The Leader's Brain--Are They Born or Made?

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more

and become more…you are a leader.

John Quincy Adams


John Quincy Adams nailed it when he said that a leader is one who inspires and cultivates others to BE and DO MORE.  Many studies have been conducted on the characteristics and strengths of effective leaders endeavoring to answer the question, “Are leaders born or made?”  

Are Leaders Brains Different?

Yes, studies have identified that there are indeed differences in a leader’s brain that strengthens certain skills.  For example, there is often more activity in the pre frontal cortex, the executive functioning center of the brain responsible for processing cause and effect, communication, emotional regulation and organizational skills.  There is also often more activity in the right anterior temporal lobe, which is directly responsible for increased creativity, factual knowledge, memory, and problem-solving skills.

Yet some studies show that the emotional and intuitive areas of the leader's brain are also more active than others, showing that effective leaders often employ a combination of logical problem-solving and emotional intuition to create solutions.  Previously, it was believed that effective leaders employed logical analysis void of emotional connection to make great decisions.  Neuroleadership studies are proving otherwise, read more about it in "The Inner Workings of the Executive Brain."

This begs the question, can we further develop leadership in those who have inherent skills?  More importantly, can we promote leadership in those who do not possess natural inclinations?

Are Leaders Born or Made?

Are leaders born? 

In my experience, yes.

I have seen very young children exhibit innate organizational and leadership skills early on and they continue to develop those skills as they mature. 

Do all of them grow into successful leaders as adults?



For whatever reason, some natural leaders choose not to cultivate those leadership skills or choose not to pursue opportunities to demonstrate those skills publicly.

Are leaders made?

In my experience, again, yes. 

When people are explicitly taught organizational, communication, relationship and problem-solving skills, they too can become extremely effective leaders.

Research shows that leaders are both born AND made and that is GREAT news to educators as we are in the business of cultivating effective leaders.  Many say that effectual leadership is 30% genetics and 70% environmental influence.  Studies and surveys have shown that perhaps the most important qualities of effective leaders are their abilities to reflect, grow, exhibit social intelligence and model a growth mindset (Dweck); these attributes can be mastered even if they are not natural. 

Again, this is great news as we can identify leadership strengths and promote them in each other. For ideas, check out the Flippen Group's video clip: 3 High Value Activities Each Leader Should Master and the article, "How Emotional Intelligence Became a Key Leadership Skill."

What Can We Do to Strengthen the “Leadership Areas” in the Brain?

There are twelve activities we can participate in to strengthen the creative, problem-solving, relational and communication areas of the brain that are important to leaders.

Here they are in no particular order:

*Exercise--150 minutes of sweaty activity per week is recommended for adults, 840 minutes is recommended for youth under the age of 20

*Consume adequate fruits, vegetables, fiber and water

*Socialize--collaborate and learn with several different age groups

*Learn a new skill--practice the growth mindset

*Read fiction and non-fiction texts

*Laugh--5 seconds per day strengthens the brain for up to 12 hours

*Play games (Sudoku, crosswords, board games and cards)

*Serve and bless others

*Sleep--adults need 7-8 hours daily, youth under age 20 need 9-13 hours

*Pray/meditate--2 minutes per day

*Weigh both the pros/cons when making decisions

*Reflect--what went well and what needs improvement?

***What are you doing to strengthen the leadership areas of your brain?

Characteristics of Effective Leaders

If you think about effective leadership traits demonstrated by leaders you know, you would probably identify these (and leadership research supports them).

Effective leaders:

*Actively demonstrate a servant’s heart

*Model effective communication

*Develop and share a common vision

*Display courage--it takes courage to stand up and speak, courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen (Churchill)

*Exude professionalism

*Demonstrate optimism

*Develop positive relationships with ALL stakeholders

*Exhibit effective problem-solving skills

*Model integrity

*Achieve positive & productive results

Perhaps one of the most imperative skills an effective leader can have is the mindset that leadership is not about having a fancy title or being in charge, leadership is taking care of those in your charge.

Leaders are Born AND Made

Max De Pree, author of Leadership is an Art, sums up leadership in this way, "Effective leadership is much more an art, a belief, a condition of the heart, than a set of things to do."  

Efficient leaders are both born AND made; though, it appears the most important qualities are relational, communication, and optimistic problem-solving "conditions of the heart" that can be cultivated. In essence, we indeed, can "grow" game changing leaders who positively impact our future and success.   Julie Adams, Adams Educational Consulting,

**Recommended reading for leaders:

The Flip Side--Break Free of the Behaviors that Hold You Back

Developing the Leaders Around You

Wooden on Leadership

Strengths Finder

The Leadership Challenge

The Leader's Brain

Your Brain and Business

Learning to Lead

Leadership is an Art


Are Women Fashioned to Reign?

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Recent studies have compared male and female leadership styles, strengths and weaknesses and the results are in... women are skilled leaders. 

From Oprah Winfrey to Linda Darling-Hammond, Sheryl Sandberg to Yingluck Shinawatra, female leadership around the world is increasing, and with good reason.

Female Leadership is on the Rise

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women now hold 51% of management positions in the U.S., up from 26% in 1980.  Hanna Rosin’s TED Talk “The Rise of Women,” notes that of the 15 careers that will grow the most in the next decade, women dominate 13 of them.

In the book Man Down, journalist Dan Abrams investigates several areas in which women dominate, from driving, to investing, to practicing medicine, studies show that women are far more effective in their problem-solving and decision-making, than often perceived.

According to Bob Sherwin, “Why Women are More Effective Leaders Than Men,” both male and female employees rate women higher in 12 of 16 leadership characteristics such as initiative, inspiration, collaboration, follow-through and integrity.  Mr. Sherwin also notes that as women age, they become even more effective because they continue to seek input from others in how to improve and they make adjustments based on feedback, whereas men sometimes do not.

Male and Female Brains

In several studies, neuroscientists have discovered many characteristics in the female brain that increase the propensity for leadership success.  For example, the Pre-frontal Cortex which is in charge of impulse control, problem-solving, analyzing cause/effect, and organizational skills, develops 4-6 years faster in women and continues to remain more active throughout life, compared to males.  The Corpus Collosum connects the right and left hemispheres of the brain; it is often thicker in females allowing more whole brain connections and engagement instead of the “compartmentalization” often found in the male brain.  Also attributed to more whole brain connectivity is the fact that women often have up to 10x more “white matter” in their brains which allows information to be communicated between the two hemispheres at a faster rate. In addition, females have more oxytocin, which many believe results in increased impulse control and collaborative and relational connections, strong characteristics for successful leaders.

Perhaps the most intriguing difference in the female brain is the XX Factor.  A female is comprised of an XX chromosome combination and a male, an XY combination.  The X chromosome carries over 1500 mutations, the Y only has 100.  Genetically speaking, the X chromosome is the cognitive hot spot involving critical thinking and communication abilities.  Because women have an XX combination, they have over 3000 cognitive combinations compared to a male with an XY pattern who has only 1600.  This is the reason that many scientists believe that males are more likely to suffer from disorders such as schizophrenia and dyslexia; if their X is damaged, they do not have a cognitive backup.  If the female X is damaged, she employs what is called "X inactivation" and engages the other healthy X chromosome.

Healthy Female Brains

As we age, females are very sensitive and susceptible to hormonal and chemical fluctuations and those fluctuations can drastically alter brain effectiveness.  Doctors such as Dr. Daniel Amen, recommend that women over 35 regularly monitor (every 18-24 months) several health components that are not part of a routine check-up, including: a complete blood count, metabolic panel with fasting blood sugar and lipid panels, HgA1C, vitamin D, thyroid, C-reactive protein, homocysteine, ferritin, free & total serum testosterone, cortisol & sulfated DHEA, estrogen and progesterone. 

The gut has just as many nerve endings in it as the brain and doctors often refer to the gut as the "second brain". The gut, or intestines, are responsible for 80% of our immunity and they regulate good and bad bacteria levels in our body.  Due to fluctuating hormones, diet and stress, our gut can get out of balance fairly quickly and that can lead to weight gain, fatigue, headaches, aches and pains, insomnia, depression and emotional upheaval.  

Unhealthy leaders are not as effective. To avoid these issues, doctors recommend taking a pre/probiotic supplement to regulate bacteria levels and maintain healthy brain function.  After trying several products, I have found tremendous success with a product called Thrive Probiotic.  It is a 3-step daily routine that incorporates pre/probiotics, vitamins, antioxidants, and protein to regulate the digestive and adrenal system and it WORKS! If interested, order it here

Females are also very sensitive to Adrenal Fatigue, which is the body's response to stress, resulting in the overproduction of adrenaline, DHEA and cortisol, all of which can hamper brain activity.  Thus, effectively managing and lowering stress should be a top priority. 

We have all witnessed successful and unsuccessful male and female leaders; but what is of utmost importance is that we don't stereotype a gender in order to put limits on it.  

Females have tremendous leadership strengths and often a unique and intuitive perspective that can be utilized to produce positive change that benefits all.  

Effective female leaders...may we know them, grow them, and be them.

To learn more, check out these books and articles:

Brain Rules

Unleash the Power of the Female Brain

The Female Brain

Brain Differences Between Genders

Do Men and Women Have Different Brains?

How Male & Female Brains Differ

Lean In and Why Women's Brains are Wired for Leadership

Male and Female Brains are Built Differently

The title, "Fashioned to Reign," is from Kris Valloton's book, which takes an inside look at the Christian perspective of women in leadership.

Julie Adams, Adams Educational Consulting, 

Cultivating Digital Literacy, Citizenship & Leadership

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Whether for good or bad, the Internet and the information revolution have impacted nearly every aspect of society and social organizations, including our schools…and the challenge becomes how to address that impact. Technology and the Web have changed how students learn, study, and research, as well as how they interact with information, teachers and each other.  From Khan Academy to 1:1, it is increasingly clear that this is, “Not your father’s school,” and educational leaders who don’t respond and plan accordingly, will see their students left behind.” Jonathan Martin

As technology changes our society, our schools too must adapt. It is important for educators to understand three elements regarding technology in education: digital literacy, digital citizenship and digital leadership, and then provide instruction in all three so our students develop proficiency.

Instead of banning technology and social media on our campuses, it would better benefit our stakeholders if we taught our students the responsible ways in which to use the tools our society and economy have come to depend on.

Research is clear; our brains are extremely influenced by environment. If we cultivate a literacy and tech-infused environment of innovation, responsibility and critical thinking, then our students will understand how to positively use tech to communicate their ideas and harness the power of it in a productive manner. 

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Don’t get me wrong, as an English and social science teacher, I will be the first to say that technology DOES NOT replace effective teaching.  An ineffective teacher without a device will often be an ineffective teacher with a device, “a fool with a tool is still a fool.”

I advocate first training teachers in best instructional practices that increase student achievement such as: essential questions, writing and communication skills, critical thinking, note-taking, content literacy and engagement strategies.  After teachers have incorporated these effective learning practices, the environment is ripe for the induction of tech tools. 

A balanced tech adoption in which students read, write and create on paper, in addition to reading, writing and creating on their devices, is most advantageous.  Though I still believe in teaching students to read and write in cursive (GASP!), I have come to respect digital devices and witnessed the tremendous opportunity they provide in giving students equitable access to 21st Century methods.

Because technology is not going away, who better than educators, can educate our students to use tech for good, not for evil? 

In order to do this, we first must understand how technology positively and negatively affects our brains.

How Does Technology Impact the Brain?

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Depending on the study referenced, technology can have positive and negative neurological influences.

**Some say technology decreases:

*attention span

*face to face communication skills

*information retention

*complex reading abilities

*writing and grammar skills

*physical activity

*healthy eye development

**Some say that it increases:

*visual and spatial skills

*reaction times

*eye to hand coordination

*cause & effect processing


*skimming and scanning for main ideas

Whether a tech opponent or proponent, both agree that technology has changed our brains.  Just as students need explicit instruction in solving linear equations and annotating complex text, they also benefit from instruction, modeling, and practice in digital literacy, citizenship and leadership.

I do not subscribe to the idea that our students are ‘digital natives’ and therefore are adept in overall tech literacy.  Though they may be skilled in a few areas, most don’t understand how SEOs (search engine optimizers) work, how to skillfully research accurate and relevant information on a topic, or how to project a positive digital footprint that will aid, and not harm them in the future.  For more about this topic, check out the article, "Digital Natives, Yet Strangers to the Web."

Thus, the need for explicit instruction in a few tech areas, is vital to student success.

According to Jess Bolluyt, author of “5 Ways Tech is Disrupting Education,”  tech has positively changed education in these ways, it:

1. Allows for adaptive, personalized learning

2. Encourages collaboration among students and teachers

3. Enables students to learn and consume content in a social manner

4. Provides anytime/anywhere learning

5. Provides formative and summative centralized assessments that provide more data for teachers to use to drive their instruction

Tech is here to stay; consider teaching these components in order to prepare students for the changing tech needs of our society.


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Digital Literacy (DL) is having the ability to:

*analyze and evaluate content for trustworthiness and relevancy

*understand digital platforms and how SEOs operate

*collaborate using tech to create original content

*use fonts, backgrounds & graphics to convey a message

*understand one’s digital tattoo/footprint

*engage in responsible Social Networking

*use a variety of tech tools to produce, communicate & evaluate information

The “How & Why”

We can help students develop this type of literacy by teaching students the “How & Why” of the tools that we use.  For example, when students use Keynote & Prezi to create a presentation, they are utilizing a tool that allows them to visually and linguistically convey a message (what the Common Core State Standards refers to as “create a claim and support it with evidence”).  Or when we use Edmodo or Schoology, we are respectfully sharing, learning and debating ideas related to our class content. Using Scratch or Minecraft allows students to “code” in order to animate learned content or create new content, while fostering cause and effect and decision-making skills.  

Ultimately, we use technology to increase our critical thinking, expedite communication, and expand our repertoire of tools to accomplish tasks. Teaching the “How and Why” of the tech tools we use in class, helps students to understand which tool to choose in order to complete a task.

What?  Everything on the Internet is not True?

Another component of DL is to determine whether Web content is relevant and reliable.  Teachthought, one of my favorite educational sites, compiled a list of valuable e-resources in their article, “100 Search Engines for Academic Research."  These sites have been deemed trustworthy for teacher and student research.

**In addition to using trusted sites, here are a few questions students can use to personally evaluate Internet content:

Is the site reader-friendly (using titles, subheadings, pictures, captions and charts)?

If timeliness of the information is important, is it kept up to date?

Does the author provide contact information if there are questions about the content?

Does the author add in personal commentary and/or use absolutes and superlatives such as “always, never,best, excellent” to describe the information?

Are the sources clearly listed so facts can be verified?

Does the site provide helpful live links to other resources?

Does the author seem to have a personal agenda he/she is trying to push?

Is the author affiliated with an organization?

Is the author trying to sell something?

**A few Digital Literacy sample lessons to consider are:

*Find examples of effective/ineffective company infographics and determine what could make them better? Consider symbols, color, wording, etc.

*Use coding programs such as Scratch to create an animated lesson based on content learned; include music and voice narration.

*Find evidence to support AND refute a topic such as human cloning, global warming or the existence of Big Foot—create a claim and provide evidence to support it.  Then, produce a multi-media presentation and upload it to YouTube.

*“Gamify” a unit.  Develop a game and point structure students can play to earn points when they complete certain assignments.  The more assignments they complete, the more points they earn and the farther they advance in the game. Here are a few resources to gamify your instruction: "Trying out Gamification in the Classroom? These Tools are for You," an article by Katie Lepi, and a YouTube video:"Level Up: Five Steps to Gamify Your Class."

*Utilize Twitter or TodaysMeet during a lesson to post questions and allow for running commentary throughout a lesson to engage all learners.

**Four resources for teaching Digital Literacy & Citizenship are:

Cybraryman Internet Catalogue

CommonSense Media


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Digital Citizenship is primarily concerned with establishing a positive online presence.  According to Microsoft’s 2014 “Safer Online” Report, private citizens spend billions of dollars annually attempting to repair their online damaged reputations and billions of dollars are lost in estimated income due to damaged digital footprints. 

In a nutshell, Digital Citizenship can make or break a person’s personal AND professional life.

A responsible Digital Citizen (DC):

*upholds Acceptable Use Policies

*establishes a positive digital footprint

*demonstrates proper use and care of technology

*skillfully navigates between face to face and digital communication

*participates respectfully in online discussions and demonstrates “Netiquette”

*appropriately evaluates the effects of individual tech use on the greater community

*adheres to guidelines for buying & selling products online

*does not participate in cyberbullying

*uses electronic precautions to protect one’s identity

*establishes healthy limits on tech use

One area that educational institutions sometimes need help with is in the development of “Acceptable Use Policies” for both employees and students.  Edutopia provides guidelines for this task, “How to Create Social Media Guidelines for Your School” in addition to a slew of other Digital Citizenship resources, such as Matt Davis’ article, "Digital Citizenship: 6 Resources for Educators."

Increase Search Visibility & Develop a Positive Digital Footprint

People can increase their Internet search visibility by owning their domain name, blogging, and participating in Social Media Platforms that have strong Search Engine Optimizers such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn and

However, when we engage in Social Media, we should model appropriate behavior and filter what we post. Only post what is truthful, positive, helpful and interesting, and for goodness’ sake, limit the SELFIES!

I once heard, “The Internet doesn’t make us stupid; it just makes one’s stupidity more visible.”  That can certainly be the case when one posts evidence of questionable behavior, endless rants and selfies. As many have learned the hard way in the 21st Century, nothing chases away professional opportunities faster than negative online behavior.  

In summary, when it comes to Digital Citizenship…don’t be stupid online.


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First, when it comes to Digital Leadership, a Digital Leader (DL), doesn’t have to know EVERYTHING about technology.  According to Todd Whitaker, “Though it is beneficial if leaders can model the use of technology, it is more essential that they support the use of technology.”

The benefit in being a Digital Leader is the ability to communicate to ALL stakeholders, the school’s vision, mission, activities and successes, while also promoting a culture focused on continual learning and innovation. In order to do this, a DL can use just a few tech tools well. He/she does not have to use all of them; in fact, I caution against it.

A Tremendous Opportunity

A school or district has an online brand, or presence, whether established by those within the organization, or not.  There is a tremendous (and FREE) opportunity for educators to positively impact how others view education, while demonstrating Digital Leadership, and that is by simply sharing in online communities, all of the great things happening in schools.

I have read many times, the negative, often fictitious, attacks against a school or educator, launched by a disgruntled parent, etc.  Unfortunately, studies show that people believe what they hear most, and if most publicity about an educator or educational organization is negative, then that wll influence the public’s perception.

Here are a few tools Digital Leaders can use to positively communicate a message and demonstrate Digital Leadership:

*Twitter—free 24/7 professional development and connection with other educators

*Remind + Stamps—free and secure texting service to send out reminders to staff, parents and students and allow for a quick response

*Blog—communicate the great successes of your school and provide resources

*Google Drive—create forms, communicate & track data with ease

*Evernote—combine lists, handwritten notes, articles, video, photos, etc., in one spot

In addition to using tech tools, consider these ideas to promote collaboration and learning:

*Host “appy” hour to highlight a few tech tools for educators and parents--provide snacks & music, etc.

*Partner up techies with non-techies to learn and practice 1 tech tool monthly--provide release time each month to accomplish this

*Send educators to tech conferences

*Host a “Tech EdCamp” at your school and bring in local “experts” to share ideas and tools

In closing, there is no doubt that technology has indeed changed our society.  If our goal as educators is to prepare students for the future, then education must include the productive ways in which to use technology.

Focusing on a balanced approach for "Old School" handwritten Literacy and "New School" Critical Thinking, Digital Literacy, Citizenship and Leadership, promotes a culture of learning and creativity that benefits all of our stakeholders and positions our students for 21st Century success.

Julie Adams, Adams Educational Consulting,, September 2014

Fostering a Positive School Culture - 8 Best Practices

May, 2014


There is no reason why schools cannot compete with Disneyland for the title “Happiest Place on Earth.”  Educators play a vital role in developing an environment that is conducive to learning, resulting in students who are competent, confident and compassionate.

In working with many schools, I have noticed several commonalities in those sites that have exceptionally positive and healthy school cultures that foster a love of learning and high levels of student achievement:

1. Caring and friendly staff, united by a common goal...developing relationships.

The most important component of a healthy learning environment is the attitude of the staff and their focus on developing positive relationships with students.  Dr. Rita Pierson shared in her TED Talk, “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like, and research supports that sentiment.  From the school secretary, to the custodians, counselors, teachers and the administrative team, the attitude of the WHOLE staff will make or break a school.

Smiling, sharing, teaching, mentoring and patiently coaching students, makes a collection of buildings full of books and desks, a productive and enjoyable setting for learning. In addition, a shared goal of doing what is best for students, focuses the staff on what the real purpose of the organization is…a system designed to meet students’ social, emotional, and academic needs.

2. Teachers study and collaboratively use research-based critical thinking and comprehension strategies and model a continual love of learning.

Schools that have implemented best instructional practices such as essential questions, project-based learning, note-taking, pre/during/post lesson plan design and writing strategies, etc., develop a common vernacular for instruction, resulting in a a collaborative and productive instructional setting.

Best instructional practices also emphasize that teaching information is not the goal, but teaching students how to be independent critical thinkers, is.  Students appreciate the consistency in using common strategies across the content areas and they develop competence and confidence in consistently using the integrated methods.

3. Encourage a "Growth" Mindset Instead of a "Fixed" Mindset

Dr. Carol Dweck wrote the book Mindset; it has become a widely read non-fiction text in middle and high school English classes and for good reason.  She explains how students often develop a “fixed” or “growth” mindset during childhood; one is detrimental to learning and one is necessary.

A “fixed” mindset believes one is only as good as what he is born with~~if a child inherited math skills then he should be a naturally skilled math student.  But what if mathematical, musical, or athletic talents are not in the genes?  Should a person just not pursue excellence in those areas?  Of course not, but the “fixed” mindset believes that idea to be true.

We have all heard our students lament, “I’m just not good at math.” Or, “I’m not a good reader.”  Those are myths that must be debunked.  A “fixed” mindset believes there is no use in working hard to develop what is not inherent and that "fixed" idea shuts down learning.

A “growth” mindset is extremely beneficial to student achievement and it can be developed by modeling and practicing perseverance and hard work and praising effort and actions, not natural talent. When a student states, “I’m just no good at _______,” Dr. Dweck recommends we tell them to add “yet” to that sentence and then we explicitly teach the child the skills he needs to be successful.

This type of thinking focuses on improving our natural skills through grit and practice and it gives the student hope that if he does not first succeed, try, try, again. This "growth" mentality provides a sense of ownership in the learning process as well as hope in the fact that through practice and perseverance, we can increase our success in all areas.

4. Explicitly Teach Neuroscience & Model Healthy Habits

Many children think their environment is out of their control; it sometimes is as many don't have the freedom to make their own choices.  This feeling of helplessness can increase stress and emotional instability.  By teaching students how their brains work and what sleep, nutrition, exercise and stress management needs they have, they can make healthier decisions that will lead to increased success. They will also develop a sense of confidence as they understand they do have control over many aspects of their lives.  As the old adage goes…when we know better, we do better.

5. Implement Positive Behavioral Supports

When students are isolated or suspended, learning stops.  Consistent and appropriate school expectations are vital, and explicitly teaching appropriate behavior and self-regulation, greatly impacts student success.

In addition, frequently providing positive reinforcement, choices and personal connection, reduces discipline issues and recovers instructional time faster than a punitive system. (Sugai)

6. Encourage and Develop Leadership Skills in Teachers and Students

Strong leadership characteristics include: optimism, integrity, perseverance, critical thinking and collaborative problem solving and communication skills; studies show that these traits can be explicitly taught.

Leadership roles for teachers and students can take a variety of forms. For teachers, serving as a resource provider, instructional or curriculum expert, mentor, department chair, staff book club organizer, PD coordinator, tech support, committee member, coach, club coordinator and overall learning facilitator, are excellent ways for educators to flex their leadership skills and share and learn with others.

Student leadership may be fostered by providing leadership opportunities, communication and debate classes, LINK crews, peer mediation training, ambassador programs, campus and community projects and mock trials.

When the administrators are the only “leaders” on campus, a great opportunity is missed to share and expand the wisdom and resources that teachers and students have.

7. Implement the 4 Conditions for Learning

Studies have shown that there are four basic tenets identified in safe and productive learning environments:

1.    Students feel safe, both physically and emotionally.

2.    Students are supported through meaningful connections with adult caregivers on campus, anti-bullying campaigns, conflict management, counseling services and academic support.

3.    Students are challenged and engaged via project-based learning, meaningful assignments with real-world connections, and even opportunities that allow for late assignments and retakes so students can show improvement.  The goal is for student work to be excellent in quality, even if it takes a few times to get it right.

4.    Students are taught to be socially capable by learning about emotional intelligence, persistence, healthy habits, communication, and responsibility and then provided opportunities to showcase their skills at school and in the community.

8. Communicate & Increase Parent & Community Involvement

Schools and districts cannot over communicate their resources, opportunities and great successes.  Emails, banners, updated websites, texts and phone call blasts are effective ways to share what is happening.  

When educators do not communicate, the public fills in the blanks and sometimes the blanks are not positive or even accurate.  Control the message.

There are a variety of ways to tap into a school’s community resources and reach out to parents.  Offering “Parent University” sessions to parents in basic mathematical, writing, note-taking and comprehension strategies, is very beneficial.  Neighborhood and campus beautification days, Job Fairs, local business partnerships and mentoring, chess and art clubs with community members acting as mentors, etc., are all ways to connect the school with the families and community and improve the culture.

As with any “systemic” change, improving a negative school culture can be a daunting task, but it can be done.  Perhaps tackling just one idea at a time makes the challenge manageable. The positive outcome makes the task worthwhile as there is simply far too much at stake to let negativity, politics and personal agendas infect the true “happiest place on earth.”

Julie Adams, Adams Educational Consulting,

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Instructional Leaders

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The Game Changers of Educational Leadership

Studies show that schools that go from "good to great" always have a strong Instructional Leader (IL) at the helm.   (“School Leaders Matter” study) and (McRel study)

This is great news as we learn more about what these GAME CHANGING leaders do; we can educate, support and grow more leaders who make the difference when it comes to student learning.

Having worked with some of the best ILs in the world, these are the collective characteristics I have witnessed them share.

Highly Effective Instructional Leaders:

#1.  Understand Neuroscience

The young brain is very different than a mature brain.   Science shows that a female brain does not fully develop until 20 years old (approximately) and a male brain fully develops as late as 24 years old.  The last part of the brain to develop is the pre frontal cortex, which is in charge of processing cause and effect, impulse control, organization skills, attention span and emotional stability.  This has serious implications for educators as we sometimes place the same expectations on the young brain that we have for the mature brain, essentially setting a child up for failure.

Instructional Leaders are knowledgeable regarding the latest neuroscience and they share ideas with colleagues to ensure routines, expectations, and assignments are developmentally appropriate, while simultaneously fostering healthy brain growth.

#2. Provide PD in Critical Thinking & Content Area Literacy

Instructional Leaders are educated in best instructional practices and establish a climate that is conducive to learning for students AND adults.  On-going PD, coaching and support is necessary for teachers to be prepared and accountable for implementation of best practices that boost student comprehension and competence.  Professional development is most effective when sessions are provided by in-house and outside experts who can provide on-going coaching so implementation can occur.  On-going training, collaboration and support for the adults allows for a healthy and productive learning environment for the students.

#3.  Understand the 4 Types of Teachers & Utilize the 4 Strategic Conversations

Instructional Leaders are effective communicators; therefore, it is essential that ILs are well-versed in the 4 types of teachers:

*high will/high skill

*high will/low skill

*low will/high skill

*low will/low skill

In addition to identifying the type of teacher, ILs determine a goal for each type and then utilize one of the 4 strategic conversations (reflective, facilitative, coaching, directive) most appropriate to meet the goal for each teacher.  Dr. Robyn Jackson’s book, The Instructional Leader’s Guide to Strategic Conversations with Teachers, explicitly outlines the 4 types of teachers and conversations and provides scenarios to enhance productive communication between the IL and teacher-a worthwhile book to have in your arsenal.

#4.  Implement Instructional & Peer Coaching

Instructional Leaders understand the difference between instructional coaching and peer coaching and they utilize both to increase teacher effectiveness.

Instructional coaching involves an outside expert mentoring a teacher via training, observing, and coaching in best practices over an extended period of time, usually 2-3 years.

Peer coaching is allowing teachers to choose a colleague to partner with so they can observe each other and collect data in an area the observed teacher has asked for feedback in, such as questioning, modeling, feedback, etc. The observing colleague does not act as an expert, his/her role is to simply collect data and then ask reflective questions of the observed teacher so he/she can analyze his own practices in a non-evaluative manner.

The more teachers analyze and discuss instructional practices, the better instruction becomes.  Instructional coaching allows for an expert to share best practices and hold the teacher accountable for using them, while peer coaching allows for data collection from a trusted colleague so one can analyze his own practices.  Both types of coaching are necessary to develop teachers who are pedagogically sound.

#5.  Develop PLCs and Use Meeting Time Wisely

PLCs are a strategic gathering of educators focused on data analysis to determine what students need to succeed and what needs to happen to meet those needs.  It is helpful if teachers receive on-going training in best practices so when a student need is identified, educators have a repertoire of strategies in which to analyze and implement for student success.

I have witnessed PLC time used to discuss the school fundraiser, etc.  If that is what the discussion is centered around, it is not a PLC meeting.  Productive PLC sessions include: incorporating a webinar to learn a best practice, allowing teachers to share a favorite app or strategy that boosts student learning, analyzing student work with colleagues and discussing the various types of feedback that would benefit the student or determining how to best organize a unit so student engagement and learning are maximized.

PLCs are focused on increasing teacher and student learning; the meeting time is precious and should be focused on sharing best practices to meet the learning and growth needs of the students and teachers.

#6.  Are Connected & Cutting-Edge

Student and teacher needs change, from MOOCs to PBL to 1:1 deployment, education is an evolving entity.  To stay current and cutting-edge, it is imperative that ILs are voracious readers of educational content and connected to the experts and think tanks who share new ideas and studies; one of the best ways to accomplish this is through Twitter.

Twitter is a powerful and free personal learning network (PLN) fostering collaboration with educators all around the world via “chats” and webinars centered on topics such as Common Core Standards, edtech, ELs or PLCs.  I always learn new ideas from ILs and they invariably share they learned them by reading such and such book or on Twitter.

#7.  Foster Positive Relationships

“People forget what you said, people forget what you did, but people never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou

The secret behind great leadership is fostering positive relationships. Relationships are particularly important to Instructional Leaders because they are often asking educators to spend time and energy changing their practices, or essentially sacrificing the sacred cow.  Change is difficult, but it is helpful when undergoing the process to have powerful and positive communicative relationships with each other.

Though educators are surrounded by people all the time, it can be an isolating and overwhelming profession.  Positive relationships reinforce what we are called to do…accomplish what’s best for students…every time.

Which of these "Habits" are you already skilled at and which would you like to improve? 

Julie Adams, Adams Educational Consulting,

What are the Characteristics of Rock Star Teachers?

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The Game Changers of Education

Having worked with thousands of educators all around the world, I have had the privilege of observing and learning from many Rock Star Teachers and found that they share several characteristics.  No, they don't need to set their classrooms aflame, but they do ignite a fire for learning and positively impact student achievement.

Rock Star Teachers have/do this:

*A Desire to Learn and Transform

~Rock Star Teachers (RSTs) never believe they have learned it all.  They eagerly participate in educational conferences, PLCs, trainings, research, edcamps, Twitter, classes, NBCT programs and book studies.  Their commitment to bettering themselves is evident in their instruction, as they rarely will be doing the same thing in class as they did 10 years ago.

*Ability to Engage Students

~Rock Star Teachers engage students by providing learning tasks to students every few minutes.  Students in RST classes are continually asked to explain, justify, defend, critique and create content.  One will never see students just ‘sitting and getting’ during a 60-minute lecture in these classes; students talk about the content just as much or more than the teacher as RSTs know the importance of student involvement and create continual opportunities for students to engage and share in the learning.

*Reflect and Take Risks

~Rock Star Teachers are not afraid to pilot a curriculum or tech tool and ask questions.  They continually reflect on what the students need and how to supply those needs; and they perfect methods to accomplish the learning goals even more effectively next time.  You may hear them say that they have never taught a perfect lesson, but don’t be fooled; they are as close to perfection in the classroom as possible.  Soak up their nuances and pearls of wisdom, for lessons learned from a RST can save a novice years of consternation and frustration.

*Explicitly Teach Content AND Skills

~You will never hear a RST say, “It is not my job to teach my students to read, write, or comprehend, because I only teach math, etc.” RSTs embrace the reality that they are indeed responsible for teaching comprehension, in addition to their content. They actively search out and utilize the vocabulary, writing, critical thinking and engagement strategies, materials and tech necessary to teach students both the skills and content they need for mastery.

*Utilize Essential Questions

~Rock Star Teachers hook students from the beginning, often by commencing with an Essential Question. They use lesson, unit and course essential questions to aid students in making universal connections, thus enhancing learning.  They foster discussions and debates focused on the EQs throughout the learning process so students are focused on the learning objective and are able to cement new information to prior knowledge. 

*Passion & Enthusiasm

~RSTs are on fire with excitement for their students, lessons and profession.  Their positivity affects others and they refuse to let negativity infect them.  You will not hear them complaining about this initiative or such-and-such curriculum, as they are too focused on the positives in education…our fantastic students!

*Effective Parent Communication

~RSTs reach out to parents in the beginning of the school year to make sure the first contact is informative and positive.  They continue to use multiple methods of communication throughout the year to reach parents. In addition to emails and newsletters, they often develop class websites, and Twitter and Facebook school accounts to share student learning and expectations with families.

*Outside Connections with Students & Families

~Rock Star Teachers know it is vital to have connections with kids in and out of the classroom.  They coach teams, oversee clubs, direct school plays, chaperone crazy extended cross country or even out of the country field trips, attend athletic and academic events and make a point to stop at the corner coffee house that little Johnny works at on Saturday mornings.  RSTs understand that kids ‘don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.’

*Exhibit Professionalism

~RSTs dress professionally, arrive early and leave late, make positive connections with colleagues, families and the community, don’t engage in gossip, curse, or complain about “lazy” students.  They take teaching seriously and they demonstrate the qualities that any profession would admire.

*An Overwhelming Belief that Students Matter

~This elite group perhaps shares one of the most important characteristics and that is why they are true Caped-Crusaders, Game Changers and undeniable Rock Stars. They believe that educators are to do what is best for the students (not what is most convenient for adults); whatever “the best” entails, however painful, exhausting, frustrating and time-consuming it is, it is worth it because our students simply deserve our best everyday, no excuses.

It gives me chills to see a “Rock Star” in action.  They embody the art and science of effective teaching, demonstrating that teaching is not for those who can’t, but for those who can and choose to. For teaching is THE profession that allows for all other professions to exist and it is not for the faint of heart, it is for the fearless and the passionate path forgers…the Rock Stars. 

A motto fit for Rock Star Teachers:

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels.  To the ones who see things differently.  They are not fond of rules and they have no respect for status quo.  You can praise them, disagree with them, quote them or vilify them.  But the only thing you can’t do is ignore them.  Because they have the passion and courage to do what needs to be done. They are the ones who are crazy enough to believe they can change things and those who believe... are the only ones who do.” Steve Jobs, modified

Julie Adams, Adams Educational Consulting,

A Link to another article on this topic, “The World Needs More Rock Star Educators”:

Meaningful PLC & Staff Meetings-STOP the DEATH by BULLET POINT!

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"One goal of a staff meeting is to get teachers excited about teaching the next day." Todd Whitaker

As more focus is placed on critical thinking and content literacy comprehension, administrators are asking how to best utilize their staff and PLC meeting time so the emphasis is on instruction and best practices.   

In years past, staff meetings have notoriously been used to collectively discuss the school fundraiser or to subject colleagues to "death by bullet point" presentations.  Experience has taught us that spending precious staff meeting time reading what could have been sent out in a memo is a detrimental and wasteful practice that must end.

Here are 20 ways to increase collaboration and focus school culture on best instructional practices, but most importantly, get teachers excited about teaching:

*Establish the idea that there is no room for negativity at a staff meeting-too much is at stake for negativity to hijack a meeting.  If there is a complaint/concern, meet privately with those who can make a change to remedy the situation and bring at least one solution to the private meeting.

*Start meetings with a focus on the positive-have teachers share 1-2 positive student outcomes or experiences with each other to start the meeting off on the right foot and to remind each other why we chose this sometimes crazy, exhausting, frustrating, but wonderful profession.

*Devote a chunk of time in each meeting to best instructional practices by having 1-2 teachers share a strategy that has made a difference in their instruction. Then provide teachers time to discuss the practice/s and how to utilize them in their own classes.

*Blog study-have teachers choose an educational blog to read and then share/debate with a partner some of the topics.  Some to consider are:,,,,,,,,,,, etc.  

*Identify an outcome/objective for the meeting-stay focused and direct conversations to meet the objective.

*Share child neuroscience ideas-the young brain is fascinating and very different from the adult brain.  Have each educator research and share 1 neuroscience fact and put all facts on a chart in the staff room as a reminder of the intricacies of the young brain and the implications for classroom instruction.

*Utilize Twitter-educators should be on Twitter!  Devote 10-15 minutes at meetings for everyone to read a few educational articles on Twitter and then share them with others. Also, create a hashtag for your staff meeting time for teachers to post their (positive) ideas to throughout the discussion, this is called "backchanneling."

*Provide time for teachers to fill out positive postcards to send home to parents and then collect them and mail home.

*"Flip" your meetings-provide teachers with 3-4 educational videos to choose from before the meeting, utilizing a site such as Teaching Channel (full of Common Core classroom videos and reflection questions); they choose one video to view before the meeting, then during the meeting teachers get into groups based on which video they chose, and analyze ideas from the video. Or skip the "meeting" all together and teachers can share what they learned on a google doc or edmodo.

*Reflection-the best educators are reflective educators.  Ask teachers to video 3 short segments of their own instruction and then analyze their lessons with a partner at the meeting using these questions as a guide (the partner does not need to view the videos):

1. What was the content objective of the lesson? (What info did the students need to learn?)  

2. What was the skills objective?  (What critical thinking skills were the students' using/developing?)

3. What did the students do to meet both objectives?  (What strategies/tasks were completed by the students?)

4. What is one change you would make to the lesson if you retaught it?

*Research-have teachers choose one educational topic to research, complete a 3-2-1 (3 facts learned, 2 comments/connections, 1 question) regarding what they learned during their research, and have them bring in 2-3 articles about their chosen topic to discuss/share with others.

*Book Club-have staff choose a book to conduct a book study around-one chapter for each month.  Some great ones to use: When Kids Can't Read, Focus, Teach Like a Pirate, Reading & Writing Info Text in the Primary Grades, The Art & Science of Teaching, Readicide, Ignite, Teaching with the Brain in Mind, Mindset, or my book titled Game Changers, etc.

*Have departments or grade levels take charge of a meeting to share the great things they are doing to reach & teach kids.

*Determine an instructional focus such as note-taking or engagement and have teachers bring ideas to share with others.  

*Share student work-bring in a few student writing samples (a high, medium and low student example works best) and the scoring rubric and share with a partner to determine if the rubric has inter-rater reliability and brainstorm the types of feedback that would benefit each student.

*Have students (yes, invite students to your meeting) share Project Based Learning (PBLs) examples and their outcomes.

*Watch and discuss a TED talk. 

*Have an "appy" hour or "tech-talk" devoted to sharing and practicing a few of the effective tech tools on campus.

*“Speed Geek” your meeting~participants engage in an activity similar to “Speed Dating” but with technology or instructional strategies.   Each of 7 students and/or teachers prepares a 5-7 minute presentation around a tech tool or instructional strategy that increases student learning, and small groups of teachers rotate through each group every 5-7 minutes.  This is such a powerful way to connect kids and teachers to new tools and learning!  

*End meetings with "appreciations."  Volunteers share 1-2 things they appreciate about someone else on staff (someone who volunteered at the fundraiser, a coach who always encourages kids, a teacher who hosts after-school tutorial, etc.).

It has been said that once teachers start teaching, we become the most uneducated of professionals about our own profession, failing to research and implement the cutting-edge best practices that make the difference in student engagement and learning.  We can't use 20th century practices with our 21st century students.

In order to encourage and even demand curiosity, creativity, learning, sharing and growing in our students, we must model those traits within our own profession; a staff meeting is the perfect time to cultivate these skills within and among our colleagues.

Staff meetings are precious and help to establish the culture of the school. There is a time and place for a short PowerPoint or collective discussion about the upcoming fundraiser, but consider using a "Google Doc" to get input ahead of time so an hour is not devoted to brainstorming such time-consuming topics.   

The important idea here is that educators need to have buy-in in order for meetings to be positive and productive.  Buy-in comes from choice and also from relevance; teachers want to share and learn ideas that they can take back to their classroom. Staff or PLC meetings that are focused on the school's mission: how to best prepare and support students (and teachers) for the demands of the 21st century, is an effective way to engage and focus everyone in the mission. Julie Adams, Adams Educational Consulting,