Give ’em’ “L” #1

New Rule: Give ‘em’ “L”               #1

I will be writing at least three “Give ‘em’ “L” rules.  These thoughts are from my experience, reading literature inside and outside education, and constantly talking to students.  If they trust you, they will tell you the truth. I will be sharing a few of the resources I think are important in order to create a culture where teachers, support staff, and parents want to be and where students learn.

“Put an excellent leader in a school and its teaching force soon follows—whether the school is private, public, or charter. The inverse is just as true. Yet for two decades, our education debate about tenure, charter, and vouchers has drawn our attention from the first-order issue of reimagining school.”   Ted Dintersmith (2018)

Yes, the teacher has the most influence on student learning.  Many authors and researchers have found that the principal is second only to the teacher. Since learning is our goal, developing teacher and principal competence and confidence lead to more learning for more students.

“Leaders choose to teach. And teaching is an inherently humble act—focusing first and foremost on the development of others.” I found this quote by Richard Sheridan (2018), in his new book Chief Joy Officer to be very pertinent.

Twenty-five years ago I would not let a student drop chemistry.  He responded by saying he just wouldn’t go.  I countered that would mean we would have a different conversation.  Then, and I don’t know why, I said, I will tutor you in chemistry. (I was actually a physics and math teacher). A week later he showed up at my door during his study hall.  He asked if I was serious about tutoring him.  We had about thirty minutes to work on his assignment.  As he left, he turned to me and said, “you should have been a teacher.” It was one of the best comments I have ever had from a student.  It was an ‘aha’ moment for me.  Kids sometimes think we became principals without any connection to the classroom. I certainly wasn’t as good at chemistry as I once was but he made my day.  I did know the difference between a mole as a furry animal and a concentration level.

Another major learning for me was when I overscheduled a math class of Algebra 1.  Charlie Leonard, a great math teacher came to me the first day of winter trimester.  He said, “what are you doing to me?”  I had scheduled forty students in his class.  Yup, I missed this one.  I said I would take half of the class and teach for the twelve-week term.  Charlie, being very astute said, “which students will you take?”  I said (silly me) “you choose.”  He gave me twenty students including four of the eight special needs students.  The good news, being an assistant principal, I had very good attendance.  I told them I would hunt them down if they didn’t come to class. The bad news, they showed up and I had to prepare for class with an already busy schedule.

What I learned was, I could do the math.  The bad news, who change the math terms?  What was the highest common multiple?  What happened to the lowest common denominator?  So, to prepare, I spent time with Charlie Leonard learning about lesson plans, problem assignments, and student management.  Thank you, Charlie, for helping me learn about students, teaching, and coaching me to be a better teacher and administrator.  I don’t think I would have learned any other way.

As I started teaching a few classes here and there, I was better able to understand teachers daily grind, I think I learned more than the students.  Standing in front of thirty or more moving targets is humbling. Sheridan is right.  Students and teachers will know that you are willing to walk in their shoes, sweaty palms and all.

“Leadership is social influence. Leading Schools requires multiple leaders.”    Spillane

Sheridan’s quote also reminds me of Noel Tichy’s (1997) book, The Leadership Engine.  Tichy said that leaders have two main responsibilities, 1) be the head learner; 2) develop other leaders.  When I became an administrator I never thought I was responsible for developing other leaders.  So, to be a leader, learn and develop others.

Another quote in Sheridan’s book is, “Our leaders and aspiring leaders must be active learners. We must continually adapt or will we also disappear.”  Most of us who have been around a while know what we are and were good at, might not be as adequate for dealing with an ever-changing population and a technologically changing world.

In the long run, the only sustainable source of competitive advantage is your organization’s ability to learn faster than your competition.”    Peter Senge

So, how do we keep learning?  Reading, attending conferences, and technology can help.  I always look inside the organization first.  Who are your learning omnivores?  Who seems to be getting results with the same kids others say can’t be done? Mine the minds of those in close proximity first. Then, extend outside bringing in more ideas.

At Menlo Innovations, Richard Sheridan’s company has THE best PLC I have ever witnessed.  They don’t call it a PLC.  “Hey Menlo” forty plus people gather In a circle, share what they are working on, what they are learning, and where they could use some help.  Twenty minutes later, after everyone has reported, people seek out those who can help.  I had to see this with my own eyes.  I did. We can do things like this in schools. Get up, today’s a work day.

Leadership based on fear will not work. Those who think it will, I ask, “how is that working for you?” In Ted Dintersmith’s book (2108), after years of NCLB and RTTT, the achievement gap remains the same with flat achievement scores. All I see is more dropouts and more talented teachers leaving education.

The greatest competitive advantage in our modern economy is a positive and engaged brain”.              Shawn Achor

Here are some thoughts from Tom Lencioni (2002) The Four Obsessions of an extraordinary executive. Leaders are critically important.  Developing leadership in the organization will reap even better benefits. So, first, build a leadership team.  Make sure you get as many voices in the room especially those you trust but don’t necessarily agree with.  Trust is the most important.  Leaders need honest differing points of view,  John Gardner (1990) On Leadership said, “pity the poor leader that has unfriendly critics and uncritical friends.”  I have tried never to forget that wisdom.

Second, strive for organizational clarity.  It seems to me we are focusing on test scores rather than learning.  I substitute teach this year.  I ask students to solve puzzles and thinking problems at the end of class.  I like the diversity of students who can answer questions with their clarity of thinking and I learn some creative ways to interpret problems.  Given a chance, students will do good thinking.  We just have to ask the right questions.  Learning is Job #1 (paraphrasing Ford’s statement).

Next, from Lencioni’s work in Overcommunicate.  I used to think if I said the goals for the year in the August teacher workshop, they would be sufficient for the whole year. HA.  OK, I didn’t think this through.  What I learned is I must keep talking about learning, writing about learning, and promoting learning to kids, colleagues, and community.  They forget or get distracted.  If I am not talking about it, why would people think LEARNING is important. Learning is not the same as test scores.

Lastly, he suggests reinforcing leadership by aligning human systems to the goals of the organization.  My quickest response to this is continuing to assign grades based on seat time rather than collaboration, problem-solving, and creativity.  Are the systems in place reinforcing the goals or are they working against learning and working together?  Look at the feedback businesses are looking for in their companies. Do we, in school, teach and honor those qualities or not?

Leadership is Action, Not Position”              Harold “Bud’ Boughton.

Never Mistake Motion for Action”               Ernest Hemingway

These are two of my favorite quotes.  Finally, I would like to point to the book by Pfeffer and Sutton (2000) The Knowing-Doing Gap.  What stops us from taking action.

  • When Talk Substitutes for Action – Talk might feel good but won’t lead to doing something positive. Try something, if it works, keep doing it.  If it doesn’t work, try something else
  • When Memory Substitutes for Thinking – Sometimes we have fears from the past, worried about the future that will bring the same results, and we are having feelings in the present. Consider what didn’t work in the past, or what parts didn’t work, may work now. Times change, people change, and the world is changing.
  • When Fear Prevents Acting on Knowledge – fear can freeze people from taking positive steps. W. Edwards Deming said years ago, (I paraphrase) ‘drive fear out of the organization.  Your organization is getting 100% congruence with what it is designed to do.  If you want different results, look at the design of the organization and quit blaming people.’
  • When Measurement Obstructs Good Judgment – I will trust the judgment of the teacher in the classroom, who knows the student by observation and working with him or her rather than a test score. Relationships and relevance always trump regurgitation.

How do we overcome this Knowing-Doing Gap.? Here are a few ways that will help.

  • Be clear about why we are doing things the way we do. Are we getting the results we want?
  • Find out what is working and do more of it. Have a real PLC where the dialogue and exchange of ideas add repertoire, not the silver bullet that doesn’t exist for everyone.
  • Try something. See what happens. Then adjust or try something else. Ask the students for feedback on what is working for them.
  • If you don’t want to make mistakes, you probably aren’t into learning. Fear of making a mistake will stop some really good ideas.
  • Take fear, guilt, and shame out of learning. None of those three help learning.
  • Beware of False Analogies – Fight the Competition, Not Each Other. Confirmation Bias and Attribution Error are deadly to learning.
  • Measure what makes the most sense. Content acquisition is probably not the best indicators of learning.  Being learning agile is going to pay off In the long run.
  • Where do leaders spend their time? The Killer “B”s – Budgets, Buses, and Bosses? Or the lively “L”s – Learning, Leading, and Lasting Relationships?

I will be posting a second and third edition to “Give ‘em’ “L”

“Leadership is Action, Not Position” By Harold “Bud’ Boughton.



Dintersmith, Ted. (2018). What School Could Be.  Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Gardner, J.  (1990).  On leadership.  New York:  The Free Press, Inc. 5

Lencioni, P.  (2002).  The four obsessions of an extraordinary executive. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Pfeffer, J. & Sutton, R.  (2000). The knowing-doing gap: how smart companies turn

knowledge into action.  Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Sheridan, Richard. (2018). Chief Joy Officer.  New York: Portfolio/Penguin

Sinek, Simon. (2009). Start with Why.  New York:  Penguin.

Spillane, J. (2006). Distributed leadership.  San Francisco:  Jossey-Bass

Tichy. N.  (1997).  The leadership engine.  New York: HarperCollins.


Shift Happens. If you don't adopt New Rules, drop the "f" in Shift!