Tag: Leadership Development

Racial Equity, COVID-19, and Our Schools

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Many thanks to all our educators and education leaders who are doing everything you can to help your students during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are pleased that equity is a primary consideration as K-12 systems across the country are pivoting to provide learning opportunities, food, and social connections to support students and their families during this crisis.

While many aspects of educational equity seem self-evident among the considerations that schools and school personnel are weighing, we have been asked many times,

How do we keep racial equity front of mind?

We will be offering a series of blog posts about equity considerations during this pandemic. What we offer here, in our first post on the subject, is what we consider to be the most important consideration when it comes to racial equity:

Do everything you can to avoid conflating race, poverty, and trauma.

Given the speed by which big decisions are being made in conditions of tremendous uncertainty, we ALL are going to be making assumptions about who is most vulnerable right now. This is inevitable. What research tells us about implicit bias is that our assumptions are informed by and they reinforce bias.

Those of us motivated to overcome bias in our everyday lives will want to regularly ask ourselves — whether reflecting on our own thinking, the decisions we are making, or the ways we are communicating — several questions:

  • “What assumptions am I making about my students of color?”

For example, consider that the upper middle class white student whose single parent is not handling the stress of the economic downturn may struggle to focus on school work, while the black student who has both parents working from home may be energized by new ideas they are encountering while following the curriculum their parents put together during the school closures.

  • “How do I know how my decisions will impact students of color?”

What evidence do I have that my students of color need something or can’t do something or will struggle with something? Who am I relying on for current information about my students? There is tremendous diversity among students of color and just because we think we know the family situation of one student does not mean we know it for all students. It is better to be modest and to recognize we have to make decisions with limited information.

  • “How can I ensure I am not reinforcing stereotypes and implicit biases about my students and their families in the ways I communicate about my decisions and actions?”

One of the most insidious problems with race in America is that we do not have to explicitly announce the race of students and their families when we are talking about helping marginalized community members for the message to trigger and reinforce implicit racial biases. It can be helpful to identify who the community LIKELY will assume a solution is targeted to and to be very careful in public communications that we do not reinforce these assumptions about who is at risk. Offer counterstories as much as possible. This helps us just as much as it helps our communities.

We absolutely must be prepared to support the students who are the most vulnerable and who will suffer during this pandemic. However, the national narratives about race and poverty in America feed assumptions that our vulnerable students are universally black or that our students in poverty are universally in harm’s way. These tendencies to lump students into categories will seep out in surprising ways among well-meaning educators and education leaders. While the correlation between poverty and race is too steep, it is not perfect. There are many people of color who are not poor; the conflation of the two is seriously problematic.

Similarly, many in the middle class in the US tend to think that students in poverty are universally facing trauma in their homes and communities. However, the original research on adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) did not indicate a difference in the prevalence of ACEs by family income. Thousands of students in poverty are highly motivated, work hard, and want to succeed in mainstream society. Thousands are in family units where a parent is home with them all of the time. Thousands have families keeping them intellectually stimulated during the school closures–often in more productive ways than working parents of wealthier students.

Absolutely, we need to think about systemic and personal challenges our students and their families will face during these unprecedented school closures. It helps to recognize, however, that we are very likely to fall into various “equity traps” in the assumptions we make regarding vulnerability.

Some things we might do to avoid these traps:

  • Talk openly about who we assume is likely to suffer and who might thrive in this time away from school. Ideally, have these conversations with a small team of colleagues and/or partners able to provide honest feedback to you and to others. Name race, poverty, and gender as we are talking about it seems a solution is targeted to. Do everything we can to problematize assumptions that inevitably will accompany our conversations and planning. Use that information to ensure we are solving real problems and that we are supporting EVERYONE who may face those problems, not just the ones we are conditioned to think about.
  • Be very careful in our public communications not to reinforce biased ideas about who is at risk. Actively provide counterstories when we are thinking and communicating about these topics. Seek out real examples of families of color who are leading the way and actively imagine others. (Research tells us that even just imagining counterstereotypes or counterstories can reduce the impact of implicit bias.) While scenario building requires us to imagine students who are suffering, we also must imagine students of color who are thriving. Keep reminding ourselves that we do not know what is happening for every student at home, and that we are here to support them all, no matter what.
  • Be prepared to ask and to be asked about the equity implications of the ideas we offer. Find a critical friend who can help catch us when we get caught in the cycle of deficit thinking, or when our actions or words perpetuate that cycle. This work is best done with people we already trust. Shared goals and norms also can pave the way for productive collaborative reflection on race.
  • Extend grace to one another and to yourself. You are doing the right work. If someone points out a potential concern with how we are articulating our thoughts, they do this because they assume positive intent and are taking responsibility for impact. (This is one of West Wind’s norms for engaging in racial equity work.) Thank them, pause to consider their perspectives, push back if we need (“silence breakers” can help with this), but work hard to not get bogged down in shame, guilt, or anger at our critical friends for bringing up something we feel is unflattering or incorrect.

Research on implicit bias tells us that it is important to vet our assumptions with others and to imagine counterstories to counteract the stories and images we have been bombarded with over the course of our lifetimes. This is vital to the process of inoculating our decision making against bias.

It is especially important during this pandemic.


Biernat, M., Manis, M., & Nelson, T.E. (1991). Stereotypes and standards of judgment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 60. 4, 485–499.

Blair, I.V., Ma, J.e. & Lenton, A.P. (2001). Imagining Stereotypes Away: The moderation of implicit stereotypes through mental imagery. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 81, No. 5, p. 828-841.

Boser, U., Wilhelm, M., & Hanna, R. (October 2014). The power of the Pygmalion Effect: Teachers expectations strongly predict college completion. Washington, DC: Center for American Progress.

Devine, P.G., Forscher, P.S., Austin, A.J., & Cox, W.T. L. (2012). Long-term reduction in implicit race bias: A prejudice habit-breaking intervention. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. 48(6): 1267–1278.

DiAngelo, R. (N.D.). White Fragility Reader’s Guide. Penguin Random House: New York, NY. Accessed February 19, 2020, from https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/566247/white-fragility-by-robin-diangelo/9780807047415/readers-guide/

Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at The Ohio State University. (2015). Implicit Bias: State of the Science. Retrieved from http://kirwaninstitute.osu.edu/research/understanding-implicit-bias/.

Lopez, Gerardo. (2001). The Value of Hard Work: Lessons on Parent Involvement from an (Im)migrant Household. Harvard Educational Review 71(3):417-437.

*This was originally posted on West Wind’s Educational Equity Resources Portal.

It’s Not Goodbye, It’s See You Later

It’s Not Goodbye, It’s See You Later

Reading Time: 2 minutes

After nearly two years, Friday June 28, 2013 was my last official day at West Wind Education Policy Inc.  On July 1, I started my new position as Associate Principal at Washington High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  Although I’m thrilled to start this new chapter of my life, it is bittersweet.

On Sunday afternoon, I spent time in my office for the last time. I packed my belongings, taking my graduation plaque down from the wall.  I can honestly say that I’m not sure I would have graduated had I not found a home at West Wind. Continue reading “It’s Not Goodbye, It’s See You Later”

Seeing Through and Beyond

Seeing Through and Beyond

Reading Time: 4 minutes

I just opened an email from a colleague asking me if I could help her find an article she needed for her work with local district administrators across the state. She was looking for The Singular Power of One Goal (Sparks, 1999) to encourage superintendents and principals to consider the importance of establishing a focused school improvement plan. After locating the article in my files and sending it off, I poured a cup of coffee and re-read this familiar work. The article, featuring an interview with Emily Calhoun, is just as current today as it was twelve years ago, and the message is more important than ever.

Dr.Calhoun is a national expert and author who supports schools, districts and state agencies in designing and implementing school reforms that focus on instruction, curriculum and assessment. In this publication, Emily reminds readers of the importance of setting goals sharply focused on student learning. She contends that one powerful student learning goal is sufficient for a school staff to work on. Having too many goals makes it difficult for educators to work collectively to study teaching practices and results. Focusing on one powerful goal enables teams of teachers to engage in highly focused professional learning, dig into the external knowledge base, thoroughly examine student data, and to carefully study the implementation of strategies identified by the faculty.

One of the most important concepts put forward by Emily in the interview is called “seeing through and beyond,” which is a process of identifying all the changes that will be required to accomplish the goal by looking through the goal to the student performances that are expected. The next step is to determine what teacher behaviors in curriculum, instruction, and assessment are needed to promote the desired student behaviors. Continuing the process, the faculty must see right through the teacher behaviors to what the principal and central office need to do. Seeing through and beyond enables program implementers to make better use of data, to design comprehensive staff development, to employ technical assistance and leadership, and to make critical decisions about the effective use of time and resources. A singular goal helps the faculty to focus and to push through to address the things that everyone must be working on to fully accomplish the goal. Of course, limiting the focus of a school’s improvement plan to a single goal is not easily done and achieving the goal is not that simple, and Dr. Calhoun comments on the many barriers and challenges.

When the article came out twelve years ago, districts were struggling to comply with NCLB and having difficulty managing the expectations to meet student achievement goals in multiple subject areas at the same time. Today, districts are still struggling to figure out how to design reforms that accomplish everything that is expected of them, with even fewer resources. The concept of seeing through and beyond is intriguing to think about in our current context.

Schools are being expected to adjust to newly revised student learning standards, modify curriculum, improve formative assessment processes, add more summative assessments, apply new technologies for both classroom and organizational purposes, implement new data management stems, engage parents more fully, respond to revised teaching standards, add new teacher and leader evaluation procedures, deliver intensive professional development, reform hiring and retention practices …and the list goes on.

How might applying the idea of “seeing through and beyond” to policy development change this picture? What if school leaders and policy makers started the policy making process by considering how the policy would enable districts and schools to focus on fewer priorities rather than adding more. Just as school leaders should look through the learning goal and the desired student performance to consider all the actions needed at various levels of the system, policy makers need to see beyond the specific actions and immediate consequences of the policies and reforms they are promulgating. Are there protocols that could help leaders to think about how their policies affect student learning and how they change the behaviors of teachers, principals, central office staff, and other role groups at all levels of the system? Is there a way to consider whether the policies are likely to lead to systemic changes that yield improved practices in instruction and assessment with enough fidelity to the design of the innovation and with enough teaches to make a difference? Reforms where innovations are done incorrectly or partially by many teachers or reforms that are fully implemented by only a small percentage of the teachers responsible for instruction are not going to yield the intended outcomes.

There are processes available to help planners to see through and beyond the policy goal. The new field of implementation science offers strategies for increasing fidelity and ways of accomplishing full scale replication across a large system. The work of Dean Fixsen and the National Implementation Network give policy makers and practitioners a way to intentionally explore and adopt the innovation, consider the various organizational complexities and the context that contributes to the success or failure of an implementation, and address both expected and unexpected barriers to putting a reform in place. Attending to the factors of implementation early in the planning process by using implementation science would give reformers tools they need to increase the likely hood that the policies they advance will make a difference.

In her article from over a decade ago, Emily advised that it takes both leadership and willpower to face the challenges of school reform. It will take leadership to intentionally use today’s implementation science and other processes to “see through and beyond”. It will take will power to narrow the focus of reforms, to selectively abandon projects and reforms that aren’t working, to eliminate barriers to reforms that are likely to accomplish goals of improved teaching and learning and to target actions to the ultimate goal – student learning.

Sparks, D.(1999). The singular power of one goal: Action researcher narrows focus to broaden effectiveness. JSD, Winter, 54-58. Retrieved from http://www.learningforward.org/news/jsd/calhoun201.cfm

Image from Flickr user: Kristin Mckee

Access to Learning

Access to Learning

Reading Time: 3 minutes

This fall I had the opportunity to attend the annual Des Moines Branch of the NAACP Freedom Fund Banquet in Des Moines, Iowa. The featured dinner speaker was Dr. Linda Lane, Superintendent of the Pittsburgh Public School District. Prior to becoming Superintendent in December of 2010, Dr. Lane was the deputy superintendent of the Des Moines Independent Community School District and she was the first female and person of color to hold the position of chief operating officer. From 2006 to 2010 Linda served as the deputy superintendent of the Pittsburgh Public School District. During her time as Deputy Superintendent, Pittsburgh achieved adequate early progress (AYP) for the first time in the district’s history. The district was able to achieve AYP again for the second time in three years with Dr. Lane in the superintendency.

Dr. Lane’s keynote began with her reflections about the impact of the economic crisis on students and families in her district, as well as how funding cuts have had some devastating effects on the Pittsburgh school system.  She stressed that educators and community members must be clear about the purposes of education and that it is paramount that students have access to a high quality education to prepare them to pursue college or work force certification – not just vocational opportunities.

Dr. Lane recommended the book, Pinched: How the Great Recession Has Narrowed Our Futures and What We Can Do About It by Don Peck (2011) to the audience. Peck’s book asserts that the current recession is creating a white male underclass and that unskilled workers are being pushed out of low paying jobs. Unfortunate economic conditions caused by this recession will make it even harder for students of color to find opportunities in the work place. According to Lane, these patterns create an even greater urgency for communities to push for better schooling and clearer paths into careers for students who don’t immediately go to colleges or universities. Lack of education fuels what has been described as the 1% and the 99% wealth-gap. Dr. Lane went on to make the argument that education is power and that history reveals how racial inequities are created and maintained by limiting access to education. For example, laws were established to make teaching slaves to read and write illegal for the purpose of diminishing their power. Sadly, the current laws to prevent Latino/a students from qualifying for in-state tuition because they are undocumented, suggests that denying educational equity continues to this day.

Dr. Lane admonished the audience, “For our kids to do better, we have to do better.” She described efforts to increase student access to education such as the Pittsburgh Promise program that offers scholarships to students who meet grade point and attendance requirements, as well as Promise Net, a network of communities investing in education and economic development by establishing place-based scholarship programs. Dr. Lane wrapped up her remarks by challenging the audience with some difficult questions. What is Des Moines doing to establish scholarship programs? What else can be done to help students to grab opportunities? What more can your community do to increase students’ access to quality education?

To suit the occasion of a banquet, Dr. Lane’s remarks had to be compelling and motivational, but brief.  I found them to be thought-provoking, but I left feeling more worried than motivated. The two themes, that access to education is power and that the negative effects of the current recession will make it harder for students to succeed, caused me to wonder about the ongoing struggle to pass federal education policies to improve student learning. Will the policymakers support and fund actions that increase student access to the robust and meaningful education needed to move large numbers of struggling students to levels of success needed to be successful in college and the workplace? Will the policy platforms being crafted now result in better outcomes for students of color or will they exacerbate the economic and social pressures that are contributing to the current gaps in student performance and graduation rates? Dr. Lane’s reforms are getting traction in Pittsburgh. Work underway there is closing the gap. In another venue, with more time, I am sure that she could elaborate on policies and strategies that work. Perhaps, legislators should be taking a look at her ideas for increasing access to quality education.

Instructional Rounds: A Powerful Reform Strategy

Instructional Rounds: A Powerful Reform Strategy

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Collaboration, networking, school improvement, instructional support, a collaborative learning culture, knowledge building, and rigorous and relevant teaching—these are all attributes and practices school reformers strive for by awarding funds, promulgating rules, instituting strategic plans, launching training initiatives, and extending promises to stakeholders. One approach that truly advances all of these attributes and practices is the instructional rounds process – “an explicit practice that is designed to bring the discussion of instruction directly into the process of school improvement.”[1] Instructional rounds are adapted from a routine used in medical education in which interns, residents, and supervising physicians visit patients, observe, discuss evidence for diagnoses, engage in dialogue to analyze the evidence, and share ideas for possible treatments. Educational rounds brings networks of educators together using protocols and routines to articulate a theory of action, identify a problem of practice, observe classroom instruction, debrief with colleagues to analyze any patterns that emerge, and recommend the next level of work to help the school achieve their desired goals.[2]

Richard Elmore, Lee Teitel, Liz City, and their colleagues from Harvard have developed processes, protocols, and technical assistance resources for establishing networks to implement instructional rounds. They have worked closely with networks and district leaders to apply the practice of rounds, refine the model based on lessons learned, and to expand the community of learners who are able to facilitate the rounds process. Examples of these networks include the Cambridge Leadership Network, the Connecticut Superintendents’ Network, the Ohio Leadership Collaborative, and the Iowa Leadership Academy Superintendents’ Network. I have had the privilege of being a member of the Iowa Leadership Academy Superintendents’ Network – an experience that has allowed me to participate in intensive training provided by Dr. Elmore and the Harvard team, engage as both a member on various rounds teams and as a facilitator of the rounds process in several Iowa school districts, and to continuously learn from my fellow rounds facilitators through our Network meetings.

The instructional rounds model seems to be gaining more traction and is recently being advanced as a model for  school leaders and  teachers as a means to transform educator practice.  What I have noticed in my work with the rounds model in Iowa is that it offers tremendous benefit to the Network members and to the participating schools.  The process focuses the district’s efforts on, what Elmore calls, the instructional core. Engaging in rounds builds the capacity of superintendents to recognize quality instruction, enhances trust among Network members, increases their willingness to take on the challenges of influencing change, and leads to a culture of inquiry that enhances professional learning.

On a cautionary note, I have also noticed some aspects of the model that anyone aspiring to adopt this approach should consider.  Some of the lessons learned from my own work with rounds and from sharing experiences with other facilitators in Iowa are listed below.

  • Though the steps for conducting rounds may seem straightforward, in practice, it is a very difficult program for participants to implement.
  • Establishing a network takes an extraordinary amount of work and leadership. In Iowa, Bonnie Boothroy of School Administrators of Iowa and several of the Area Education Agency Chiefs have committed extensive amounts of time and effort to establish and sustain Iowa’s Network.
  • Being a member of a network takes a lot of time, commitment to learn, and perseverance to follow through and apply new learning. It is not a model for anyone who wants their professional growth to be quick and easy. Becoming a facilitator is an extremely valuable professional learning experience, but the work of developing the skills needed to support a network and run the rounds process can’t be shortchanged.  The “faint of heart” should not apply.
  • New capacity building is needed to do this work. School leaders shouldn’t consider running rounds without background knowledge. Instructional Rounds in Education: A Network Approach to Improving Teaching and Learning a well written book by City, Elmore, Fiarman, and Teitel (2009) is a great resource, but just reading the book is not a substitute for learning how to conduct rounds from those who have had extensive direct experience.
  • Going to scale across multiple districts and running rounds with fidelity is a constant effort and requires ongoing vigilance. Our network meets several times a year to address how best to support the rounds process and we continuously confront issues that have the potential to seriously domesticate the delivery of the model.

It takes a community of committed practitioners for the networks and rounds process to work well. Isolated implementers who just pick up the book are likely to implement the model partially or incorrectly. Plus, the experience of engaging in collective learning in an organized way will serve school leaders well as they work to establish learning communities in their schools.

School reformers might want to take a look at this promising and exciting approach to school reform. While they should be excited about the potential, reformers also need to be cautious about selecting a model that is demanding to implement.  To fulfill the promise of this approach, school leaders will need to make a serious commitment to engage deeply in the work and be intentional about fully learning the model from experts. The policy makers and administrators who are responsible for designing the roll-out of the rounds networks must attend to the all the factors that are necessary to advance  a model to scale and be vigilant about expecting careful replication of the model.

[1] City, E., Elmore, R. , Fiarman, S. and Teitel, L. (2009). Instructional rounds in education: A network approach to improving teaching and learning. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

[2] Ibid.

Distinguishing Between Technical & Adaptive Change

Distinguishing Between Technical & Adaptive Change

Reading Time: < 1 minute

[box class=”grey_box”]As an organizational partner for The Summit for Courageous Conversation, which took place from September 28 through October 1, 2008, West Wind participated in the program design and contributed this powerful presentation in support of that design. By President Circe Stumbo & Project Director David Davidson.[/box]

Facing Race Together: Sharing the Power of Regional Collaboration

Facing Race Together: Sharing the Power of Regional Collaboration

Reading Time: < 1 minute

[box class=”grey_box”]As an organizational partner for The Summit for Courageous Conversation, which took place from September 28 through October 1, 2008, West Wind participated in the program design and contributed this powerful presentation in support of that design. By Senior Policy Analyst Deanna Hill, and presented with Middletown Superintendent Steve Price & Pacific Educational Group President Glenn Singleton.[/box]

Library image (cc) Jake Rome

More Than Social Networking

More Than Social Networking

Reading Time: 4 minutes

[box class=”grey_box”]A sidebar that appeared in the April 2007 issue of The School Administrator, co-authored by West Wind’s Circe Stumbo and Ohio’s superintendent of public instruction Susan Tave Zelman.[/box]

Superintendents are being asked to lead massive changes in their districts in the name of educating all children. By and large, however, they have not been prepared to lead changes of this magnitude. Networking among superintendents can help, but superintendents need more than social networks as they face today’s challenges. They also need professional networks that offer training and practice in the exercise of leadership.

We draw these lessons from our experience with the Ohio Leadership Forum, a program created in 2004 by the Ohio Department of Education, West Wind Education Policy and Learning Point Associates. The Ohio Leadership Forum is an experimental network providing groups of superintendents and state department of education staff with leadership development and support.

What we have found is that in social networks we are simply too nice to each other. Too often we gloss over the hardest work to be done, backing down when it looks like we are making people uncomfortable or asking questions they would rather avoid.

This is not because social networks are flawed — they fulfill a critical function in a professional’s life. Rather, social networks are designed to minimize discomfort among members who are developing sympathetic and compassionate relationships. It is rarely acceptable for members of social networks to push others to face tough decisions or to ask difficult questions.

Environmental Change

Imagine a superintendent describing a pressing leadership problem in one of our network meetings. His rural community was facing suburban sprawl and experiencing discomfort with changing demographics and a subsequent clash of values. This superintendent had spent more than two decades in this district enjoying the trust of residents. Most students had performed well, and the community historically had been satisfied with the schools.

With the changing economy and new disaggregated reports on student performance, however, the superintendent began to worry they were not preparing their students to succeed after graduation. He believed they needed to revamp their high school curriculum, offer alternative learning environments and provide opportunities for students to learn new skills and new courses.

As he began testing the waters in his community, he faced immediate resistance from long-term residents, though he experienced reasonable support from the newer citizens. With a school funding levy coming up, he needed the general population to vote “yes” to fund school operations.

The superintendent framed his challenge this way: How can I advance a program of change for my high school while maintaining support for the upcoming school funding levy?

During his consultation with four other superintendents and a leadership consultant, several suggested he might be avoiding high school redesign not because he was afraid of the levy vote but rather because he was protecting his legacy. They played with the idea he might be concerned that longer-term residents would think he was “siding” with the newer citizenry if he pushed for reforms. They explored the fear he might have of losing important community relationships if he was too bold with proposed changes.

The group offered a wide range of possible interpretations about what might be going on and suggested he examine his own feelings as a way to understand what his community might be experiencing.

Beyond Socializing

Upon reflection, the superintendent admitted he had never thought of his situation in those terms. The group conceded that without an external consultant and a protocol that urged them to think differently, they might have simply helped with a levy campaign strategy — which is not where he needed counsel.

This conversation took place on the second conference call of his small group. What made them able to engage in this level of conversation so quickly?

We believe it was not only because the group had developed trust in their first face-to-face interaction, but because they had a shared framework for understanding leadership challenges. A common vocabulary, a detailed protocol and a trained consultant provided the structure to go beyond social conversation into strategic leadership development.

With the first two cohorts of the Ohio Leadership Forum, we used the Adaptive Leadership (TM) framework and tools from Cambridge Leadership Associates. Using their strict protocol, we provided external consultants who were not caught up in the crisis of the day and did not have a personal stake in the outcomes.

What makes the Ohio Leadership Forum interactions different from those in social networks is, first, we believe people do not necessarily resist change, they resist loss. Our protocol does not ask participants to find the “win-win” in a situation but rather to identify the disloyalty, incompetence or loss the resisters to change might be facing and then help them through it.

Second, we ask participants to consider their “piece of the mess.” They are not allowed to think only about what others are doing wrong; the protocol asks what they are doing or not doing to create the conditions that lead to their challenges. These prompts ensure that participants get beyond easy conversations to those that promote leadership and change.

Our design is far from perfect, but the evaluation of our first cohort suggests the superintendents grew as leaders. Working with the superintendents in the Ohio Leadership Forum helped to solidify in our minds the value of leadership development and professional networking — and how critical it is that professional opportunities like these be supported by local school boards and state departments of education.

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