Posts Tagged 'Stephen Covey'

Pay attention to the fundamentals of professional learning

Sometimes the “bells and whistles” of new things can distract us from the fundamentals, the things that make the biggest difference and form the basis of all that follows.

In classrooms, those fundamentals include close reading, clear and compelling writing, and thoughtful conversations informed by attentive listening.

Those same fundamentals apply to professional development, as this post from February 2014 underscores.

4 fundamental practices for cultivating professional literacy

Generous amounts of close purposeful reading, rereading, writing, and talking, as underemphasized as they are in K-12 education, are the essence of authentic literacy. These simple activities are the foundation for a trained, powerful mind.…” —Mike Schmoker

Many years ago in an interview for a NSDC (now Learning Forward) publication Phil Schlechty told me, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to lead.” 

For my own purposes I amended his adage to read, “If you don’t make time to read, write, speak, and listen in ways that promote professional learning, you don’t have time to lead.” 

Just as we desire to cultivate literacy among K-12 students, it is essential that education leaders take the time—even just a few minutes a day—to cultivate their own  professional literacy and that of others for the benefit of all their students. 

Professional literacy means the development of intellectual depth and fluency regarding values, beliefs, ideas, and practices that guide day-to-day decision making. Its acquisition requires cognitively-demanding processes, in contrast to the minimal engagement of the “sit and get” sessions that continue to dominate too large a share of “professional development.”

While professional literacy can be acquired through various means, my experience has taught me that four particularly powerful learning processes—speaking and listening with the intention to learn, reading, and writing—are the fundamental practices for cultivating leaders’ professional literacy. 

Speaking isn’t often thought of as a source of learning for the speaker. But leaders can learn from their own speaking when they pay close attention to both their own words—a kind of metacognition in which the speaker monitors his or her own thinking for unexamined assumptions, logical inconsistencies, and so on—and the effects of those words on others. 

Committed, attentive listening by leaders deepens their understanding of the subject at hand and the perspectives of others. It is also an essential first step in influencing the views of others, an orientation that Stephen Covey described as “seek first to understand.”

Careful reading promotes leaders’ learning when they not only take in information but respond actively to it by making comparisons with what they already understand and believe and by raising new questions for exploration. Such reading enables leaders to be engaged with the minds of individuals who they may never meet. 

Because writing is thought made visible, it promotes learning by enabling leaders to refine their ideas, examine their logical consistency, and determine the most concise and precise means for their expression. Journal writing and blogging are two common and especially powerful means for such reflection. And blogging also enables leaders to actively engage with the perspectives of readers who offer their comments.

Taken together, these four learning processes are fundamental, interconnected means for cultivating’ professional literacy.

What would you add to this list?

Successful leadership requires effective management


How different our lives are when we really know what is deeply important to us, and keeping that picture in mind, we manage ourselves each day to be and do what really matters. –Stephen Covey

My simple definition of school leadership is creating with the school community that which does not now exist for the benefit of students.

But it’s also essential that principals and teacher leaders be able to manage, which I define as getting things done for both what now exists and for what is being created. It involves both management of self and of the complex system that is the schoolhouse.

From my experience, here are a few essential things that effective managers do:

Effective managers are intentional. They think about what they want to accomplish today and in the future and have a fool-proof system in place for ensuring that those things get done.

• Effective managers are diligent about keeping promises both to themselves and to others. Promise keeping is a hallmark of leaders’ integrity, which, in turn, is the touchstone for trust within the school community.

• Effective managers consistently practice “next action thinking.” Meetings and learning events never conclude without clarity about what will be done next, by whom, and to what standard.

• Effective managers reserve time for quiet reflection regarding their practice and the well-being of the school community. They use this time to recall their values and goals, to consider the effectiveness of their actions, and to establish short and long-term priorities.

• Effective managers know when and how to say “no.” They consciously minimize obligations on themselves and on the school community that would distract from the achievement of important goals.

What have I missed?

Why it’s essential for leaders to “seek first to understand”

Dennis Sparks

“Seek first to understand” was for me the most memorable phrase in Stephen Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

When leaders “seek first to understand, then to be understood,” the result, Covey says, is “empathic communication.”

Over time my appreciation of this habit deepened and broadened into additional areas.

Here are a few uses to which I have applied the phrase, including the one Covey proposed:

1. Seek first to understand the perspectives of others, including their assumptions, so thoroughly that they feel fully heard and understood, even as they recognize that we don’t necessarily share their point of view. I learned that expressing a sincere interest and listening carefully deepens understanding and strengthens relationships.

2. Seek first to acquire a thorough understanding of a situation before acting. I learned that “Ready, fire, aim” was generally not the best way to react to situations that required a slower, more thoughtful response.

3. Seek first to understand the nature and root causes of problems. I learned that leaders too often squandered teachers’ time, energy, and goodwill trying to solve poorly-formulated problems.

4. Seek first to understand the range of solutions available to address a problem, including the evidence that supports them. I learned that moving too quickly into action often exacerbates rather than solves problems.

Formula for success: A thorough understanding of the views of others + a deep understanding of the situation/problem and possible solutions + an action orientation = strong relationships and the achievement of goals.

Question: What is missing from my list (or my formula)—in what other ways is it important for principals and teacher leaders to seek first to understand?


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