An Amazing Time to Lead

Posted by Devin Vodicka on September 22, 2013

This is absolutely the most amazing time to be an educational leader. As a society, we are continuing to transition to the Information Age. As a nation, we are implementing the Common Core State Standards which raise the level of student expectations and compel significant changes in teaching and learning. As part of a multi-state consortium, we in California will soon be assessing our students using a computer-based performance assessment that includes adaptive capabilities. In addition, our state is implementing an entirely new funding and accountability system paradoxically known as “Local Control.”

Long-standing barriers melting away

While I find some irony in the title of the new funding and accountability model, the reality is that long-standing barriers to learning and opportunity are rapidly melting away. California legislative changes seem to be promoting a shift to digital learning resources. Revenues are on the upswing, including an investment of one-time dollars to support the transition to Common Core. The cost of mobile devices is declining and the computing power of the new tools continues to rise. We can now conduct video chats on our cell connection without the support of a wired or Wi-Fi Internet connection. Web-based resources and cloud storage developments are reducing the significant interoperability issues that have historically led to reliance on specific platforms in a given environment. Higher levels of connectivity allow us to leverage these resources in new and innovative ways.

Two hands holding a question mark

Time for some important questions

With fewer obstacles, we are now entering a phase where we must begin to ask some important questions related to educational technology, some of which are not directly related to technology itself but which are vital considerations as we move forward:

  • What is the purpose of public education?
  • How will we know if we are making progress?
  • What is the problem that we are trying to solve?
  • Is this resource effectively addressing the problem that we are trying to solve?
  • Is this resource providing some other unanticipated benefit that adds value?
  • Is this resource efficiently solving the problem or otherwise adding value?
  • Is there another resource that would more efficiently achieve the same result?

Are we ready?

As a leader, I wonder if we are ready to collect information, complete the requisite analysis, and engage in meaningful conversations that address these questions to help inform our ongoing efforts. I worry that if we do not adequately and systematically engage in this process we will miss our window of opportunity to maximize the creative potential of the amazing opportunities that are available in the midst of these transitions.

As we should have perhaps expected, our success in the Information Age will largely depend on our ability to make sense of an overwhelming amount of information. If we expect our students to have a high level of sophistication with an abundance of information, we will need to model the way.

Devin Vodicka is Superintendent at
Vista Unified School District in Vista, California. 




The Debilitating Effects of Micromanagement

Posted by Bob Blackney on August 6, 2013

vision-control matrix with micromanager in bottom right

At some point in our careers, we get to work with a micromanager—the person who tries to control everything that happens in a school or office. Micromanagers pay excessive attention to details and avoid delegation of tasks and decisions to staff members. The parody of the micromanager is the leader who spends the better part of the day counting the office supplies used. While micromanagers may feel they are doing a great job and being very structured, the often are oblivious to the effects that they are having on the rest of the organization.

In the best situations, micromanagement is an impediment to progress and in extreme cases it can cause the organization to stagnate. Let’s look at the some of the effects that come with micromanagement.

Effects of Micromangement

Micromanagement prevents innovation. Employees can’t come up with new ideas and procedures on their own; they have to constantly check with the micromanager who is often unavailable. Workers become “drones” that wait to be told what to do rather than take risks that come with innovation. Employees with skills and knowledge will leave such situations and the organization is left with workers who are content to wait to follow instructions.

Micromanagement slows workflow, as all approvals have to go through the manager who will not give up control. It is not efficient for normal work to have to wait for approval from an overzealous manager. Delegation is an essential element in any organization and it is an essential skill for any manager.

Micromanagement prevents an organization from using the talents and skills of the staff. Employees are hired because they have the knowledge and ability to do a job. If they are constantly being hovered over by an oppressive manager, then they cannot do the jobs that they were hired to do.

Micromanagement creates a “wait to be told” culture. Why do work ahead of time if the micromanager will come by and change everything? Better for employees to just wait until the deadline approaches and then do the job. There will be far less time to have to make changes and have to re-do the work. Everyone in the organization learns to just wait until it has to be done and then do what they are told to do.

Micromanagement slows progress because meetings must include the micromanager. Workers learn that if the micromanager has not “signed off” on the project there is no use in moving forward unless it is done exactly the way the micromanager wants it to be done.

Micromanagement retards communication within a school or office and with the community. When someone asks a question, workers will often reply, “I’ll have to check with my manager.” Employees should be able to respond to coworkers and with the community without being held hostage. If the answer is not correct, then it can be corrected. The damage that is caused by inaccurate communications is not nearly as great as the damage that is caused by communicating in a timely manner.

Micromanagement discourages teamwork. Workers don’t work together; they just have to work with the micromanager. I have heard work groups say, “What’s the use of getting together to plan, we will just have to change it all.” This is not how an efficient organization runs. Managers should encourage everyone in the organization to constantly be innovating, communicating and improving and this cannot be done if the manager cannot delegate and respect the work of his or her employees.

In some situations, the micromanager will assign work and then micromanage the work to enable the oppressive manager to take credit for any positive results, and also to blame the employee for negative results. In this scenario the micromanager actually delegates the accountability for failure to the worker without giving them the ability to take initiative that might have made the project a success.

Are you a micromanager?

Might you be a micromanager and not know it? According to Alyssa Gregory, here are some telltale signs:

You have more work than you can handle because you can’t delegate effectively.

You frequently assign work, then take it back because it’s not getting done the way you want it done.

You tell your team exactly how you want things done and leave them no room for them to take initiative.

You continuously take on project manager roles, even when there already is a project manager.

You rarely complete projects on time because you can’t get past the details.

You need to know what everyone is doing, all the time.

Your team avoids you and all one-on-one conversations with you.

You don’t let any of your team members contribute ideas, communicate with clients or even talk to each other.

You become the bottleneck because everyone is always waiting for your approval on everything.

Your team has unreasonably high turnover.

You question the processes followed, work completed and proposed next steps at every status meeting.

You feel that if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.


Micromanagement disables a school or office in countless ways. All managers should be careful not to fall into the traps of over-managing. The damage that comes with micromanagement is not easily or quickly corrected.




Principals in the Cross Hairs

Posted by Michael Simkins on March 6, 2013


  • Districts Tying Principal Reviews to Test Scores
  • Survey Finds Rising Job Frustration Among Principals

These two headlines, both from Education Week, crossed my desk today.  It was a poignant and instructive juxtaposition.  I spent years studying (and experiencing) teacher burnout.  I found that lack of control (perceived, anyway) was closely associated with burnout.  The current research cited lack or control as a key factor in principal frustration.

After 15 years as a teacher, I became a principal.  “Wow,” I thought, “now I’ve got the power to make things happen.”

No and yes.  I found that despite my new, elevated position, I had far less power than I thought I would have.   Principal’s can dictate, surely; that doesn’t mean anyone has to abide by the dictates.  A principal’s real power comes from sharing it, from persuasion, from setting an example, from inspiring people.

It doesn’t surprise me that today’s principals are feeling frustrated; given the context in which they work, why wouldn’t they be?

Assuming that it make sense to run education as though it were a business—a debatable assumption—then of course we need a metric for the bottom line.  Test scores alone, however, are a poor surrogate for net profit.


Keys to Implementing Common Core Standards

Posted by James Scoolis on July 9, 2012

The movement to Common Core Standards represents a change in how students are taught.  It promotes thinking and problem solving over memorization and item knowledge.  It provides students with skills and strategies that they can use throughout their lives.  It is good for kids.   As a school or district leader you have a lot of influence on how successful this implementation will be.  Here are five important things every administrator should know and do.

Establish a clear vision for instruction.

In Change Forces: Probing the Depths of Educational Reform, Michael Fullan writes,

Working on vision means examining and reexamining, and making explicit to ourselves why we came into teaching. Asking, “What difference am I trying to make personally?” is a good place to start…I cannot stress enough that personal purpose and vision are the starting agenda. It comes from within. It gives meaning to work.

Communicate your vision consistently in writing and in person to anyone who will listen—teachers, parents and students.   Communicate to your school community that adopting Common Core Standards  is a change that will build on the school or district strengths.  Your commitment comes from a desire to capitalize on teacher strengths rather than repair teacher weaknesses.  Find and compliment teachers’ areas of expertise.  Implementing the Common Core will require long-term commitment.  Support teachers with professional development and collaboration time.  Make sure you actually do what you say you are going to do.

Do not get caught up in the details of each standard.

Keep your eye on the big picture.  I am reminded of a statement about standards that I heard when the term standards first became common place in education.

“We have upped our standards. Now up yours.”

Improving or even establishing standards by themselves will not improve instruction.  Improving instruction will improve instruction; use the Common Core Standards as guides and talking points, but focus on the process of teaching.

Focus instruction on process not content.

One of the keys to the common core standards is a recognition that we cannot teach all students everything they need to know.  We can teach them how to use problem solving tools to find out what they need to know.   Access to information—on the Internet for example—is a key component of this effort.  Technology is a tool, not an end in itself.  Students should also be encouraged  to solve real world problems and communicate their thinking in blogs and websites, collaborating with peers and colleagues.

Build capacity.

Leadership is strongest when it is given and shared.  The best organizations and schools grow leaders and, in doing so, develop people. One person cannot implement the new standards.  It will take the collective effort of everyone working together. Growing leaders is a conscious act. Developing and spreading leaders throughout the school is not an accident.

Leaders grow leaders by sharing decision-making, creating an environment in which trying new ideas is the norm, and by creating a culture of continuous improvement.  Rely on in-house expertise for professional development.  Support collaboration.  Start with the willing and support them with materials and professional development opportunities.  Set them up as mentors and observe how they do.  You will probably find that some teachers are natural at being teacher leaders and others are not.  Writer’s workshop guru Lucy Calkins writes,

In general, I tend to find that the people who push to the front of the line, saying, “Oh, I would definitely be wonderful in a leadership role. I know so much!” tend not to be well accepted by their peers, and those who instead say, “I don’t feel ready for such a role, I still have so much to learn,” will fare better.


Demonstrate your willingness to be a public learner.

Start a blog, be a collaborative partner, learn how to give a common assessment, learn through common reading of professional books.  Explain to parents in writing and in person what students are learning and how they are learning it.  When others see you taking risks and doing what they are being asked to do, they will be much more likely to do so as well.


Administrators Need Tech Training, Too

Posted by Jack Jarvis on May 25, 2012

early surgery using anesthesia
First etherized operation (re-enactment)

A current buzz phrase in educational administration circles these days states, when it comes to classroom instruction, “The curriculum you get shouldn’t depend on the teacher you get.”  This refers primarily to the fact that some teachers still cling to outdated practices even when evidence to the contrary often exists right next door in a colleague’s classroom.  I would submit that the concept also applies when it comes to the quality of technology use at the school level; that is, the technology you get shouldn’t depend on the principal you get.”

I offer the following analogy to demonstrate how this concept translates to decisions made by top administration in regards to tech integration in the modern school:

Imagine you live in a society in which you may only seek medical attention from the physician or hospital in your Medical Attendance Zone (or MAZ). You are limited to receiving services only in that area.  Now, consider needing a heavy-duty procedure (like the knee replacement I just underwent) and being limited to receiving services from a surgeon and a hospital in your MAZ.

Your surgeon is new at your hospital, younger, very tech-comfortable, and entirely capable of using an MRI to evaluate what should be done.  However, the hospital administration doesn’t understand the whole “tech thing,” as they call it, and refuses to provide a modern MRI machine.  Nor has the administration provided training to the Head of Surgery in how to use even the hospital’s older technology so the Head can train the surgeons he/she supervises.

Now imagine your brother, who lives a few miles away, needs the same surgery.  His MAZ surgeon not only has state-of-the art technology available but also training in its use.  After your scan, his hospital sends the MRI data out to a company that  transforms that MRI image into a 3-D model of your arthritic knee and then virtually corrects any deformity to return the knee to its pre-arthritic state.   Using all this information, a set of custom cutting guides is then created for your surgeon’s use during your individual surgery.

This is exactly where we find ourselves in ed tech these days.  The technology experience students at a given school get depends greatly on the district, superintendent, central office educational supervisors, and site administration.   What makes the situation more serious is that we’re not talking about knee replacement surgery but about students’  survival in the future job market and the accompanying quality of life itself.

As a site administrator for 13 years in a large urban district, I can attest to the fact that in all the district meetings held to train us administrators, not one ever included or was devoted to tech integration within the classroom. I’ve known supervisors  who not only knew little about technology but discouraged tech use.  While most districts in the state have beefed up their tech infrastructure and put computers in classrooms, few have trained their leaders in how to integrate those resources into modern instruction.

On the bright side, there are clearly superintendents and principals who are now definitely “getting it.”  Through programs like TICAL and professional development opportunities like Leadership 3.0, these leaders are building a vision and understanding of how to use technology to advance learning.  Yet we still have a long way to go. Those of us who are tech pioneers and advocates need to continue to push our organizations to move ahead.  To return to the medical metaphor, no school leader should be encouraging students and teachers to bite on sticks when effective anesthesia should be the norm.