Got Expectations?


During a recent #USEdchat, Jimmy Casas asked the following question.

I quickly typed my answer and shared “The Taylor Mill Way” in my response. What still has me reflecting and couldn’t be conveyed in 280 characters is how much having clarity around “how we do things” continues to support the kind of positive and productive school culture that is best for students and staff.


In last week’s post, I wrote about my initial meetings with staff members after becoming principal and how much the information gained meant to the start of my leadership at Taylor Mill. One realization I had from those meetings was the need and overwhelming desire from the staff to have consistent expectations which were clearly communicated and followed through on. They knew that would help build trust and ultimately support the kind of culture they desired and our students needed.

After reflecting, I combined the expectations the staff members had shared and what my personal expectations were, and drafted this set of expectations.

Screenshot 2018-04-30 21.24.58

During our first meeting as an entire staff, I spent some time explaining how bringing clarity to these common expectations would help us all be the best can be. I summarized how they had expressed the need for this clarity and how I combined what they had communicated with what I personally valued. After going through the list and expanding on the why behind each one (we may have spent some extra time on the importance of positivity!) , I then promised that, as the leader, I would continually model these, support this way of “doing business,” and also committed to respectfully, but firmly following up any time there was a conflict with “The Taylor Mill Way.”

Everyone seemed please with this, but I knew on the inside, they were wondering if this would really mean anything. Is she really going to follow through on this? Will this change “how we do things” here at Taylor Mill? Or, as Jimmy was asking above, “What is the response when this does not happen?”

Of course, there were times when these expectations were not followed and while the follow-through did occur, it was dependent on the situation and those involved. There were times when it was appropriate to discuss as a team, whether whole school, grade-level, or teacher-leader team and there were certainly times when the conversation was one-on-one. However, no matter the scenario, the conversation was always focused on building clarity around these expectations and learning from what happened in order to improve in the future. Never mistakes, only lessons.


These expectations continue to be a driving force in our school’s positive and strong culture. They have shaped behavior, built trust among our community, and helped unify us as an effective team. Still, as we continue to move forward on our path to greatness, I sense we are ready for the next step. Many of these are clearly core values for us now (we are known for our positivity), but as Robyn Jackson mentions in this episode of her School Leadership Reimagined podcast, an organization who simply has core values listed on a poster without using them as a filter for all decisions doesn’t really have clear core values. This has me wondering… What non-negotiables do we have that aren’t listed above? Are some of these expectations still too vague? Do we use these as a filter for every single decision?

We have expectations, that is clear. But do we have clarified core values that we all agree to? Not yet, but stay tuned. We are taking some time this summer to become an even more unified, effective team to fine tune these and create our core values. What about you? What expectations do you have as a school? 


Want to Know Your Team & School Better? Ask These 3 Questions


When I became principal almost two years ago, not only was I new to the school, but, having just recently moved to the area, I was also completely new to the district. Because I am a big believer in Stephen Covey’s habit “Seek first to understand, then be understood,” I knew I would need to spend a great deal of my initial energy and focus on learning about our school and most importantly the people on our team. While lots of this learning, and certainly the relationships I would build, would take time and experiences, I knew I needed to front load as much as I could. This would require another of the 7 Habits, “Be proactive.”


In my initial communication to our staff, a July 1st email, I invited each one of them to sit down and share with me. I didn’t ask them to bring anything, prepare anything, but what I did ask is that they think about these three questions:

  • What do you love about Taylor Mill?

I wanted to know what they cherished and valued and knew these answers would help me identify the strengths of the school. While I knew a change in leadership undoubtedly means a change in the overall culture of a school (after all, when the principal sneezes they whole school catches a cold), I wanted to ensure that we continued to honor the rich history and strong traditions that had already been built. Plus, what great insight into how each team member felt connected to our school.

  • What do you wish for Taylor Mill?

This question was particularly important to me. To be able to sit and hear the dreams of others for their organization, their teammates, themselves, and most importantly for their students, that was incredibly inspirational. It was awesome! I was able to hear about where they saw our school going in the future, their vision for what could be ahead. They shared with me their ideas of what Taylor Mill could accomplish and how they fit into that best version of our place.

  • What do I need to know about you so I can help you to be the best you can be?

An essential priority for a leader is to seek out the greatness in others, figure out what they desire, and then build upon those goals and strengths to amplify the overall vision of the team. To be able to remove obstacles and empower others takes more than a surface-level understanding of what gifts they bring.

Our team responded in a way that now doesn’t surprise me at all now but frankly did in the moment. They came in, some nervous, some excited, but all open and extending a vulnerability that was a huge boost for our beginning relationship. They thanked me for giving them the opportunity to have a voice and ensure that everyone’s was heard.

As I’ve said on countless occasions since then, I can not imagine having to make the decisions I needed to in the days and weeks following without the perspective they had gifted to me. I was a more confident leader who was able to make more informed decisions because of each of them.

Like all good questions, the resulting communication is not just one-way. Good questions communicate, as the answers that follow, a great deal. After all, questions are a window into values and priorities. My staff, from day one, got a glimpse of my core values. They knew I value feedback and that I know we are truly better together. The questions are each framed in a way that is positive and solutions-oriented, another peak into what I value. They lean in to thinking big and creating a better future while holding true to my leadership goal of relentlessly seeking out the greatness in each one of them. A question always tell you as much about the questioner as the answer tells about the respondent and I believe my team got a really clear idea of what kind of leader I was going to be as a result. In Covey terms, this would be “Think Win-Win.”


After two years with our incredible staff, I can feel the strong relationships we’ve forged and see the results that can only come from having those relationships in place. But I want to continue to think big, to kick complacency and mediocrity to the curb. How will I amplify this? This summer, I’d like to ask my team members questions that will help us all move forward on our path to greatness. While I haven’t finalized my new set of questions, here are some of my thoughts. I am intrigued by what my Taylor Mill leaders would tell me if I asked:

  • “How can we think big?”
  • “What would you do if you were not afraid to fail?”
  • “What do you love? What do you want?”
  • “How can I help you act boldly?”

What would you like to know from your team? What questions would you add?


What’s Your Word?

I’ve resisted the #OneWord movement. Or at least the New Year’s version of it. It’s not because I believe that boiling all of my growth down to one word is fruitless. In fact, I’ve believed in it so much that I’ve been doing it for years without even knowing it.

Having been in education for 21 years now, I know all too well how overwhelming professional growth can be. Any educator worth their weight in salt will, many times during their career, fight feelings of inadequacy. Effective leaders are reflective and continually learn with voracity and passion. This cycle of continuous improvement in education has the urgency brought on by being in one of the few professions in the world which directly affects lives on a daily basis. Put all of this together, and it easy to get lost in a sea of new ideas, professional growth plans, and the flavor-of-the-month approach.

To help focus not only my professional growth but also the growth of the teachers on my team, I started a process where, at the beginning of each school year, we reflect together through our strengths, growth areas and next steps in terms of our shared why. (17.18 Growth Word Form) We each look individually at commonalities we see in our next steps and determine a word that we can put our energy around. A word that will focus our efforts when we get lost in that sea of improvement. We call this our “Growth Word.” It is a reflective activity that is both personal and uniting as a team. On a Google form, each teacher submits their growth word, and then we print out, frame, and place our word in a visible and prominent area (classroom, office, etc.) We agree that we will look at this word as a reminder. We agree that we will support one another in our growth in this area.


Here is what I’ve noticed since we’ve been doing a #GrowthWord. I’ve noticed that I learn about our team members, what they value, and how I can support them. We discuss their growth word in individual growth meetings that we have three times a year. I immediately notice their growth word displayed in their room or office when I’m walking around. And my personal growth word has opened a door for me to be vulnerable and transparent with my team. I like them knowing what I’m working on and what I’m prioritizing.

For me as a principal, what has been most important to my professional growth is that, for the last two years (my first as principal and in my school), I’ve used direct feedback from them to come up with my growth word. The first year, after meeting individually with every staff member, I summarized their feedback on what they needed from a leader and used what came up most frequently to choose “Communication” as my word. I spent the year improving my communication skills, creating face-to-face and digital systems for communication between all members of our school team, and increasing transparency to foster trust and collaboration. This year, after reviewing our TELL survey data, I decided on “Feedback.” I continue to focus on communication, but knowing my staff values feedback (and feedback is two-way!), this helps me prioritize my efforts while also holding me accountable.

It was a couple of months into the 16.17 school year and, after sharing how we use #GrowthWord, my supervisor asked me if I’d heard of Jon Gordon’s #OneWord movement. She shared this video with me and the next morning, in our morning huddle, I was excited to share with our team.

For educators, every year we are blessed with two fresh starts. Both New Year’s and the start of school are natural times for us to reflect and commit to growth. Two times when we can come together, recognize our individual strengths and eagerness to improve. Two times when we can be vulnerable with each other and agree to support and challenge ourselves. You see, our #GrowthWord IS our #OneWord. What’s yours?

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