5 Ways to Develop a Leader:Leader Culture


Why is a leader:leader culture better than a leader:follower culture? For so many reasons, but ultimately, it is boiled down into one idea.


Our work is too important. After all, we touch lives forever. We make lasting impacts that have enormous ripple effects. I am but one person. Together, however, we can do the impossible.



We have spent the last two years at our school developing and nurturing a leader:leader culture where every single staff member is a leader. Below are five ways that have been game changers for us on that journey.

Cast your vision of a shared leadership culture.

Communicate your vision immediately and often. Great leaders deliver an inspiring and clear vision from day one. Make sure your team knows what your passions are and how those passions connect to your vision. When I came on board my new school, I didn’t even wait until our first staff meeting. I made a video and sent it out to so that they could get a sneak peek at who I am and what I’m about. I knew I’d need to spend most of my first year learning the school, our team, and developing a shared vision with them, but I needed them inspired and learning about my core values from the beginning.

I let them know from that day on, that my vision was for them to be leaders. While being leaders within their classroom and our school was important and necessary to our greatness, I also spoke of my vision of their leadership in the larger education world. What I also communicated within my vision was that we would build a school community together where everyone had a voice and each member had a seat at the table. I continued to communicate this part of my vision while connecting it to different situations and decisions in order to clarify it.

Use empowering language.

This one is so easy yet often overlooked. If I expect our teachers to be leaders, I need to use that word. When I send an email, I may start if off by saying “Hello fabulous Taylor Mill Leaders!” If I’m tweeting a celebration, I refer to them as leaders. At the start of school last year, all staff members were welcomed with new name tags and business cards. The title on each? “Leader.” If I am important enough to network and connect with others using my business cards, then so are our teachers, secretaries, cafeteria staff and custodians. They all have name tags and business cards that say they are leaders.



Make their leadership development a priority.

Using words can certainly change a story, but there also needs to be action to support the talk. I make sure that not only am I developing each of them within their roles, but I also focus on growing them as leaders. This may sound complicated and you may be wondering how you have time to fit anything else on you or your teachers’ plates, but my suggestion is to make it natural. I do simple things like sharing my learning with them. When I read a leadership article that strikes a chord with me, I may share it in our weekly staff newsletter. If I listen to a podcast that I know would be a good fit for one of my leaders, I share it with them. Often, I use our morning huddles to feed them with leadership insights and inspirations.

Shatter the information silos and create opportunity.

A lack of information is never a good thing in any situation and certainly not when you’re trying to build a shared leadership culture. Information leads to ownership and understanding and, in turn, both of those lead to empowerment. We are extremely transparent with information and use digital tools to communicate and collaborate. Within our digital infrastructure, all of our staff have the same level of access that I and our admin team have. I regularly discuss with them the reasoning behind decisions, but better yet, we involve them in the decisions. If the situation requires that I can’t share information, I share that. Ultimately, as the quote from Beth Houf and Shelley Burgess says, when you involve your people in authentic ways, progress is faster and the changes are sustainable.


The other piece to this step is to seek out opportunities for your team members and connect them to positions and projects where their greatness can shine. This requires strong relationships and knowing your team members on a level that takes time and focus. But when you point out a staff member’s genius, make them and others aware of it, and then allow them to plug into work that takes advantage of those strengths, a bright light will shine for all.

Get over yourself.

This may sound harsh, but I know in order for us to move forward on our path to greatness, I must take my responsibility seriously but never myself. I try my best to make sure our team members feel supported and we have clarity around our vision and next steps, but once that has occurred, I get out of their way. I must check my ego at the door and remind myself that none of this work, our school, being what our kids need and deserve, is ever about me.


How could you amplify your school, and ultimately, you students’ success by building those on your team as leaders? What else would you add to this list?


How to Summer Selfie Like a Genius


Last Spring, our entire school was deep in the work of recreating our school brand, having just completed our new vision and mission and a newly designed school logo and mascot. We were also becoming increasingly connected as a community of learners within our team and beyond our school walls. One of the ideas that arose from our School Branding Task Group, a voluntary group of Taylor Mill Leaders who are passionate about clarifying and strengthening who we are and what makes us unique, was a school Twitter hashtag. After tossing around a couple of ideas and doing some quick searches for existing hashtags, we quickly decided on #TMGenius.

#TMGenius was something we were all excited about (we call all of our students Taylor Mill geniuses… more on that in an upcoming post) and so the next task at hand was to get others inspired and connected to it. That’s when I saw a post from Matthew Arend, a principal from TX in my PLN, on my Twitter feed.


It was closing day of school last Spring and our Branding Task Group was gathering for a quick planning meeting. I tossed the idea out to them, wanting to gauge whether they thought others would be interested in it. “A Summer Selfie Challenge?” I asked. I explained the idea and asked some follow-up questions. Will others be too tired over the summer to want engage on Twitter? Will they think it is cheesy? (Although they know me by now and probably expect that.) Will we have fun with this? Will this help us connect, build our brand and our community? I was met with an enthusiastic, “Yes, let’s do this!”

Thankfully, Matthew had been generous enough to share all of his resources, so I did what any great educator, with permission, would do. I copied. I personalized the directions and the board and sent it out to our entire team. And then nervously waited to see what would happen.

What we all witnessed last summer, and more importantly, felt a part of, was each of us going through our summer days, celebrating, rejuvenating, and sharing with one another all of those fun, special moments. We got to know one another better, our families and friends became surprisingly and passionately involved. We engaged in friendly competition. And, oh yes, we built our school brand. This challenge really was the tipping point in how #TMGenius has become a very integral part of our school brand, what makes us who we are and how we communicate and connect with others. Go ahead, do a quick search for #TMGenius on Twitter. You’ll see the awesomeness that is shared daily in our school community. Pretty nifty, right?

So this summer, today actually, we kick off our second annual #TMGenius #SummerSelfieChallenge. I’ll be sending out the directions to our team and will tweet the official board from our school Twitter account. And then we’ll watch the connections, celebrations, and #TMGenius fun abound!


As I tell our team, being a Taylor Mill Leader (we call all staff members Leaders) is not who you are when you step foot inside the school door. It is just who you are. We are building our school culture every day, even in the summer.

How can you amplify your school culture during the summer months? How can you take advantage of technology and inject some fun to inspire and connect your team? Most importantly, what are you waiting for? Join in the fun!


How to Summer Book Study Like a Genius


Last school year, we went through the intense and important process of developing our school vision or, what we refer to as, our shared WHY.


You can see from this statement, one of our core values is inspiring passionate learners. We very clearly value life-long learning both for students and the adults in our community.

Last spring, to help support this part of our vision, we kicked off the first annual Taylor Mill Leader Summer Book Studies. I gathered a list of books teachers had requested or I was interested in reading and did a quick introduction of each at one of our morning huddles. I also established the ground rules:

  • You can sign up for as few or as many books as you’d like.
  • We will buy the book(s) for you.
  • You will participate in the book study.
  • If there is a book you’re itching to read and discuss and it’s not on the list, you can add it.

These rules are simple but important. They model the value of individualized learning and teacher choice. We all are more engaged when we are a part of the process and have an authentic voice. They put the money where our mouth is. We want to put these valuable resources, the books, in the hands of our teachers and staff members. So we pay for the books. They also value commitment over compliance. It is very clear that this was in no way mandatory. And most importantly, they require us to be a community of learners. This is where the impact really gets going.

While developing and buying into a powerful collective vision is invaluable, we also understand and discuss the importance of us being a collective community of learners. How else will we ever move forward on our path to greatness if we are not committed to continually challenging ourselves and each other? We know the importance of being life-long learners AND being a COMMUNITY of learners. There is value in one, exponential power in the latter.


There is one additional rule I included:

  • Each book study will be led by a Taylor Mill Leader (aka teacher, staff member, in other words… not me.)

This was an awesome opportunity for our staff to stretch their wings and gain leadership experience. Were they a bit uncomfortable stepping up and agreeing to lead? Without exception. After all, who wouldn’t be? This was a first for all of us. We had no idea what the response would be, what obstacles there would be to overcome, or how reading and collaborating throughout the summer months would play out in reality. Were they excited about this chance to lead? Again, without exception. They were energetic and passionate about what this would mean for their own growth and, even more noteworthy, they were driven by how they could impact others.

Leaders emerged and showed they had the commitment to being uncomfortable and courageous in order to help us all grow as passionate learners and collaborate as a community. They met as a leader team and planned the beginning steps. They discussed logistics, inspiration, and supported one another in how to kick off their book studies. Some of the smaller groups decided to meet in the traditional face-to-face fashion. The larger groups decided to hold their book studies through the free app, Voxer. Some wanted to start right away, others decided to hold off for a bit. The meeting ended with us starting our own Voxer group for book study leaders so that they were able to collaborate and game plan throughout the summer.


We had twelve different book studies going on last summer, all teacher-choice and teacher-led.

summer book studies

Staff members from various roles, teachers, secretaries, instructional assistants, counselors and administrators, were involved. And what was one of the neatest things to witness was when others outside of our school, after hearing about the book studies, started asking to be involved. We had district staff, teachers from other schools, teachers and administrators from other districts, teachers from across the country (who heard about it on Twitter), and even some authors get involved. (Shoutout to Dave Burgess for agreeing to join and being super active in our Teach Like a Pirate study!)

The positive energy around these studies was palpable. By teacher request, we created a Flipgrid to share take-aways across book studies. Each study helped create community within and around our school while helping our leaders become connected to others they may not typically collaborate and learn with. Our leaders came away with deep, reflective thinking and new ideas to incorporate into their role for the new year. There was no doubt that our students would greatly and directly benefit from these efforts.

What is happening this year? We have twelve new studies getting ready to kick off and all indicators point to amplified awesomeness! We started the list of possibilities several months ago, gave all of our staff access, and again invited sign-ups and leaders. You can view the list HERE. Some of those outside educators who joined last year have already reached out to us asking what we were leading this year and if they could join again. #YES

For educators, summer months are, of course, for enjoying those lazy, warm days of rejuvenation while losing track of the calendar. But if you are a #TMGenius Leader, summer time is also an incredible opportunity to learn, lead, and amplify like a genius.

How can you take advantage of the summer and create a community of learners and leaders in your school? How can you amplify your school culture over the summer? What book studies would you join or add?


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?

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑