With some regularity I field interview questions. Happened to me again today. The exchange is below:
1) How do you advocate, nurture, and sustain a district culture and
instructional program conducive to student learning through collaboration,
trust, and a personalized learning environment with high expectations for
Communication is the
vehicle by which leaders travel – either successfully or not. The verbs in your question – advocate,
nurture, and sustain – only become realities through effective
communication. Schools are organized,
built, funded, and staffed for one reason and one reason only: LEARNING.
When leaders have that understanding tattooed onto their soul, it
becomes the centerpiece of their communications. When communications along those lines become
predominant and pervasive and when others perceive those communications as
inherently heartfelt, then the collaboration and trust follow. Learning is always a personal endeavor (if
one believes in constructivist theory), but the richest learning environments
honor the personalness of learning and strive to craft learning tasks that
embody that reality.
2) How do you create and evaluate a comprehensive, rigorous, and
coherent curricular and instructional district program?
Communications is the tool
by which the curricular-instructional program is created. Thousands of conversations (not mandates or
directives) must occur to develop a common understanding of what the best
approaches are to affect personal and customized learning for each child AND
3) How do you develop and supervise the instructional and leadership
capacity across the district?
Dr. John Gardner says that
the fundamental responsibility of leaders is to “manage the attention” of the
organization. Moving from that
abstraction to something a bit more concrete, I believe the fundamental tasks
of leaders should always be centered on developing those around them. Specifically, helping others develop their
God-given gifts to the fullest. If those
gifts lie in the domains of instruction and leadership, so be it. If they lie in other areas, so be it. This means that the leader must know those
who work with him/her well - well enough to identify their gifts. Then, opportunities and work assignments must
be devised/revised to accentuate and accelerate those gifts.
4) How do you promote the most effective and appropriate district
technologies to support teaching and learning within the district?
Technology is nothing more
than a tool. Pencils represent
technology, spiral notebooks are a technology, air conditioning is a
technology, as are phones, buses, iPADs, projectors, and graphing calculators. Those who work in schools – which exist only
for the purpose of learning – must strive to use any and all technologies
available to advance learning. Some
technologies are more robust than others, to be sure. For instance, long division with pencil and
paper can be used to find quotients; so can calculators. A handsaw can be used to cut down a tree; so
can a chain saw. The trick, from the
learning perspective, is to choose the technology/tool that is most aligned to
the learning outcome one is trying to achieve.
5) How do you maintain on-going and effective communication
with the educational community?
I tend to talk the same
talk whether I’m talking to teachers, elementary students, business leaders,
secondary students, parents, graduate students, or school administrators. The vocabulary and register may change, but
the message is always the same: Our job is to take each student and adult that
walks into our schools and optimize their learning – period.
6) How do you support your campus principal’s in implementing
PLC’s on their campuses?
cultures. Some have cultures centered on
learning (the intent of PLCs) and some are centered on other things. In my view, it is more important to help
principals learn (there’s that development thing again) about how cultures
morph and change and ebb and flow, and how the principal's words, actions, and intentions
get reflected in that cultural evolution than it is to try to teach them how to
build structures (e.g., PLCs) that become bogus and hollow without the underlying
leadership understanding. Another way of
saying this (simpler, I hope) is that I believe it more important to help
principals understand how to create the conditions that support PLC-like
behavior than it is to create a PLC in structure.
7) How and what do you celebrate in your district?
Rituals are a fundamental
contributor to culture. If the culture
we desire is a culture of learning, then our rituals should be built around
learning successes. Celebrating success
can be as simple as a thank you note and as extravagant as a
banquet. Acknowledging and
affirming learning must be the driver behind all those celebrations, whether
it’s praise for a 1st grader who reads to you in your office, or to
an instructional aide who earns a bachelors degree, or a teacher who gains
administrative credentials, or a class of graduating seniors. Learning
has to be the common denominator of the celebrations.
8) What questions drive the work of the teams in your
How can we be better at
making learning happen today than we were yesterday?
9) What evidence shows that your district practices are
aligned with your district’s priorities?
Soft data like
collaborative learning at all age levels, improved communication skills across
grade levels, manifestations of service and compassion and affiliation, expressions
and demonstrations of adherence to commonly adopted values (see the Guthrie
Graduate Profile at
for the details) provide evidence of alignment to our priorities. Hard data
like attendance rates, graduation rates, academic performance data, college and
workplace success, ACT/SAT offer a different view of success, though no more or
less important than the soft data.
10) What procedures are in place when you experience failures
in your district?
When we fail, we
reflect. We ask why, and look for root
causes for those failures. We don’t ask
why with intent to blame. Failure is a
fundamental part of the learning process.
And, yes, LEARNING is the purpose
of our existence.