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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, Peter DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. Former superintendent Michael Nelson is a frequent contributor. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

7 Areas to Consider When Deepening Your Impact

By Peter DeWitt — February 28, 2017 5 min read
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If leaders want to have a deeper impact they need to understand their current reality, which will help them understand where to start.

We seem to always be looking for silver bullets. We ask questions like, “Where do I start? Or How can I have a bigger impact?” or look to Twitter and social media to find a guru, edu-celebrity or thought leader to help. They make it look so easy...online. Unfortunately, it’s easy to be a thought leader. It’s hard to be a practioner. It’s easy to inspire others but it’s harder to leave them with actionable steps to take to move forward.

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I was a teacher in several city schools for eleven years. I wasn’t always the best teacher and made many mistakes, but I always tried to have an impact on students. The same can be said for the close to eight years I spent as a principal. Some people liked my leadership style and others did not. Some liked when I was vocal and others did not. Like you, reflection offers us many actions we took that we would do differently.

When I think of having an impact I believe there are a variety of ways to have an impact. One may be how we raise the standardized test scores of students. For full disclosure, this was not an area that I cared about the most. There were numerous other things I cared about more. Some of those areas I cared about more are focusing on learning, increasing creativity instead of compliance, and deepening the relationships I had with staff, students and families.

I believe leaders should understand which area they care about the most and go for it. Academics, relationships or both. However, they also have to understand that there is often work to be done in order to get there, so I have created a list of 7 ways to have more of an impact. If you’re into evidence, you can take each one and take a qualitative or quantitative approach to how it increased effectiveness and engagement.

Those seven ways in no particular order are:
Build the self-efficacy (.63) of others - I was first introduced to Bandura’s research through John Hattie, who I work with as a Visible Learning trainer. Self-efficacy has a .63 effect size, which is well over the hinge point of .40 that equates to a year’s worth of growth for a year’s input. Bandura’s research goes back to the 70’s at the same time we learned about servant leadership from Robert Greenleaf. Self-efficacy is defined as,

people's beliefs about their capabilities to produce designated levels of performance that exercise influence over events that affect their lives. Self-efficacy beliefs determine how people feel, think, motivate themselves and behave. Such beliefs produce these diverse effects through four major processes. They include cognitive, motivational, affective and selection processes."

Foster collective efficacy (1.57) - According to Goddard, Hoy, & Woolfolk Hoy (2004, p.4) Collective efficacy refers to “the judgments of teachers in a school that the faculty as a whole can organize and execute the courses of action required to have a positive effect on students.” Notice the 1.57 effect size which is nearly quadruple the hinge point. Ontario based, collaborative inquiry expert Jenni Donohoo suggests we build collective efficacy through the following:

1. Create Structures and Processes for Teachers to Engage in Meaningful Collaboration

2. Promote Teacher Leadership and Extend Teachers’ Decision-Making Power

3. Build Awareness That Collective Efficacy Exists and that it is the Number One Factor that Influences Student Achievement

Along with those 3 suggestions from Donohoo, a 4th way to build collective efficacy through collaborative leadership (DeWitt. 2016). Leaders who authentically collaborate with others foster a positive school climate and set up structures for teachers so they can come together in ways that will build collective efficacy.

Lower your status and raise theirs - Leaders have status based on their position. They have the office, their name on the sign underneath the name of the school, and their name is placed on the website, often alongside their welcome message. Unfortunately, there are principals who use that status to get what they want through compliance measures and coercion, and their ego gets in the way of their leadership.

It’s important that leaders have a servant leadership (Greenleaf) mindset and use their status to raise the status of others as often as possible, which often means they try to lower their status in the process.

Meet, Model, Motivate- We need to Meet, Model and Motivate. This is directly tied to the research around self-efficacy. Often leaders meet stakeholders where they think they should be as opposed to where they are, and that’s when communication issues take place. Understanding self-efficacy means we need to ask a few questions to really get to the heart of understanding of stakeholders, model what we want at that time (i.e. co-construct goals, district initiatives, etc.) and motivate them to use it through learning structures Donohoo researched above.

Understand your current reality - This comes from the work of instructional coaching expert Jim Knight, who I work with as an instructional coaching trainer. Knight’s research shows that coaches need to work with teachers to help them understand their current reality so they can establish a quality goal that focuses on a teaching strategy or an aspect of student learning. This translates well into leadership because it’s important for leaders to understand their current reality as well.

We understand our current reality as leaders by working with coaches, mentors or critical friends. We also understand our current reality by creating a building structure (i.e. building level team, collaborative leadership team, etc.) that will provide us with the feedback we need to understand our current reality.

Create a co-constructed goal (.50) - Goal setting has a powerful impact. Teachers and leaders can co-construct a goal together which will help them have a more focused teacher observation. That goal should focus more on learning than teaching.

Feedback focused on learning - When teachers and leaders construct goals together that focuses on student learning more than teaching, and discuss how that goal will be successful, feedback is the necessary follow-up. Effective feedback provides the person on the receiving end with how well they hit the goal or whether they missed the mark. Feedback is complicated and we have to understand that there are levels of feedback given like task, process and self-regulation researched by Hattie in Visible Learning or appreciative, coaching or evaluative which was researched by Stone and Heen in Thanks for the Feedback.

In the End
If leaders want to have a deeper impact they need to understand their current reality, which will help them understand where to start. If you read this blog regularly some of these will not be a surprise for you. Feedback, self-efficacy and collective efficacy are things I have focused on before, but I believe there is so much richness in those topics for leaders to explore. They understand the concept but leaders don’t always use the practices to help them put those concepts into reality (i.e. PLC’s, flipped faculty meetings, etc.).

Peter DeWitt, Ed.D. is the author of several books including Collaborative Leadership: 6 Influences That Matter Most (September, 2016. Corwin Press/Learning Forward). Connect with Peter on Twitter.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.