Byron's Babbles

Having A Sharp Eye For Capacity

Mark Twain said, “Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” Unfortunately, Twain was taken advantage of more than once during his life. But he always tried to “do right.” I am reading Mark Twain’s autobiography right now and it is amazing. He dictated much of his autobiography and purposely wrote it as memories came to mind, not in chronology order. For some of my more linear friends this might drive you crazy. Those that know me, know I am loving this non-conventional approach. I love it because in his “twittering” (yes that is a word used by Twain a great deal and I now know where the name for Twitter came from) he talks about friends, how he met them, and his interactions.

One such friend was Henry Huttleston Rogers, the Standard-Oil magnate who became one of the most powerful tycoons of his day. Twain first met Rogers in New York in 1893 at a time when Twain’s unfortunate financial ventures had led him to the verge of bankruptcy. Rogers helped sort out Twain’s commercial enterprises and saved the author’s copyrights. In the autobiography, Twain expressed his gratitude saying, “His wisdom and steadfastness saved my copyrights from being swallowed up in the wreck…and his commercial wisdom has protected my pocketbook ever since.” These two became great and very close friends.

One of the things that Twain recognized in Rogers was “he [Rogers] has a sharp eye for capacity.” I love that Twain picked up on Roger’s ability to see the talent and ability in others and then develop those individuals. Twain discussed this being one of the key ingredients of Rogers’ success. This just shows how important it is for leaders to hone this skill, or find ways to sharpen the eye for capacity. I was working with a group of school principals yesterday and we were discussing this very subject.

We can distill the notion of capacity to the skills, knowledge and abilities of an individual. We must sharpen our ability to recognize capacity and then build that capacity in people. Consequently, our teams and organizations will become more resilient and stronger. The greatest leaders recognize and build on the strengths of others and what they have to say. They are a voice among many in conversations, and not just a voice that tells others what to do. As Twain said in his autobiography, “If everybody was satisfied with himself there would be no heroes.” Let’s not be satisfied. Let’s work hard to recognize and build capacity in those we serve.

Pathways To Quality Principals

Yesterday I had the opportunity to be part of a great National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) webinar where Susan M. Gates presented findings from research conducted by RAND Corporation. Click this recording link to view the recording of the webinar entitled Using State-Level Policy Levers to Promote Principal Quality. I was honored at the end of Susan’s presentation of the findings to, along with NASBE’s President and CEO Robert Hull, provide some thoughts, observations, and feedback.

First of all, this is such an important topic for state boards and all policymakers to contemplate. Leadership matters. The research suggested, as we might have all guessed, that there is no “one size fits all” policy that will miraculously place quality principals in all schools. Another point that came out in the research was that professional development alone is insufficient. Highly effective pre-service development must also be a part of the pathway to quality principals. As a former principal, I reflected as I was reviewing this report and was thinking about the complexity of being a principal. Ultimately, the principal is a leader of learning, but there are many parts to that. Highly effective teachers and facilitation of learning and leadership define how successful any school is. A school without a strong leader will likely fail the students it serves.

The RAND report gave us four key levers to use as policymakers. Those four levers are:

  1. Standards
  2. Licensure
  3. Program Approval
  4. Professional Development

Interestingly, four things came to mind as I was reviewing and listening to Susan’s report. Here are my thoughts, observations, and feedback:

  1. As state board members, we need to take the approval of teacher education and leadership development programs very seriously. In my own state, our department of education does a tremendous job of evaluating and providing us reports for revue prior to approval of programs. We still have an obligation to study these reports and make sure the programs meet the test of equity and excellence. We also need to make sure that any pathway to the principalship is not rewarding the person who can best meet meaningless requirements.
  2. As I listened, I wondered if there were ways to leverage the attention we are now rightly giving to teacher leadership. Teacher leaders are so important to building the capacity is schools and it seems to me we could better leverage identifying those teachers with the leadership dispositions and develop those skills. Notice I said dispositions, because many teachers are very interested in being teacher leaders but not, at least in the present-tense, being a principal. As a believer that everyone is a leader and that leadership should happen where the data is created, in this case the classroom, it makes sense we would be developing teacher leaders to make decisions that traditionally have been cascaded down to teachers. This real-time development would give teachers practical pre-service development that would be important to effective leading for learning whether a teacher or principal. I would argue that a well developed and highly effective teacher/teacher leader could be the best bet to become a high quality principal. You’ll want to check out Susan’s response to this point in the recording.
  3. Another point made was the fact that sometimes we need to look at subtraction as well as addition when formulating policy. We deal with this a lot in education where we continue to place mandates without taking anything away. We need to allow for more flexibility. Additionally, how can we more effectively use incentives or information sharing in the place of mandates?
  4. Finally, there was a suggestion in the report of finding opportunistic ways: “Be opportunistic: link principal initiatives to key state education priorities and build on related initiatives.” By doing this we might find new ways to streamline, provide flexibility, or identify those things that can be removed.

I really appreciate the research and this report. Again, it provides levers for us to consider using as policymakers as we contemplate how to better prepare and provide quality pathways for the development of our critically important principals.