May 14, 2021


Each EmpowerED 3.2.1 features a brief summary of my musings about and
learning from multiple disciplines as they apply to leadership in education.


How Leaders Think Matters More Than What They Do


I’ve always been a leadership geek digging into and getting lost in research studies, dissertations, articles, books, and blogs both inside and outside of education. I’ve always believed that effective leadership is effective leadership regardless if you’re a company CEO or an educational leader. The similarities of the ASK construct (attitudes, skills, and knowledge) far outweigh the differences of the discipline. Executive leadership coach, Lolly Daskal her 2017 book, The Leadership Gap: What Stands Between You and Your Greatness, identifies the gap that separates the best from the rest. “Great leaders have the ability to rethink who they are—they are open to learning, growing, and changing as leaders.” John Hattie and Raymond Smith in their 2021 book, 10 Mindframes for Leaders: The Visible Learning Approach to School Success, state, “How we think about the impact of what we do is more important than focusing on what we do.” Simon Sinek’s “Golden Circle” as described in his 2009 book Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action reminds us that it is not just what or how we do things that matters; what matters more is that what and how you do things is consistent with why you do them. The common link among these and other experts is that great leaders are great learners and thinkers. They learn, grow, and change from evaluating their impact on others. That’s all about thinking more than it is about doing more.


3 Big Ideas

  1. Listen to the Learning.
    Listen to the learning happening in the schoolhouse (during classroom walkthroughs, professional learning sessions/meetings, and classrooms, remote or in-person. It requires less talk by teachers and school leaders and more listening to student and teacher dialogue; students talking with teachers about what it means to be a learner in their classes. I received a really useful tool from Justin Baeder of The Principal Center for ensuring that you visit every classroom regularly. I found his simple index card system easy to implement and his “10 Questions for Better Feedback on Teaching” adaptable to remote and in-person teaching. Get yours today!
  2. Work Together to Evaluate Impact.
    The bottom line is that if students are not learning, it is because we are not teaching them in ways they can access or understand. It is not the student who has failed or is failing; it is us—the adults responsible for teaching them. So, examining our individual and collective impact becomes urgent, especially in these remote times. You write the narrative at your school. What do you want it to say? Hattie and Smith have more than 1,600 meta-analyses of more than 600,000 studies, involving more than 300 million students and have identified with confidence intervals those specific behaviors that have a positive effect on student progress. Given that we know what works, why don’t we use these data? Hattie and Smith ask why are we satisfied with the status quo and offer three tips to help move this conversation.

    1. Create a culture of learning using shared questions, space for speculation, talk about success and failure, challenge generalizations and explore contradictions, ensure learning as we go, and ask, “so what and what next?”
    2. Promote active engagement in evaluation by backward mapping where we want to get and how we will get there as individuals and as a faculty. Develop implementation rubrics and use them as you observe teaching and learning.
    3. Provide resources to interpret data that can be triangulated and that move us to action. We stay on the path and pay attention to the forks in the road.
  3. Make Success Criteria Explicit.
    So, when is good, good enough? What does a year’s worth of learning look like at your school? Is it reasonable for a student to gain a year’s worth of learning for a year’s worth of teaching? Try this: ask teachers to present a student’s piece of work, discuss the work, bring back another piece of work two months later and ask, is this two months of progress? You can motivate your students with the suggestions in the Teaching Channel article titled “Spark Motivation In Your Students With Success Criteria.” It includes many great examples, tips, and tools.


Champions keep playing until they get it right.” 
― Billie Jean King, tennis pro


What we think determines what happens to us, so if we want to change our lives, we need to stretch our minds.” 
― Wayne Dyer, author and speaker


1 Question

How do you establish and maintain a relentless focus on learning?




About the Author: Marcia Baldanza is also the author of Professional Practices, a Just ASK Senior Consultant. and adjunct professor at Marymount University. Until recently she worked for the School District of Palm Beach County, Florida, where she was an Area Director for School Reform and Accountability; prior to that she was Director of Federal and State Programs.










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