4 Ways Schools Can Effect a Smarter Electorate


How important is it for educators to know that the electorate makes decisions about candidates primarily by their emotions, rather than through reasoning?  But before this question can be answered, we must first consider other questions:

1. Should schools play a role in having an informed citizenry that can apply reasoning to political issues?

Decades ago a consensus formed that schools do play this role in our society.  This is reflected in part through the school curriculum, which includes courses on government and history.  Character education programs also often include good citizenship as one of their important principles.  In 1930, Eleanor Roosevelt wrote:
“. . . remember that on the public school largely depends the success or the failure of our great experiment in government “by the people, for the people.”

2. Do we know how to provide students with the reasoning skills needed to tackle complex political issues?

An abundance of teaching strategies are available for teachers to guide their students to reason about significant topics.

Some strategies:

  • Model our own reasoning
  • Debates
  • Review and discuss case studies
  • Require reasoned position papers
  • Analyze statements by candidates and their surrogates

I wonder what percentage of teachers in schools employ these approaches as opposed to the all too familiar lecture method.

3. If we do provide students with these skills and attitudes, how can this be sustained into adulthood?

Maybe you have some ideas about this question.  I would love to hear them.  You can post them in the Comment section.

I believe that through more engaged types of learning, and encouraging students to follow what’s happening in the world, we can get them to ‘feel in their bones’, why our founding documents are so special.  They need to understand that our constitution is not self-sustaining; that it lives through the lives of women and men who cherish it’s basic principles.  And that emotion detached from reason will lead to chaos and the destruction of our institutions.

4. Should all emotions be taken out of political decisions?

Even if we thought it desirable, it would be impossible.  We are human beings after all; with both rational and emotional sides.  Intuition and feelings about candidates will always play, and should play a role in evaluating them.  Students should know this and maybe even learn to further develop their intuitive skills.

But if we let our emotions rule, we become prisoners to them.  They rule us, rather than the other way around.  White hot emotion blinds us to what is right and can lead to mob rule (a persistent fear of the Founders), placing our democracy in danger.  Just like our government has checks and balances, our emotions need to be checked by our rational side.

Now back to the original question:  How important is it for educators to know that the electorate makes decisions about candidates primarily by their emotions, rather than through reasoning?

I believe that educators are obligated to help sustain our nation’s values, principles and key institutions.  If most of the electorate makes decisions based upon emotional responses, rather than primarily through rational thought, educators have a duty to assist in correcting this imbalance.


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Comments are encouraged and welcomed.



4 Ways to Build Trust In Schools

trust3Trust is the glue that holds organizations together.  Unfortunately, some leaders don’t grasp this truth and work in ways that destroy, rather than build trust in their schools. They undermine their own goals, many of which may be very worthy.  Goals can only be reached if the support exists to faithfully implement the plans to do so.  It is unlikely this will happen in a culture marked by mistrust.

In this post, I list 4 ways that school leaders can demonstrate that they are worthy of gaining the trust of those they supervise.

If you violate the norms of the school culture and come across like a bull in a china shop, it is unlikely your ideas will gain more than grudging acceptance.  You will be viewed with mistrust because the only person you listened to, was yourself.

  • Listen and learn about the organization before making any changes
  • Learn the culture and history of the school
  • Find out what programs worked and failed in the past
  • Focus on developing positive relationships with staff

If the staff believes that you are not credible in you pronouncements, why should they follow you? 

  • Involve staff in creating school priorities
  • Provide reasoned arguments for the adoption of a new program or technique
  • Demonstrate your concern for students and staff through your comments and actions
  • Demonstrate an excellent knowledge about your program, including research to support your position

Think about those people you have worked with who were and were not reliable.  Which ones gained your trust?

  • Can you be counted on to follow through on your commitments?
  • Act in ways that merit confidence in you as a person
  • Be consistent in your demeanor and approach to problems
  • Be visible; show up on time; don’t over commit

Is it possible to have trust in a leader who acts unfairly?  Why?

  • Share the credit for school successes
  • Treat all with the respect they deserve
  • When  making decisions get input from those who will be directly affected by the decision
  • Provide staff with specific recommendations for improvement and give time to implement them before taking punitive steps
  • Show that you are willing to assess ideas from others based upon their value, even if different from your own positions

A culture where trust permeates the school allows for genuine collaboration.  It is the medium through which you gain high staff morale and a commitment to excellence.  It is the only path to success for you and your school. 

Here is a Surefire Method to Improve Schools

Can a school be great without a great principal?  Research indicates that the answer is no.  The undeniable fact is that principals are the most influential figures in driving schools toward greatness, or not.

It is  unlikely that anyone knows the percentage of schools having great principals.  It is certainly not 100% and may be lower than 20%.  And then of course, we have the question as to what constitutes great.  Whatever the percentage, it is a safe bet to assert that all principals can improve their performance, even the great ones.

I’ve worked in a variety of evaluation systems during the 35 years that I served as a principal.  Some systems were better than others.  But all of them lacked one essential ingredient: feedback from staff, students and parents.  My supervisors rarely, if ever, attended meetings that I conducted, observed interactions with my school community or reviewed my written communications.  Unless parents or teachers complained to central administration, it was highly unlikely that a supervisor will learn about a principal’s faults.

One method for remedying this gap in knowledge between how the principal performs and the supervisor’s knowledge of that performance, is to employ a multi-source feedback instrument  . The most common one employed by the business community is the 360 degree feedback survey.  “Studies suggest that over one-third of U.S. companies use some type of multi-source feedback.  Others claim that this estimate is closer to 90% of all Fortune 500 firms.” Wikipedia


  • Completed by principal and anonymously by school community members: staff, peers, supervisors, students, parents
  • Can be used in conjunction with or replacement for principal evaluation system; or as a developmental tool
  • Used to identify strengths and weaknesses of principal’s performance
  • Feedback given on approximately 10 areas of responsibilities found to impact school achievement (school culture, group dynamics, communication, etc.)


  • Addresses the fact that principals rarely get valid, specific feedback about  performance on their key responsibilities
  • Studies in the business world indicate improved employee performance after using
    performance based assessments  (J. Folkman)
  • Able to use the results to set goals and create action plans to improve performance
  • Demonstrates to all, a commitment to your own professional growth

The 360 degree survey is a relatively neutral tool.  How the tool is implemented will determine its effectiveness.  “360 data is only helpful to the extent that it gets acted upon and used. The majority of programs we see simply give the feedback and then it gets swiftly forgotten. No plan = no change in behavior.” Forbes

So it is critical that all involved understand that a plan will result from the data collected.  The plan should be closely monitored leading to future surveys that will assess progress.


  1.  Do not rush into using the survey.  If you are at central administration, you may ask a few principals to volunteer
  2. If you are a principal, initially use it to do a self-assessment without involving others
  3. Review the  literature on using the 360 degree feedback survey in both corporate and education settings.  Modify the contents of the survey to meet your needs.
  4. Jointly develop a process that will increase the likelihood of its benefits and avoid anger and mistrust issues

Finally, and most importantly, I strongly urge that for at least the first two years, that the survey be used as a developmental, rather than as an evaluative tool.  The goal is to improve, not find fault. In the ideal world each principal who uses this instrument would have an external coach who has served with distinction as principal. Short of that ideal, I could see principals in a district join together in a trusting, collaborative relationship to assist each other on those dimensions of the position needing improvement.

A multitude of approaches can be used to improve schools.  But without a strong, effective principal supporting and pushing them, the odds of significant change are slim. For this to occur, the use of the 360 Degree Feedback Survey offers hope.

Note: Email me at stelev@comcast.net if you want a copy of a 360 degree survey that I modified for use with principals.




Courage in Schools — 4 Examples



During my first year, in the first month of my new assignment as middle school principal, I was confronted with a choice that had the potential for derailing my career and negatively impacting my family.   It was late afternoon when I received a phone call from the Board Secretary, that she would soon bring me 500 copies of  the Board of Education’s position paper on the tense negotiations currently underway with the teacher’s association.  She told me that this was a Board decision and I had no choice but to give this information to the more than 1000 parents expected to attend Back To School Night, that evening.  I immediately understood that refusal would probably cost me my job, but handing out this provocative information in an event designed to bring the school and community closer together, was wrong.

Fortunately, this matter was resolved without my being fired or distributing the information to parents.  Someone  told me that I was courageous for taking the stand that I did.  But with two small children, a new house and  other financial obligations, was I  courageous, or foolish to do what I did?  It is said that there can’t be courage without fear.  Well, I was certainly fearful.  But now, many years later, I still have not been able to answer this question.  I guess, maybe a little bit of both.


Some teachers were scared to arrive even a little late to the art room to pick up their class.  If they were late, or in some way violated the art teachers strict code of behavior (for others, not her), they were in for a scolding; often in front of their own students.  In other words, the art teacher was a bully.  No teacher had the courage to stand up to her, until one day, a fifth grade teacher had had enough.  She came to the defense of another teacher when she told the art teacher,  “You may intimidate other teachers, but you do not intimidate me, and stop treating your colleagues this way.”  The bully had been called out and thereafter pulled in her horns.  The fifth grade teacher had summoned the courage to speak up and made working at that school better for all.

Other examples of teacher courage in schools include:

  •  Disagreeing with principal at a faculty meeting about a significant school issue
  • Informing the supervisor of another teacher who frequently screams at his students
  • Telling  a parent who is often hostile something negative about their child
  • Taking an opposing position from the group consensus


A fourth grade teacher developed an exceptional writing program, confirmed by observations and by a variety of assessments.  The principal thought that it would be a great idea to have this teacher present a workshop about her program, with the intent of possible school-wide adoption.   But schools can be places of conformity, where the following Japanese Proverb rules:

‘The nail that sticks out shall be hammered down’

The teacher overcame her fear of standing out from the faculty and presented a fantastic workshop that was praised by the staff and with some modification, became the writing program for the whole school.  Student writing improved significantly.  If it weren’t for this teacher exhibiting courage, and risking the possible alienation of some fellow staff member, this would never have occurred.  This happened a number of years ago, and my perception is that the culture of schools has improved where teachers now assume a variety of leadership roles.


  • The student who stands up to the kid bullying his friend
  • The principal who challenges the superintendent’s ideas
  • The parent who has legitimate concerns about a teacher’s practices but raises them any way
  • The secretary who tells the principal to get his own coffee

Without courage in our schools, change will not occur.  We need educators willing to challenge the status quo, which means taking risks.    We need educators to stand up to those who obstruct what is best for students.  We need COURAGE!












How to Fix the Mess with Teacher Evaluation



Using student test scores to evaluate teachers is harmful to them and to their students.  It’s a simplistic approach to a complex, but not insurmountable problem.  The knowledge we need to improve teaching is readily available.  We can find it in successful schools and from teachers, as well as from research.  What is lacking, is the will and commitment to seek this knowledge.

In 2009, there were 15 states that required test results as one component of teacher evaluation.  By 2015, that number jumped to 43 states. So what is the rationale for this?  The intent is to pressure teachers whose students are not performing well to improve their teaching, or failing to do so, be forced from the classroom.  But the assumptions behind this approach are false:

ASSUMPTION #1  —  We know how to link teacher performance, student learning and test scores.

Actually, we don’t know how to do this.  About 95% of educational researchers dispute this assumption.  They believe the approach of value added models or VAM, is not reliable or valid.  How can a system be valid when teachers who score high one year, score low the following year?  Might not other factors contribute to test results, such as: student characteristics, a new curriculum or the validity of the tests?


  1.  Insure that students are assigned to teachers using a randomized approach that allows a fair comparison between teachers whenever that need arises.

  2. Analyze test scores over a 3 year period, rather than yearly; searching for patterns in performance.

  3. Teachers who are identified as falling below the average of their grade level, receive assistance in the form of: professional development, coaching and opportunities to watch other teachers’ lessons.

ASSUMPTION 2 — Using test scores to motivate teachers to improve their teaching is a valid approach.

A consensus of studies appears to agree with the following statement; “There is also little or no evidence for the claim that teachers will be more motivated to improve student learning if teachers are evaluated or monetarily rewarded for student test score gains.” ERIC: ED516803

The above assumption is based upon Theory X of human motivation discussed in my last post.

A number of national polls reveal that teachers feel that they are under unprecedented stress by the focus placed upon them by policy makers. Network for Public Education’s Survey


  1. Create a school culture focused on strong teacher collaboration.

  2. Provide frequent opportunities for teachers to learn from each other.

  3.  Establish a teacher evaluation system based on current standards for effective teaching.

ASSUMPTION 3 — Students will benefit from VAM.

Some of the negative consequences when teachers believe that their job may depend upon test scores are:

  • testing becomes the main focus of instruction to the neglect of other subjects and activities

  • stress on students as well as teachers when test are given paramount importance

  •  temptation to cheat


  1. Stop using test results to measure teacher performance.

  2. Fully engage teachers in the design and implementation of the evaluation process using the best research available.

ASSUMPTION 4 — Teachers not meeting expectations will be removed from teaching

From the limited evidence we have so far, using test results has not made much of a difference. One recent quote undermines this assumption: “The vast majority of teachers — almost all — are identified as effective or highly effective.National Council on Teacher Quality.


1.  Teachers identified as in need of assistance receive a jointly created improvement plan.

2. Failure to achieve the objectives in the plan may lead to removal from teaching.

3.  Expectations and supervisor recommendations need to be clear and specific.

I hope that this post serves as a springboard for discussion to reduce teacher and administrator stress under the current system for teacher and principal evaluations.

How to Fix Teacher Dissatisfaction


70% of teachers in a 2014 Gallup study reported that they felt disengaged from their schools.  That is an astounding figure.  In this post, I explore one reason and offer suggestions for fixing this condition. This is the first in a series of  posts on this topic.  I  invite you to follow this blog and offer your comments on this urgent topic.   


$620 billion dollars was spent on education in the U.S. during the 2012-13 school year.  Politicians want to know what the public is getting in return for this spending.  This makes sense.  But if the strategies employed to insure accountability are based upon a theory of worker motivation that says teachers,

  • Have to be controlled and threatened to deliver what’s needed.

  • Need to be supervised at every step, with controls put in place.

then we may face unintended consequences that will lead to results contrary to the goals being sought.

Question for Reader

How does the above approach to accountability impact teachers?;  Students?
(Please answer on Contact Form)


  • Identify for the public the specific qualities that effective teachers possess.

  • Identify for the public the instructional philosophy that all teachers are to exhibit in their classrooms.

  • Identify for the public the specific skills and knowledge that students must master.

  • Require frequent contact with parents about their child’s strengths and needs.

  • Hold superintendents and principals accountable for monitoring the above.

  • Board of Education reports progress on the above bi-annually to the public.

The above suggestions are aligned with a theory of worker motivation that believes teachers:

  • Take responsibility and are motivated to fulfill the goals they are given.

  • Seek and accept responsibility and do not need prescriptive instructions.

Under which approach to accountability is it more likely that we will  attract and retain highly intelligent and creative people to join the profession of teaching?

The question answers itself.

 Further Reading

Theory X and Theory Y


8 Mistakes to Avoid when Managing Change

change-management-21.  CORE VALUES–S’MORE VALUES

Too often, the school’s core values hang on walls around the building and become invisible.  If the vision for your school is a deserved reputation for excellence, then a laser focus on your core values is essential.  This means that all proposed changes are tightly aligned with these values.  Stayed focused on them; don’t get sidetracked!


Yes, some teachers are resistant to any change, but most will be supportive if their concerns are addressed. It should be expected and planned for that your staff will have legitimate concerns about the innovation.  The  following brief video looks at the Stages of Concern that teachers go through during the implementation of a new program.



Hard core resisters can undermine the project.  Give special attention to them.  Schedule meetings with them (individually) where you listen to their reasons for opposing the innovation.  Explain your rationale for promoting the new program, with an emphasis on the benefits to students.  See if you can come to some agreement.  At the very least, they will feel that you want their support and took the time to listen to them.  However, at some point, you might have to say, “the expectation is that all teachers will faithfully implement the program.”  Who said that the job of principal was easy?


You just came back from a conference where you heard about a great program that will give your school lots of positive publicity.  A committee is created to further investigate the program. At a faculty meeting, you energetically announce that this PR Program will be the focus for the coming school year.  Because of your enthusiasm for this project, the staff does not challenge you.  But with many struggling  students in their classrooms; a new math curriculum to implement, how can you expect them to fully support an innovation that has little relevance to them?


Seeking ideas from staff sends the message that you respect them.  Its just not realistic to expect a commitment to the innovation if the people tasked with implementing it, had no voice in shaping it.  And without their participation during the planning stage, how likely is it that they will fully understand it?  And finally, how likely is success?


Even small changes require effort.  More significant change, such as implementing a new reading program can send some over the edge.  Support is essential during the initial implementation phase.  Ways to provide support may include: coaching, teacher-to-teacher visitations, and follow-up workshops.


How do you know that all is fine with the new program unless a monitoring mechanism is in place?  This mechanism should include specific criteria that assesses fidelity to the program.  Make adjustments where needed.


Let’s recognize that the changes we made in our own lives were often difficult to make.  Change in a complex organization, like a school, is harder.  It requires a strategy like the one depicted in the diagram at the top of this post. It requires clear thinking and devotion to moving your school toward excellence.


4 Steps To Highly Effective Professional Development

“.  . . Several studies over the past few years have found professional development to be largely ineffective or unhelpful for teachers.”  Hechingereport.  Just think of all the time and money consumed by PD activities each year with such disappointing results.  This is tragic, especially because we have the knowledge to significantly improve teacher training.  But this knowledge is rarely used.  This post applies this knowledge in mapping out 4 steps that will lead to an effective professional development program for your school.


This step is often overlooked.  Someone comes up with a idea for PD and a decision is made to focus on that topic for the year.  A top down approach to teacher training rarely works.  If you want teachers’ commitment then they need to be included at the beginning of the project.  To obtain teacher support for the PD program they must believe that it is relevant to their teaching and will benefit their students.  This may take time to accomplish, but it pays off in the end.   It’s important to take the time to get staff buy-in to whatever teacher training is being proposed.  Working with your leadership team, you might review formal and informal assessment data that will give rise to a consensus as to the school’s priority for the next school year(s).


Here are questions that provide focus to create an effective plan:

*  What is the length of time it will take to fully implement this plan?

*   What is the schedule of activities needed for effective implementation?

*  Who will do the training? Inside or outside presenters?

* What support will be provided to staff during the implementation phase?

* What materials and monies are needed?

*  How will the project be evaluated?


The training begins and at some point the staff is expected to implement new skills and knowledge into their classroom lessons.  Some teachers will take to the new program like fish to water.  Others will have more problems translating strategies discussed in the workshop to the classroom.  At this initial stage of implementation, it is vital to reduce teacher fears of inadequacy and being judged by their peers or the school administration. Coaching and peer support become essential to the success of adoption by all teachers involved in this PD.  One option is to establish a visitation schedule where teachers observe their colleagues who are successfully implementing the new approach to teaching.

Other ways of follow-up to the initial training can take the form of: additional workshops; discussions at faculty and other meetings; and informal chats with the principal.  Quick anonymous surveys eliciting  feedback and suggestions from teachers with appropriate responses from the leadership team can help lead to needed mid-course corrections.  At some point in this stage, a written school-wide agreement as to what the new program will look like in every classroom should be drafted.  This agreement is negotiable, but the essence of the new program must be retained in the agreement.  It commits every staff member to follow the new guidelines.

Finally, congratulate the staff for their hard work and the success they have had in implementing the PD program.


One of the most difficult questions facing school principals is how to maintain effective programs over time.  Say that you’ve done Steps 1, 2 and 3 to a tee; what will this program look like in 5 years? Will it have been watered down? or become non-existent.  Here are some ways to sustain the program that you and your staff worked so hard to implement:

  •  Booster Shots– in the years following  implementation, provide a couple of mini-workshops on the topic
  • Review the written agreement early in the school year with all staff and  at new staff at orientation sessions
  • Periodically email readings to staff about the topic
  • Provide coaching for new staff as they implement the program
  • Include it as part of the teacher evaluation process.

The above is not theoretical.  It is based upon real-life experiences that made my staff and me proud of ourselves and our school.

Add your insights into the topic of effective staff development in the Comment section.  Let’s start a true community of learners on issues related to school  improvement.

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Thanks always.

Further Reading:








3 Crucial Ways to Launch the New School Year

Steve Smaller (1 of 1)1. The Value of Values

 Roy Disney said, “It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.”  This quote has special relevance for school administrators who make hundreds of decisions during the school year; many of them significant to the lives of those they supervise.  But aside from decision making, values, if shared throughout the school and community serve to give people the sense that they are part of something special.  So, the start of a new  school year is a great time to remind your staff of your school’s core values and how each day it is imperative to live these values; in their interactions with students, each other and parents.

2. Respect is the Glue . . .

that holds it all together.  The trick is act as the “boss” while also honoring the humanity of your staff.  We all need to feel a sense of control over our lives.  This feeling does not stop at the school’s door step.  Staff members should at the very least be consulted, if a decision has an impact upon them.  They may not agree with your decision, but at least they’ll feel valued and more likely to accept it.

The start of the new year is also a good time to visit with teachers individually while they are planning their first few lesson plans. All relationships need frequent attention and showing personal interest in your staff is a great way to demonstrate that you care about them as people.

3.  Going Where?

*  So what are your key goals for the coming year?
*  Do you have specific plans for achieving these goals?
*  Who will be involved in this planning and are the roles defined?
*  How will you know if you have met your goals?
*  Will you know why you did, or did not meet the goals?