I’m going to use the word assistant throughout this post. I recognize that different organizations may use other terms such as clerical staff, secretary, office assistant, or other terms appropriate to positions.

Everything shared here is predicated on the fact that a leader begins his or her new job by building positive relationships with staff members, getting to know individuals, their strengths, and their job descriptions and responsibilities. Once that work has begun, here are some tips for working with your secretary/assistant/ support staff to better manage your time as a leader. I must thank my current assistant who contributed her ideas for this post as well. I took time to ask her what advice she would give a new administrator to build a successful working relationship with his/her assistant.

  • Communicate expectations clearly: The foundation of a positive working relationship between a leader and an assistant is clear expectations. This means that you need to sit down with your assistant and review how you will, as a team, handle the following:
    • Walk-in parents who want to speak to you
    • Scheduling of appointments
    • What constitutes an emergency, when to interrupt any meeting, call me on the radio/ phone immediately, etc.
    • Maintaining your calendar (see Calendar 911 for additional tips)
    • Work load – what tasks does your assistant do daily, weekly, monthly, annually? What is the protocol if he/she is overwhelmed? What is the protocol if he/she has time for additional tasks?
    • Your signature (I always ask my assistant to keep all documents that need my signature in a folder and hand it to me at the end of each day. I sign items once a day, not any time someone randomly needs a signature.)
    • Comp time and days off – different offices handle comp time differently, so you want to make sure you are on the same page with requirements. Many assistants like to request days off the same time as their leader; be clear about your expectations with regard to time off and planning leave ahead of time
  • Regular meetings: Be sure to schedule regular meetings between you and your assistant so that you can:
    • Continue to maintain open lines of communication
    • Check in on upcoming tasks
    • Review work load and ensure that deadlines will be met
    • Explain any new tasks you need his/her help with
    • Review the budgets you oversee
    • Provide feedback on previously completed tasks
    • Support his/her professional growth
  • Basic tasks: New administrators are often unsure of what tasks are appropriate to ask of an assistant. Here are a few examples that my assistant shared with me.
    • Mail correspondence – open and distribute mail as needed
    • Memos/ Bulletins/ Letters – an assistant can prepare a rough draft to review with you in a regular meeting and he/she can finalize a draft for your review based on your feedback
    • Evaluations – prepare necessary paperwork and schedule reminders for staff as needed
    • Payroll/ Attendance – many assistants handle this directly
    • Travel requests – assistants can support you with travel plans and reconciling your travel reimbursement/ receipt review as required
    • Meeting preparation – assistants can schedule your meetings in specific locations, prepare sign-in sheets, agendas, name plates, copies for
  • Customer Service: Your assistant is the first impression people will get of you, your office, and your work. You want to ensure that your assistant is professional and welcoming and competent to represent you when you are not present.

What other advice would you give a new leader learning to work with an assistant? 


Time Management for Leaders Series

Calendar 911

No More Inbox Ailment

Making Time for Classroom Visits

Organizing Resources to Share


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