The Effective Executive

Peter Drucker has been called the Father of Management Theory.  His book, The Effective Executive (1967) is an excellent treatise on how executives should work to be most effective.  Here’ s a summary of his main points that are worth considering and putting into practice.

  1. Effect executives know where their time goes.  They work systematically at managing the title of their time that can be brought under their control

  2. Effective executives focus on outward contribution.  They gear their efforts to results rather than to work.  They start out with the question, “What results are expected of me?” rather than with the work to be done, let alone with its techniques and tools.

  3. Effective executives build on strengths – their own strengths, the strengths of their superiors, colleagues, and subordinates: and on the strength of the situation, that is on what they can do.  They do not build on weaknesses. They do not start out with the things that they cannot do.

  4. Effective executives concentrate on the few major areas where superior performance will produce outstanding results.  They force themselves to set priorities and stay with their priority decisions.  They know that they have no choice but do to first things first – and second things not at all.  The alternative is to get nothing done at all.

  5. Effective executives, finally make effective decisions.   They know that this is above all a matter of system – of the right steps in the right sequence.  They know that an effective decisions is always based on “dissenting opinions” rather than a consensus of the facts.  And they know that to make many decisions fast means to make the wrong decisions.  What is needed are few, but fundamental, decisions.  What is needed is the right strategy rather than razzle-dazzle tactics.


Building on strengths, focusing on a few (TWO at most!) goals, and making the best use of our most precious resource – time – are common sense ideas that are rarely practiced.



Can you really just Google it?

You and I have both read this many times and it goes something like this. Why do we need to teach content when students can just Google it?  We should never teach anything that students can learn from the Internet.  Well…

When the lawyer is standing before a judge to defend a client, can you really just Google “Plessy v Ferguson”?


When the surgeon is standing over an open chest ready to execute a bypass, can you really just Google “circulatory system”?


When the project manager is standing before a team of software engineers tasked with creating the next hight tech gadget, can you really just Google “javascript”?


When the architect is standing over blank blueprints for the design of a new football stadium (hopefully in San Diego) can you really just Google “weight-bearing principles”?

No, this is not an argument for purposeless rote memorization.  Rather this is a necessary call for balance.  Students must become critical thinkers and problem solvers and creative producers, however students who become experts at these processes are always filled with content and knowledge, indeed the former is IMPOSSIBLE without the latter.

Schools must be experts in both imparting knowledge to students and creating environments where that knowledge is used in authentic and meaningful tasks.  We err when we emphasize one side of this equation to the exclusion of the other.

If you don’t believe, then just Google it!



Wisdom From our Students

I recently had the privilege of sitting in on a student panel of Sweetwater High School students at #edcamp619 where students enthusiastically shared what they need from the adults running their schools.  Their comments would be a great Table of Contents for a teacher induction program.

They think they know us.

There are a handful that understand.

Give it to me straight.  Don’t sugarcoat it.

Don’t assume you know your students.

Stop saying “ Your feelings are invalid”

I’m not my brother.

I’m not my dad.

Tone is important.

Happiness isn’t about money.

“They look like they enjoy what they’re talking about.”

Do try to avoid rows.

Give students choice in seats.

Have good energy

Do more than just your job.

Please interact with your students.

Switch it up.

Ask a lot of questions

Don’t do pop quizzes

Teachers shouldn’t be sitting at the desk.

Are we listening?

We Need to Assess More.


Now I know we are all having NCLB hangovers.

And the #optout movement is gaining steam.

And there’s not enough time to teach.

But wait a minute.  I didn’t say we need to test more.  I said we need to assess more. There’s a big difference.

The word assess comes from a latin word  that means to “sit beside” and that is the perfect picture of the assessment we need to proliferate in our schools. I’m thankful for Robert Liquanti from WestEd who is the inspiration for these comments.   He recently spoke to an audience of district and site administrators at the San Diego County Office of Education sharing the emphasis in California on formative assessment as the lynchpin of our school improvement strategy.
The kind of assessment that should be encouraged, practiced regularly, refined and enhanced looks like…

Observing student behavior

Listening to kids read

Listening to kids talk

Listening to kids ask questions

Observing student complete challenging tasks

Analyzing student work

Analyzing student self-reflection

And this type of assessment goes hand and glove with specific feedback to help the learner move closer to mastery each step of the way.
This assessment should be frequent, not just every six weeks or even weekly, but constantly, many times in a day, many times in a class period.
Anders Ericsson in his book Peak discusses the type of practice that experts undertake – what he calls deliberate practice.
And these experts bathe their deliberate practice in a sea of feedback on their performance.  It’s  feedback toward a goal that our students need each and every day.
The assessment of purposeful activities with feedback will lead to improved learning outcomes for every student.
So, go ahead and test less.  I’m with you on that one.  However, let’s assess more and learn.

Questions To Inform Tech Integration

I’ve been thinking a lot about the best way to integrate technology in education and I’m convinced that we need to begin with  questions that  teachers ask during planning if we are going to choose technology that will actually enhance learning.  Here are the questions that I think capture the heart of teacher planning for optimal learning.  I’d love to hear what others think. What would you add, delete, modify?

Engaging Content

How do I engage students with rich and authentic content that will create a conducive learning environment?

Collaborative structures

How do I design collaborative structures so students can struggle with ideas and engage with one another to test hypotheses and solidify learning?

Deliberate practice and feedback

How can I incorporate deliberate practice of key skills and knowledge-with feedback-so students can develop the knowkedge and skills that our learning outcomes demand?

 Demonstration of learning 

How can I provide opportunities for students to demonstrate their mastery of learning in creative and authentic modes?


Mandates Muddy the Waters

I’m confident that the vast majority of mandates come from a place of good intentions. however they often have unintended consequences that can produce the opposite of what the designers intended.  Let’s take a look at some data to see how this works.

Screenshot 2016-05-24 06.15.01

With a quick look at this data, you would ask yourself, which of these groups needs attention – maybe even a mandate?  I would vote for that green bar, wouldn’t you?  Well, you and I would both be wrong, for the group that gets a mandate is this one.

Screenshot 2016-05-24 06.20.13So, why would the state of California pick the second highest performing group to deliver their mandate and send schools across the state scurrying to monitor these children.  Actually it’s quite logical, yet ultimately wasteful.

Screenshot 2016-05-24 06.21.18

These students who benefit from the mandate of which I speak are Redesignated Fluent English Proficient students.  This means that they were once English Learners (actually they are still English Learners by my definition – a topic of another post) and they have now reached English fluency by multiple measures including proficiency on the California English Language Development Test (CELDT).

The mandate is clear that RFEP students must be monitored for two years after redesignation. It makes sense.  We don’t want schools to forget about these students just because they have reached fluency.  There is the real chance that they still have gaps in their learning and might fall through the cracks.  This mandate makes further sense  in that the English Learners who are that low performing group, its assumed, are already receiving attention and instruction to support their language and academic needs.

The reality is that – because of the mandate – a system of bureaucratic monitoring is engaged in by schools across California for this high performing group and the state of California sends out monitors to ensure that the follow through occurs.  At the very least schools must prove that they are meeting with these students and document their action plan.  This task takes up a significant amount of time and energy that cannot be devoted to students who clearly have  a greater need.

The tradeoff is quite clear.  You can force schools to perform perfunctory monitoring of students who are mostly well on their way to academic success, and no doubt you will catch a few students who are falling through the cracks.  However, the cost of this monitoring is that more and more English Learners – in particular Long Term English Learners are receiving less attention and have never got up out of the chasm of low performance.

What’s a leader to do?

Put more energy, time, and attention to the students who need it based on the data.

Monitor if you must but find a way to do so that is efficient and only focuses on those RFEPs who are truly struggling.  Use the data to convince the  monitoring police that your attention to a smaller number of RFEP students is justified.

Encourage the state of California to eschew mandates,  well-intentioned or not, and set policy that allows schools and districts to make  decisions at the local level to address their strengths and weaknesses.


How to Write a Promotion/Graduation Speech

Every story demands a fitting conclusion. What will yours be-

It’s every Principal’s nightmare.  Not only do you have to coordinate and attend a flurry of activities at the end of the year, you have to give that dreaded speech at promotion/graduation.  Your stomach tightens in anticipation just as Prince Albert (AKA George VI) who stammered his way to immortality by finally overcoming his fears and shortcomings.  What is a leader to do?  Having been a site leader for over 20 years, I have given my share of end of the year commencements and I offer some advice that has guided my thinking and planning to craft speeches that have been warmly, indeed at times, enthusiastically received.  Of course, if you want to cut to the chase here are some speeches I’ve written in the past you are welcome to beg, borrow, and steal and skip all the advice.  But if you decide to write your own, and I hope you do, here are 8 guidelines that have been guided my thinking over the years.

8 Elements of an Effective Promotion/Graduation Speech

Embrace the Opportunity – Mindset and attitude are everything.  Relish the opportunity to put an appropriate exclamation mark on your ceremony and school year.  You could invite some illustrious speaker, but your students don’t need to hear from politicians and strangers.  You alone are uniquely qualified to give advice and commemorate this threshold achievement.  Take the time to reflect on the shared journey you have enjoyed with these young people and you will realize that the opportunity to leave them with one last – and memorable lesson – is worth your time and effort to craft a worthy message.

Know your Audience – Put yourself in the graduates’ shoes.  What will they be thinking that day?  Will they be excited, relieved, fearful, or just hungry?  Maybe a little of all of these things.  Use that understanding of their wonderings to connect with those emotions that are swirling around their adolescent minds.  Relieve some of their anxiety.  Capture some of that excitement, and speak briefly so they can go out to lunch or dinner with the family!!!

Names, Names, Names – In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers he highlights an editor in chief of a local newspaper who repeated this theme as a mantra for his local newspaper.  He understood that a local newspaper would be most popular if it included as many names of the community as possible. In your speech take this last opportunity to highlight amazing students for their academic, athletic, artistic, and character exploits.   Think about those students who so often go unnoticed and may be shy, quiet, and timid. If you have noticed something worth commending, now is the time to call out those silent stars.

Tug at the heartstrings – Those emotions I mentioned above are your best friend. Making connections to the bonds of parental love and the anxiety of losing and gaining friends is a great way to get the attention of your distracted listeners.  If you can coax a tear by getting them to reflect on their first day of kindergarten or a childhood memory, you’ve hooked ’em. While your audience is restless, they are also pensive and melancholy as they traverse this life transition.

Connect your story to theirs – Even though many years and maybe decades separate you from your young audience.  With a little imagination, you will realize that you have much more in common than you have differences.  J.K. Rowling did this masterfully at her Harvard Commencement speech.   What advice would you give to your 12-year-old (18-year-old) self?

Give brief and clear advice – You have lived longer than your audience and they need your wisdom.  What has helped you navigate the seasons of life?  Meditate on your successful habits and your failures.  Tell the stories that you know will illustrate those truths.  As an educator, there must be some principles that you hold dear that you would like to emphasize one last time with the microphone that you have earned by your position of leadership.  Take that chance and teach!

Be funny – Humor is memorable so don’t be afraid to inject levity into your speech. One of the tricks that I have employed is making fun of popular culture icons (I mean, it’s not that hard, really).  Of course, you should never be mean or degrading, but there is a lot of humor – and some life lessons – in the public follies of some of our culture’s stars.

Repeat, repeat, repeat – Make a few simple points and repeat them over and over. I mean, the chances of anyone remembering anything you say are quite low, so repetition may give one of your ideas a fighting chance of lasting through the weekend and maybe even impacting a big decision that is looming on the horizon.

I hope these suggestions have sparked your creativity and willingness to give some thought to how you will write the final episode of the story of your school year – and for these graduates – the story of their elementary, middle, or high school career.  So, sit down and write out a heartfelt message to deliver to your students and leave them with one final lesson to take with them on their next phase of life.

The Long View



No Child Left Behind (NCLB) rewarded and punished schools for outcomes related to English and Math scores on standardized tests, therefore you and I designed our schools to produce results on these metrics.  We eventually realized – some sooner than others – that there were unintended consequences for this narrow, short term focus.

Some of those unintended consequences included …

1. Narrowing the curriculum

2. Isolated content and skill focus

3. Increase in departmentalization of content

4. Charter innovations such as High Tech High, and

5. Short term (year to year) focus from school and district leadership.

The reauthorization of the federal law, now known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), has the potential of ushering in a new era – one that could lead to more thoughtful and long lasting school improvement, however our efforts need to be informed by a “Long View” approach.  Quick fixes and narrow solutions will not produce the type of sustainable results that our students and communities need.

 Here are 5 practices to produce long term health for our schools.

  1.  Commit to emphasizing the long view.  Embracing ONLY short term goals leads to the unintended consequences mentioned above.  Emphasizing long term goals means that we need to do the hard work of improving teaching and learning instead of looking for quick fixes that promise astronomical gains. Learning is not linear.
  2. Select learning goals.  Goals that are related to performance  and outcomes are not as effective as goals related to learning.  For example, a school that focuses on student motivation and engagement has a better chance of ultimately raising academic performance than a school that focuses directly on the academic performance (see unintended consequences above).
  3. Determine the antecedents of excellence (Doug Reeves term) for your system and start measuring them.  Research, experience, and experimentation should all  be employed to determine what a school or system should measure in order to move the ball forward.  You start by discovering what you value, then ask the question, “What should we be doing to achieve that aim?”  Don’t be afraid to measure soft skills.  There are always behaviors that are congruent with the values, beliefs, or philosophy that your organization has decided to pursue.
  4. Take action based on the data you are collecting.  So, you’ve decided to measure social emotional health, and started collecting data through surveys or other modes of information.  OK, now act on what you are learning!   The only thing worse than doing nothing is studying  the problem, collecting some data, THEN doing nothing. Take action from the data that you collect and communicate that action throughout the organization so that everyone understands what is changing and why.
  5. Hold your values and beliefs firm while constantly questioning and improving your metrics.  The long view, paradoxically, should include short cycles of inquiry that help you improve your area of focus as quickly as possible.   Measures that are intended to build knowledge that leads to action must be continually reflected upon and revised in order to produce insight that will lead to improved results.

If we take the Long View, our students will learn how to learn and our teachers will learn how to create conditions for  learning instead of gaming standardized test scores.

And, here’s a great resource that has influenced my thoughts around this issue.

The Knowing-Doing Gap by Jeffrey Pfefffer and Robert Sutton