Excerpts from 162 Keys to School Success: Be the Best, Hire The Best, Train, Inspire & Retain The Best

Used with permission from Schargel, 162 Keys to School Success: Be the Best,  Hire the Best, Train, Inspire, and Retain the Best. Copyright 2010 Eye On Education, Inc. Larchmont, NY. All rights reserved.

1 Shared Leadership.

Organizations based on shared leadership thrive while organizations based on dictatorial or despotic leadership at best, perish; at worst, survive. One need not look far to find examples of this in the business world, where the most admired chief executive officers share leadership. In education, the schools we identified in our leadership and culture books (From

At-Risk to Academic Excellence: What Successful Leaders Do; Schargel, Thacker, & Bell, 2008, and Creating School Cultures That Embrace Learning: What Successful Leaders Do; Thacker,Bell, & Schargel, 2009) were able to thrive because, as participants stated, “We treat everyone as family and family doesn’t allow family to fail.” When site visits were paid to many of the schools that responded to our surveys and we asked who is responsible for the success of the school, the staff replied, “the principal.” When we asked the principals the same question, they replied, “the staff.” What makes shared leadership work?


 Openness to suggestions


 Open lines of communication


 Building trust


 Having respect, giving respect

The job of principal is overwhelming and few people expect you to have all the answers. You can’t do it all by yourself or all at once. You might look for a place to start and then look upstream in order to prevent problems for occurring in the first place. You should gather data on your current situation and continue to gather data as you move forward. Envision the ideal situation as you go.

2 Placing Blame.

People tend to blame people when in reality it is the system that is failing. How do you produce better results while not changing the process that produces those results? Fixing a piece of the system (i.e., teachers) without fixing the rest of the system tends to sub- optimize what we wish to accomplish. On the other hand, systemic reform will make everything better, not just that piece that we have focused on.

3 Establish a Mentoring Network.

The best principals make the best mentors. Speak to your colleagues in your district or in the surrounding districts and establish a network where you can collaborate with your professional peers. Collaboration will afford each of you opportunities to experiment and to receive feedback on new approaches you are using and on specific initiatives you are undertaking. Professional development should not be for classroom teachers only. Hold monthly meetings and rotate the schools where the meetings are held. Ask to visit classrooms in

schools you do not supervise. See what you can replicate in your school.

4 Reconsider Retention.

Despite a half-century of data and research showing that retention does not result in long-term gains in achievement, schools continue to retain students. Retention is popular among politicians who criticize “social promotion” and believe that the threat of retention motivates students. The discussion about social promotion became part of our nation’s dialogue about education when President Bill Clinton asked for its end in three consecutive State of the Union Addresses (1997–1999). Data indicate that retained students are more likely to drop out of school than those students who have not been retained. Retention increases the risk of dropping out between 20 to 50 percent. Up to 78 percent of students who drop out before graduation have been retained at least once. Racial minority students and students living in poverty constitute the majority of those who are retained. Gains in achievement for retained students were either nonexistent or were not maintained in subsequent years after retention, according to The Effects of Retention on Drop-out and Graduation Rates, A Research Brief of The Principals’ Partnership: A Program of Union Pacific Foundation (Blayaert, 2009; see

Retention doesn’t work and has a devastating effect on students, the educational system, and the parents of those retained, so why do we use it? It would appear to me that we need to build safety nets early into the system. We can- not wait until the end of a school term or a school year to reprogram failing students during a summer where many of the same teachers are teaching the same material in the same way using the same curriculum and same textbooks. The minute a teacher identifies a failing student we need to establish tutoring classes that take place after school, before school, or on Saturdays. The incentive to parents would be that any student who is failing and does not avail himself or herself of the increased time might face the prospect of being held back.

5 What We Can Learn from the Best Sports Managers.

Great managers of baseball, football, soccer, and basketball know that if they hired the best players, they will have a great team. Similarly, great principals know that if they hire the best teachers that are available, they will have a great school. We need to trust the people who we hire to do the jobs they are assigned. We also need to empower people to make decisions. When candidates are being interviewed, get them to talk specifically about how they would handle different challenges. How would they deal with a crisis like a fight in their classroom? How have they reacted in the past when something went badly? What were the most significant mistakes they have made along the way and what have they done to correct them? What have they learned from their mistakes? How would they deal with the situation differently today?

6 Make It Happen.

I used to coach soccer. I love soccer for several reasons. First of all and most important, it is a team sport—everyone plays and there aren’t any real stars. If the team wins, it is a team victory, not a quarter- back’s or pitcher’s victory. When I coached, I informed the players that if they wanted to win, they needed to make it happen. No one would put a victory in their hands. Education currently is based on individual achievement, not on team involvement. Achievement or lack thereof is credited to “good” teachers or “bad” teachers. I would rather have a team composed of no bad people, rather than a team with a few stars. For example, in soccer, everyone has different skills. Some people are playmakers and can create great visions and make great plays. Some people do not want to screw up and so they pass the ball to more established players. The team leader needs to keep everyone on the team going in a productive direction. A team focused on objectives will not burn out. How do your people react when something goes wrong? Do they freeze up? Do they bemoan their fate? Or, do they get back into the game, looking at their errors and making corrections to avoid them in the future?

One of the things that I learned by reading and by experience is called the “Deming Cycle,” which is P.D.S.A., Plan, Do, Study and Act. I think it has great applicability in education. As educators, we spend a great deal of time developing strategic plans. We spend far less time developing and measuring strategic deployment. We do not think about what happens when we deploy our plans, but it is critical that we determine what worked and what needs to be improved. We need to study the results of our actions. And having studied and measured the results, we need to complete the cycle and act again. Each time we go through the cycle, we need to always make improvements, revising and updating, slowly and deliberately.

7 My First Day on the Job.

I remember the first day that I worked as a teacher. It was hard to forget because on that first day was a teachers’ strike. It was a bone-chilling cold day in September and I had met very few of the faculty. It was also the first day for the principal, Irving Anker. As we walked around the school in a picket line, one of the school dieticians came out with a tray of hot coffee and a tray of doughnuts. When we asked how much they were, she said, “Oh, don’t worry about it. The new principal paid for them.” In that one gesture, the principal made more friends on the faculty than anything else he could have done on that cold fall day.

8 Imbed the Improvement Process.

I call this “widening the circle”—bringing more people into the process rather than leaving them outside. It is very difficult institutionalizing a process rather than having its success dependent on a single individual or group of individuals— individuals who may leave, retire or become unavailable. The belief that organizational improvement needs to cascade down from the top upper echelons of school managers no longer works in today’s schools where frequently the staff has more seniority and experience than the principal. Good ideas are constantly being percolated up from the teaching ranks. Until school leaders at all levels take advantage of this percolator philosophy, schools will continue to mire in the mud.

9 “If You Were in My Shoes. . . .

” Ask your faculty, “If you were in my shoes, what three things would you do to improve the performance of the school?” Have them write their answers on sticky notes. Then have them place the sticky notes on a white board and look for ideas that seem to be related. Place these in a vertical a list. At the top of each list, post a title sticky such as “More parent involvement,” “Student apathy,” and so on. By having a visual, people can see where the problems lie. At the same time, the staff needs to realize that there are inhibiting factors such as:


 limited resources


 the number of staff with the knowledge and capacity

to lead the work

key staff turnover


 too many organizations with conflicting agendas


 reform overload.

Do not allow the inhibiting factors to deter the faculty from addressing the issues of improvement. Remind them that white water rapids are still waters that have learned how to go around obstacles.

10 Take Time to Recharge Your Batteries.

Have you ever thought, “What would happen if I wasn’t around?” Everyone needs time for himself or herself—time to get away from work, time to ingest and absorb all that takes place in your life. Build a balanced life around your personal life and school and make sure that the boundaries are as firm as you can make them. Find the time during the day to take a walk outside your building. Leave your cell phone and walkie-talkie behind and just mellow out.

11 Take Time for Your Family.

It is paradoxical that when improving the lives of other people’s children, educators fail to take the time to improve the lives of their own children. Balance your life by spending some time with your family.

12 Be a Boss, Without Being Bossy.

Robert M. Gates,Secretary of Defense under President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama, tells this story: During the Revolutionary War, a man in civilian clothes rode past a wall being repaired.