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Yo! Yes? Promising Leadership Practices

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Yo! Yes? classic by Chris Raschka, tells the story of two boys who need a friend. It seems a simple story, an easy book for instructing basic punctuation, maybe puppets or special voices, dramatic play, focus on sight words and core value of empathy.

Schools are like that. We need each other for the greater good, serving children. "You! Me?" Of course. It only makes sense. It takes two to Tango. The dance of school life, sharing creative efforts, creating wonder and joy. Tonight I'm suggesting leadership is about learning together, creating a sense of purposeful community and encouraging bonds of trust.

Teacher Appreciation Week is a perfect time to focus on teachers as great leaders. Teachers reflect on their own instructional practices and share what works. "Me? You!" 

Dozen Promising Practices. Yo! Yes? Enjoy the dance. Hear the music. Listen to the children.

  1. Building capacity. Comprehensive school planning. What's it look, feel and sound like?
  2. "Work lean", learning from the business world. Who gets what? 
  3. Practice out of the box, in the box thinking. Take risks, but stay true to your brand.
  4. Share decision-making. You're right. Everyone's a leader. Include quiet staff who have great ideas, too.
  5. Teachers determine their own Professional development, inc. edcamps & school-wide Twitter chats.
  6. Re-think Teacher Evaluation. What's working? May teachers self-evaluate to unburden Principals?
  7. Everyone needs a friend/mentor. Pair veterans with newbies. Watch what happens!
  8. Teachers lead rotating staff meetings in their rooms, sharing collegial conversation. Principal as guide.
  9. Create a culture of reading and learning. Create world-class scholars through high expectations and modeling.
  10. Be change agents. Get through initial chaos, make mid-course corrections. Dissent is ok and normal. 
  11. For maximum achievment, move beyond engagement to 'flow state' as school-wide goal. Maslow, Bloom, Gardener, Ccikszentmihalyi.
  12. Reflect on the journey. Where are we now? What's next? Are we meeting designated goals and benchmarks?   

Vision and Mission.

Principals have a vision of what could be. It's critical to borrow the term from the business world and "work lean." So, how do we, as a staff divide existing resources while meeting and exceeding that vision? Principals practice MBWA, Management By Walking Around to routinely handle the mundane but necessary managerial tasks.

Principals are the teachers' teacher and ultimate "decider" on the tough issues. Most important, school leaders inspire and motivate to maximize productivity, ensure all children are meeting potential and create a culture, climate and morale of excellence, tenacity and can-do- attitude. 

Starting with a safe and orderly environment, what comes next in our priorities? By visioneering, all stakeholders have a vested interest, and feel their voices are heard. I'm leery of teachers 'buying into anything' unless there is a need or interest, a strong coach and time to reflect on a new practice or strategy.

Transforming Principals routinely co-teach with teachers. It's trust building and magical, proverbial "walk the talk". The bamboo branches underground and before you know it, there are blooms all over the place. Just like school.

Building capacity.

Be sure to set measurable goals and benchmarks. Make mid-course corrections. There is no failure, only feedback.

Out of the box, in the box. Taking Risks. Branding.

Shared decision-making.

Organizational insights from researchers with empirical support including Senge, Deming, Garmston and many others point to the critical role of shared decision-making in a high achieving school.

Professional development.

Teachers, along with with Principals and Coaches self-determine their own PD. 

Teacher evaluation.

Never tie with test scores. May teachers self-evaluate as part of the norm of their reflective practice? I'm deeply concerned about any outside evaluators coming in.


Everyone in the school needs a mentor. that means all staff. In particular, the Principal. It's such a demanding role, another Principal, District Superintendent trusted someone offers support and validation. Teachers? I'd pair a veteran with a new teacher. The teacher shortage and burn out is concerning. Paired mentors guide each other, stabilize, invigorate one another. The whole school beams with new maker spaces, projects, podcasts, legos and really cool learning experiences. Friends. "? Yes!"

Staff Meetings.

Now that's a hot topic. Teachers lead with their feet. Instead, I suggest you rotate staff meetings through teacher sign-up. Each teacher-leader showcases his/her room and may offer a mini-lessson on a strategy. A gallery walk of the room allows for group reflection on skills taught, how what's going on fits with what they are doing. It's purposeful cohesion, to the max. The Principal is leading by guiding, just as teachers do in their rooms when the doors close. This is transformational leadership at its finest.

Create a culture of learning.

Constructivism. Inquiry. What is the purpose of our school? How does homework fit in? Are we breaching the digital divide? How do we level the playing field for children of poverty? What's the best and quickest way to fill in learning gaps? How do we differentiate for children with so many varying needs? With grace and dignity, of course. All kids learn best, differently and have a spark of creative genius we cultivate. That's why we teach. Exactly. 


Being a change agent is the name of the game. For some, change means growth and new opportunity. How do we reduce fear of change, get through the inital tough period of flux, deal with dissent, hear every voice? My opinion, but nobody truly "buys in", as I've said. There has to be perceived need. Start with the nucleus, focus and congratulate teachers as leaders. The dance exchanges leaders and followers and hopefully doesn't step on too many toes, until the new concept or program becomes the norm and easy.

Flow state.

Start with Maslow, add in Dewey. Learning states include lowest, on task, next comes engaged, then flow, the highest state where we are so cohesive as a class and school aha! moments are the norm. Usually "with-it" (Kounin) teachers have heightened senses, lose track of time and remember why we became teachers in the first place. Teaching is a joy, forever. Look at the happy kids. Voila!

Reflections on the journey.

So back to our own KWL. Where are we as individual learners and school leaders? How's that roadmap to excellence looking?

My husband was a great dancer. I had trouble following him. It took awhile to figure it out. I was a leader for so long I forgot how to follow. By sharing leadership with each other, our "Yo! Yes! truly becomes Raschksa's vision come true, "Yow"!

Wishing you an affirming Teacher Appreciation Week this week and every week. Thank you, America's best Principals and Teachers, all.


Leaving footprints on your reading hearts, Rita



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Modeling the art and craft of teaching reading for 45 years, Mrs. Wirtz taught language arts, speech and reading at all levels preschool-adult, including penal. She served as Pre-school and K-6 Principal. Rita was also a Curriculum Consultant, ESEA, Title I Program Evaluator and literacy trainer. At the university level she taught school administration in the Bilingual Cohort at CSUS and National University, Sacto. Mrs. Wirtz also taught all reading courses for Chapman University for many years in Sacramento and Placerville, Ca., and mentored student teachers. On the national level she was a well known motivational Keynote Speaker and Seminar Leader. Most importantly, Rita walked the talk, teaching with teachers in more than 500 K-12 and special needs classrooms. Rita authored books, publications and Pre- YouTube, videos were filmed by San Diego County Office of Education. Calif. ASCD authored companion book guides, and Calif. school districts correlated her basic skills instruction with State Standards. Mrs. Wirtz' newest book is Reading Champs! Teaching Reading Made Easy, a review of the basic building blocks of English and Reading. Find Mrs. Wirtz on Twitter @RitaWirtz, Facebook and website- www.ritawirtz.com.

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Guest Tuesday, 25 October 2016