Wednesday Afternoons

All during the school year I spend my Wednesday afternoons with the Administration Team of the International School of Belgrade. We get together to discuss school issues, events, initiatives, and programs. The bottom line is student learning, and all of us work together, with the feedback and cooperation of the staff to always be improving.

The meetings usually last a couple of hours and since we spend so much time together, we have all grown close. From left to right in the photo are Eric Sands, (Director), Branislav Nikolić (IT Coordinator), myself, Snežana Hasanović (Business Manager), and Tim Moynihan, (Elementary Principal). They are all dedicated professionals and very good people. I have learned much from each of them. Despite differing opinions sometimes, and the occasional stressful situation, we get along very well. I have really enjoyed the camaraderie and professional collaboration and interaction. It has made me a better educator.

We are shown above in Dr. Sand’s office working on the new school web site. The intense efficiency, teamwork, and production was somehow captured in this action photo. Thanks to Neša for the photograph.

High School Classroom Observations: Monday April 8, 2009 First Period



From time to time I take my camera along when I sit in on classes. Monday morning when I went around the school, I saw dedicated teachers inspiring young people. Below is a description of what I observed. The visits were unannounced. This is the heart of what we do – teaching and learning!

Two freshmen are practicing a scene from Shakespeare’s “All’s Well That Ends Well.” (above) Mrs. Van Drunen in getting the students ready for our Shakespeare Festival next month. Mrs. V advised the girls no to wander away from the stage unconciously and put their back to the audience.

The seniors are preparing for the IB Final Exams. In biology they were looking at a question that asked them to interpret a graph showing the effects of a peptide on the surface of human skin, against several types of bacteria. In physics, Mr. Slough suggested to use the terms in the question as clues to the formula to use. 


Work = Energy = Force x Distance
Work = Energy = Force x Distance

The tenth grade Design & Technology students were working on their “multimedia” poems. I sat with Monty and watched his anti-war poem that he posted to He spent 4 hours editing scenes of war and nuclear explosions put to David Bowie’s version of Imagine. I realized how powerful video is with this generation of young people. Monty’s poem on had 212 views and 2 people had rated it. This is so different than writing a poem on a piece of paper and reading it to a class. You can view all of the D & T student blogs at Mrs. Nikolic’s website. 

Juniors Anja and Voja were showing me their graphic organizers. Mrs. Slough uses these effectively to teach the students to organize their thoughts and aid the writing process. Voja said that a thesis is an answer. Luka and Katharina recommended that I read the book the class just completed, “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe. The students were analyzing the impact of colonialism in Africa. 


Graphic Organizers Aid Students In Organizing Their Thinking
Graphic Organizers Aid Students In Organizing Their Thinking


In the language department, the Russian Ab Initio students were studying the accusative case in their grammar workbooks. The English B students were writing an essay using criteria from Oxford’s Advanced English Certificate program. Mr. Van Drunen in the ninth grade Humanities course, was lecturing on the 3 branches of US government. When he a map of the original 13 colonies of the US, one of the students Alex, said, “Why are they all on the east coast?” Pictures say much more than words and I saw teachers using different strategies to increase student understanding. 


The Humanities Classroom Appeals to Teens
The Humanities Classroom Appeals to Teens

And finally, the sophmores were playing volleyball in the physical education class. There is lots going on at ISB every period. 


Nikola sets for Lajos
Nikola sets for Lajos

Classroom Observations: Wednesday April 1, 2009 Period 1

Occasionally I like to document digitally some of my classroom observations to give the community an idea of the daily teaching and learning in the classrooms.

Wednesday I was in the middle school and they are in the midst of “Spirit Week.” Each day, students are asked to dress up according to a theme and there is a fun activity during the lunch period. It gives a lift to the students enthusiasm and is a rally point in the school calendar. Above, “Vladamir Putin” is surrounded by his “body guards” although I don’t know what kind a protection a banana offers.

Today is the culmination of the week and the students are holding a Locker Decorating competition. It is designed to get the students to clean their lockers and use them more effectively. Many students continue to carry around all their books in their bags instead of storing them in their lockers. There will be a dance tonight that the STUCO students are organizing.

The Grade 8 Design and Technology class was working on calligraphy. Below, David shows his favorite Gothic script, “Fraktur” which was made popular in the early 1500’s by Maximillian, the Holy Roman Emperor.

Grade 8 Studies Calligraphy
Grade 8 Studies Calligraphy

In science, Mrs. Medenica prepared a wonderful presentation on geological time. Her classroom is an “oasis of learning” and she always posts much student work.

The Scientific Method - 6A
The Scientific Method - 6A

The grade 7 Language Arts class was practicing their new vocabulary words, “roster”, “procrastinate”, and “trenchant”. I believe a foundation to a good education is possessing and using a large vocabulary. Words are power!

One thing I noticed is the tendency of the students to socialize in their own ethnic or nationality group. Teachers need to be aware of this and when designing seating charts, or organizing collaborative work, they need to purposely create diverse groups. It is good to have students from different cultures working together.

MYP Introductory Conference – Day #3

Teachers Recording Student Assessment Data

School A: There is a single storage database with all of the student’s assessment results.  The table has the criteria and whole mark. We need to make sure we are recording the data as the IB asks for. For example, you do not put an % point. Also one needs to put the clear evidence.

A)     Teachers are telling the students the criteria against which they are being assessed.

B)      Teacher need to give some understanding to students on how to get to the highest level. It can be verbal or it can be a detailed rubric.

C)      When the work is assessed, the students are to be shown what the criteria is.

D)     Teachers are supposed write the points scored in each criteria. They can add them up and convert to number 1-7

A school gradebook will look like this…

                                Task  1                           Task 2


Cr A

Cr C

Cr. B

Cr. C

Student Name






·         Not all tasks or assessments need to be graded using the MYP format.

·         One school has a sheet for each student to go in the file. It lists the criteria, marks on each task whether it be formative or summative assessments.

·         It is very important to educate the parents on the assessment practices.

·         “levels” not grades or marks during the semester, the final 1-7 are the “grades”

Report Cards

·         You must be reporting against the criteria. It could be a comment or a number.

·         What happens if all of the criteria are not marked for a grading period?  Some schools do not put on final grade, some use “very good” others put a final grade but with a comment explaining why the criteria is blank.

·         What happens when a student enters mid-year? Case-by-case

·         We have four quarters, and then with mid-term progress reports. That is eight times per year that teachers need to make them.

·         Good idea to put on the AoI, even some schools put on Learner Profile. One school has Learner Profile and AoI in the teachers hands while doing the marks.

 Interdisciplinary Units

·         Earlier, there was an over-emphasis on these units and schools did too many of them. Today, it is important to do less of them, but to do them to enhance the learning for criteria within the disciplines involved.

·         Best way to find ways is Teachers Lounge –

MYP Coordinator

·         should have a minimum of 1/3 of their time to coordinate the program.

·         All paperwork and orientating new teachers.

Interdisciplinary Unit Practice

Unit Question – What sort of story may be revealed by a graph?

Concepts – Human activity is affected by population fluctuations / Graphs express rates of change

AoI – Environments – how human actions affects the environment

Another example of a good unit question is How is our future written in the stars?

Unit Question – How does binge drinking affect your social and personal well-being?

The effects of drinking on your body and social life.

How many Interdisciplinary units per school year?  – each year group should experience one interdisciplinary unit per year. This must happen however and it is important. A fundamental concept in MYP is collaborative planning. St. Dominic’s has a structure in place where the teacher leader of AoI also is assigned a grade level. They are to do two projects per year. The new guide however says to scrap this and go away from unifying themes. It is better to go for small collaborations.


Guiding questions are not the same as unit questions.

A long project (5 – 15 weeks) can easily address all of the criteria and objectives. I might not be assessing all aspects of the criteria. In technology it almost has to with the design cycle. The individual tasks within the objectives.


·         an optional process where students can earn MYP certificates. Today just under half of students undergo this process

·         a second reason is to have the IB assist you with maintaining academic rigor.

·         Bundle up one task, 8 samples and send away in March to a moderator, who is a practicing MYP teacher, who re-marks the paper. They are looking at some things like “Is this task a good one?” “Does this task demanding enough, can students reach beyond level 4” “Is the school setting standards too high or too low”

·         Next a senior moderator looks at it and then it goes to Cardiff where it is further analyzed.

·         In June all of the students grades are sent also to Cardiff and a report is issued in September

·         One drawback is schools want to avoid getting a moderation factor that will lower the levels

·         IB is looking at the revising the process;

·         The record of achievement will be lowered if the teachers are not being too rigorous

·         Most of the problem is bad tasks, not the teacher marking. Many do not allow higher thinking.



Fees for the MYP program

·         one teacher per subject group do the MYP subject specific training; this applies to all schools

·         a large school would send 1/3 of all teachers to one of the three workshops

·         typical costs are 2000 euros

·         on-line training doesn’t count for required PD



Introduction to MYP Conference – Day #2

Morning Session: Developing & Revising Curriculums

What factors go into the curriculum? How would they rank in importance?

Level 1 – Learner Profile, AoI, Enduring Understandings

Level 2 – Subject specific skills & Knowledge

Level 3 – Parental desires, Board desires & Priorities, Resources and Facilities

Level 4 – Teacher skills and preferences

Types of Curriculum




Exported – full from another school

Quickly done;

Curriculum tested

Clear Expectations

Can’t add your own school’s identity

Another school’s curriculum might not be suited for the culture of the school

No faculty ownership

Adapted – national to our

Local needs covered

Ready to go

No faculty ownership


Integrated – bits from everywhere

Faculty ownership

Can take the best of others

Good resource to experience other curriculums

Lots of Time


Created – completely new

Will fit the school community well

Faculty ownership

Professional Development


Huge amount of time & $



Standard C1 of MYP “developed by the school” “available to all sections of the school community”

Standard C2 of MYP “all teachers plan and reflect in collaborative teams”

<!-How much teamwork do we need? Traditional model is one per month

<!-full faculty, vertical (HOD), horizontal (grade level), MYP or DP






Planning for Teaching and Learning (page 86 in Principles into Practice Book) my reflections

The challenge is trying to find time for all of these different teams and committees;

<!-Vertical planning – HOD with departments; transitions from Grade 5 to Grade 6 and 8 to 9

<!-Horizontal planning – grade level meetings

<!-Documenting curriculum and giving access to community including the unit plans; conceptual understanding and skills;

<!-Areas of Interaction meetings

<!  Finally PD – sending teachers to conference (MYP) and in-house PD, and teachers personal PD

Vertical Planning – A subject specific vertical planner for the five years of MYP

Prescribed MYP final objectives Year 5 The skills

<!-these come from the 8 subject guides, which have the objectives that you have to follow

<!-the previous years need to planned well so the student can meet the objectives in the Year 5

<!-There are strongly recommended interim objectives for Year 1, Year 3

<!- Schools need to make the objectives for Year 2 and Year 4; not drastic changes from other years

       The number of objectives (standards?) per subject change and the number of objectives match the number of criteria (benchmarks?) between 4 – 6 objectives


Objective A

Objective B

Objective C

Objective D






















Vertical Planning Topics The Content

<!–[if !supportLists]–>· <!–[endif]–>There are no IB recommendations for the content, topics, units

<!–[if !supportLists]–>· <!–[endif]–>Today John gave us many planning tables to help make the written curriculum so teachers, parents, and students are able to understand what will be taught






Topic 1

Topic 1

Topic 1

Topic 1

Topic 1

Topic 2

Topic 2

Topic 2

Topic 2

Topic 2

Topic 3

Topic 3

Topic 3

Topic 3

Topic 3

MYP 1 (This is a good table for each year.)


Unit Question



And others?





















The table above will be used as a basis for the unit plans. All of the above needs to occur first before we get the teachers to make their unit plans.

Areas of Interaction The context

Teachers need to make a written document that identifies the planned learning expectations for each AoI for each year of the MYP program.


examples of student learning expectations (not subject knowledge)

Key Unit Questions

Awareness & understanding



Reflection on



Taking Action on




We were asked to make a chart for MYP Year 1 for the AoI (Human Ingenuity)

<!–[if !supportLists]–>· <!–[endif]–>With the first year of MYP – grade 6 the focus is on the students themselves


AoIàHuman Ingenuity Learning Expectations

Awareness & understanding

Identify and understand that they themselves can be ingenious.


Reflection on

Are we being ingenious by using the tools created by others.

Taking Action on

Exhibit their ingenuity through a project they made..


“systems” – do you follow the system (rules of the school)

The most important AoI is the Approaches To Learning; have this in place! And then the others will follow.

Another method of writing the AoI curriculum


<!–[if !supportLists]–>1. <!–[endif]–>What are our expectations for MYP Year 5 students in terms of (name AoI)

<!–[if !supportLists]–>2. <!–[endif]–>How do we measure? (what does it look like – sound like)

<!–[if !supportLists]–>3. <!–[endif]–>Introduce the domains

<!–[if !supportLists]–>4. <!–[endif]–>Modify the student expectations

The next step is to take each grade and make table of how exactly the subjects will address this. This is for Approaches to Learning

Domain – Learning Outcome – all subjects Lan A – Sci – Math – etc.





Afternoon Session

MYP Unit Planning Process and Assessment

<!–[if gte vml 1]> <![endif]–><!–[if !vml]–><!–[endif]–>

Rationale for the significant concepts (Big Ideas) (enduring ideas)

<!–[if !supportLists]–>· <!–[endif]–>Ask “why” or “so what”

<!–[if !supportLists]–>· <!–[endif]–>Ask someone outside of your discipline?

What are the five important purposes of assessment?

<!–[if !supportLists]–>1. <!–[endif]–>Monitor and check for understanding and skills – for teachers and students

<!–[if !supportLists]–>2. <!–[endif]–>A tool to improve our teaching

<!–[if !supportLists]–>3. <!–[endif]–>To guide the activities and experiences of the students.

<!–[if !supportLists]–>4. <!–[endif]–> Comparison of students / schools / teachers

<!–[if !supportLists]–>5. <!–[endif]–>Feedback to students and parents

Understanding MYP Criteria at the Subject Level

Subject guides have the MYP Year 5 criteria – the other years must be modified and guides to modification are located 46 in Principles and Practice

IB World School Logo
IB World School Logo

International Baccalaureate Conference Day #1

The MYP Concept
The MYP Concept

I am attending an introductory conference to the Middle Years Program (MYP)  (grades 6-10) of the International Baccalaureate (IB). It is being held in the RAI Convention Center in Amsterdam, Holland. I am in the Introductory Workshop for Administrators. The conference is open to schools from Africa, Europe, and the Middle East.

This post are my notes and reflections on ideas I have learned from the conference.

The keynote speech this morning was by Tristian Stable, the head of program development for the IB Diploma.

<!–[if gte mso 9]> Normal 0 false false false EN-GB X-NONE X-NONE <![endif]–><!–[if gte mso 9]> <![endif]–> The point of the presentation is to show the relationship between the MYP and DP program.

The Big Ideas

<!–[if !supportLists]–>· <!–[endif]–>There is a coherence of the MYP / Diploma continuum

<!–[if !supportLists]–>· <!–[endif]–>Creative Teacher Professionalism

<!–[if !supportLists]–>· <!–[endif]–>Curriculum is an on-going process

coherence = balanced

consistency = skills & ideas are sensibly arranged and ordered; for deep understanding, they have to experience repeatedly

My goal: Identify three leadership and three management strategies to improve practice and plan for their implementation in your school.

Curriculum defn –

<!–[if !supportLists]–>· <!–[endif]–>What the students experience not the intended curriculum

<!–[if !supportLists]–>· <!–[endif]–>Should be what we value, but in many schools instead it is what can be assessed!

<!–[if !supportLists]–>· <!–[endif]–>Too much content and it is bad if it is driving the curriculum

<!–[if !supportLists]–>· <!–[endif]–>Transmission of the culture – IBO is very geared towards the USA/UK/Australia universities

<!–[if !supportLists]–>· <!–[endif]–>What skills and ideas do they need for their future – “Does it equip students for life?”

<!–[if !supportLists]–>· <!–[endif]–>You don’t need the same curriculum for all levels at the school –

Teachers are trusted to implement, develop, and deliver the curriculum (creative teacher professionalism). Administrators are there to support, develop, and holding teachers accountable.

IBO is Euro-centric, Western, for example “inquiry-based”; but it is good in that it encourages students to experience the thinking and feelings of others;

Theory of Knowledge – supposed to be the “glue” that sticks the different disciplines together, not a single subject

It is important that students take formal exams and students learn how to cope with stress and test-taking strategies.

Scheduling is critical; strong leadership is huge because of the teacher independence;

<!–[if !supportLists]–>1) <!–[endif]–>Clearly defined roles (job description)

<!–[if !supportLists]–>2) <!–[endif]–>Prioritize

<!–[if !supportLists]–>3) <!–[endif]–>On-going curriculum evaluation [look at every program every year to critique]

<!–[if !supportLists]–>4) <!–[endif]–>Have all three Student / Teacher / Parent Profiles

<!–[if !supportLists]–>5) <!–[endif]–>Day Two<!–[if gte mso 9]> Normal 0 false false false EN-GB X-NONE X-NONE MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 <![endif]–><!–[if gte mso 9]> <![endif]–>

Introduction to the MYP Workshop

Do we give each of the eight subjects equal time in the 5 years of the MYP program?

<!–[if !supportLists]–>· <!–[endif]–>Technology is a key issue and the only subject that can be integrated into the rest of the subject areas. Rarely is it integrated properly.

<!–[if !supportLists]–>· <!–[endif]–>Minimum number of hours per subject is 50 hours per school year

<!–[if !supportLists]–>· <!–[endif]–>Physical education different from extra curricular sports program, the sports does not fulfill the physical education criteria.

<!–[if !supportLists]–>· <!–[endif]–>Find the MYP technology curriculum for Paul, our new Technology Coordinator for PK-12 next year.

<!–[if !supportLists]–>· <!–[endif]–>I need to look at the Design & Technology curriculum and ICT curriculum; the huge idea is the design

<!–[if !supportLists]–>· <!–[endif]–>Every year they need to do all eight subject areas.

<!–[if !supportLists]–>· <!–[endif]–>It is okay to for IEP’s and ESL to put in extra classes and take away from other areas, because the students are in the center of the octagon.

The MYP Octogan Points

<!–[if !supportLists]–>· <!–[endif]–>The Areas of Interaction (AoI) are the context in which the students learn the subject areas and they are the “glue” or links between subjects.

<!–[if !supportLists]–>· <!–[endif]–>The AoI are different colored lenses; and they see the same subjects through a different color as you move the wheel

<!–[if !supportLists]–>· <!–[endif]–>AoI are the whole world issues that give relevancy of the subjects to “real” life

<!–[if !supportLists]–>· <!–[endif]–>The Learner Profile is wrapped around the student/ teacher / parent in the middle

<!–[if !supportLists]–>· <!–[endif]–>What are the student learning outcomes, as regards the areas of interaction? Someone needs to write the specific student outcomes under each area for each of the 5-year MYP programs – it is all explained in the MYP From Principles Into Practice

The Standards of MYP

<!–[if !supportLists]–>· <!–[endif]–>New standards are coming out in March 2010 – they will be streamlined and examples of evidence

At the end of the MYP experience, students can get two certificates:

<!–[if !supportLists]–>1) <!–[endif]–>The regular certificate of completing the entire program; you have to do the last two years at minimum, plus score a minimum on the personal project;

<!–[if !supportLists]–>2) <!–[endif]–>Record of achievement – this gives a listing of classes and the grades

<!–[if !supportLists]–>· <!–[endif]–>PYP (doesn’t matter) MYP (4 or 5 years) DP (2 years) – work backwards from start of university

<!–[if !supportLists]–>· <!–[endif]–>MYP can be 4 years, as long as it is the last four years before the DP.

ISB & Facebook

The popularity of the social networking web site Facebook (FB) has got me thinking about its role in the learning of students at ISB. I am also pondering our use of technology tools (software / websites) at the school.

I see that I was thinking the same as Stanford University. They are offering a Facebook for Parents course .

This is another good website to get you thinking about the subject. It is my goal to produce guidelines for teachers, students, and parents on using these tools.

ISB Staff Professional Development


We just completed two glorious days of professional development. Debra Welch from the Teachers Training Center (TTC) came to Belgrade to work with our entire staff on Understanding By Design (UBD). This is an approach to planning learning units that uses the concept of Backwards Design. This method was produced by educational experts Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. The idea is to first look at the essential learning (big ideas) and work backwards through assessment and teaching strategies. The staff was asked to work on 1-2 units they were going to use this year. The two days gave us a rare opportunity to really go through the process as most of the time we are so busy with the daily teaching schedule, that we do not get the luxury of time when planning curriculum units. It also let us meet across grade levels and disciplines to plan and discuss common issues and units. Deb Welch is shown above addressing the teachers.

I got a thorough understanding of UBD and a booklet of resources that I will refer to throughout the year. I also worked through the Backwards Design process with a middle school girls’ soccer unit and a school-wide discipline model. I also had a chance to meet and talk with many of the staff that I don’t get to see often.

Nadia found some time to shop at the mall at the Hotel Zira

Nadia found some time to shop at the mall at the Hotel Zira

The Hotel Zira was also very beautiful and great hosts!

The classic Eastern Europe view from the Hotel Zira balcony.
The classic Eastern Europe view from the Hotel Zira balcony.

Influencer: The Power to Change Anything

I am reading the book Influencer: The Power to Change Anything. It is written by the folks at Vital Smarts. Vital Smarts is a consulting firm specializing in corporate and organizational training. They also wrote two best selling books, Crucial Conversations and Crucial Confrontations which I have not read. The administrative team at ISB is reading the book together.

Since becoming an international school administrator several years ago, I have been read more of these types of books. Most of my time is spent interacting with parents, students, and teachers and I found that literature on people skills help me in forming better relationships. Better relationships mean that the school functions better and most importantly, students learn more. I enjoy this aspect of international school life and the relationships I have made throughout my career are one of the most rewarding parts of my job.

This was a great book to read. It reinforces some of my ideas in my management style and gives me some new things to think about and hopefully implement. For anyone that works with others (as most of us do these days) and especially for those in a management position, I highly recommend this book. I am looking forward to discussing it with my colleagues.

My notes follow and these will assist me in understanding the book and putting into practice some of the strategies.

The premise of the book is that we all want to influence more the people in our lives. In my case, it would be at work the parents, teachers, and students, but also at home my children, wife, and friends. The Vital Smarts team details the steps anyone can take to have more influence on the lives of others. It discards the saying, “The serenity to accept the things you cannot change, the courage to change the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” The authors claim that some things we think we can’t make a difference, we actually can, as they write, “…if you want to change the world, you eventually have to change how people behave. And if you want to change how they behave, you have to first change how they think.”

The authors use the work of many influence experts that I should do further research, especially the work of Albert Bandura, Fred Steele, and the Delancey Project.

Part I “Choose Influence over Serenity”

When confronting an organizational problem or system…

Principle #1 Always search for behaviors (specific ones you want to change)

Principle #2 Focus on just a few “high leverage” or vital behaviors. Research on best practices will guide me in this area. There are always just a few behaviors that really make a difference. They point out the work of Dr. Ethna Reid, a reading specialist. In order to raise reading comprehension levels of students, she found two key behaviors that good teachers did that average/bad teachers didn’t do. The first was to “use praise versus punishment” and to “ alternate between teaching and questioning/testing then make immediate corrections. This instead lecturing on for a long time and let students then struggle on a big portion of material.

Another example of a key behavior was in patient satisfaction at a hospital. After lots of research, they found very simply that doctors and nurses only had to “smile, make eye contact, identify yourself, let people know what you’re doing and why, and end every interaction by asking, ‘Is there anything else that you need.’” to increase patient satisfaction survey results.

Principle #3 Search for recovery behaviors. People are going to make mistakes, so you have to develop a recovery plan.

Principle #4 Test Your Results. Develop the habit of conducting rapid, low-risk, mini-experiments.

Changing People’s Behavior
When people are asked to change a behavior, you need to have them answer only two questions:

1) Is it worth it? (If not, why waste the effort.)
2) Can they do this thing? (If not, why try.)

Most people carry around thoughts that are incomplete or inaccurate. To try to change these, verbal persuasion rarely works. The great persuader is personal experience. We need to create a surrogate or vicarious experience. A great technique is to use dramatic stories instead of statistics and charts. Stories suck people in and take away their distrust of your ability and your motives. The poignant story is much better than a pep talk. With the stories, one needs to offer an option for next steps to take to avoid terrible ends.

Part II Make Change Inevitable Through the 6 Sources of Influence
Source #1 (personal) Make the Undesirable Desirable

• Try it, you’ll like it sometimes a good strategy
• Turn it into a game or keep score with frequent feedback
• The biggest motivator of excellence are intrinsic. They have to do with a person’s accountability to himself/herself. Stimulate internal motivation by having them invest themselves in an activity. It will become a measure of who they are and the high standards will be a measure of who they will be. When people are able to meet their personal standards, they feel validated and fulfilled and living up to the image of who they want to be. Have people see their choices in daily behavior as moral quests or personally defining moments. Keep this perspective despite distractions and emotional stress. Think about having people connect their actions to their values.
• “humanize” your actions and take responsibility – moral disengagement always accompanies political, combative, and self-centered behavior
• When trying to get someone to change, replace judgment with empathy and lectures with questions, dictates with dialogue, (this will be good with entry plan interviews)

Source #2 (personal) Surpass Your Limits (through practice)

• Interesting study done on children with the marsh mellow test on children. Good to learn the “delayed gratification” techniques can be learned.
• If one wants to be great at anything, it takes “deliberate practice” on specific, detailed fundamentals
• Simple tasks like typing, tennis, etc. take about 50 hours to reach our highest proficiency and then no advance. Most people after 5 years of working reach their highest level and then plateau. It takes “deliberate practice” to continue to get better. It is using time wisely and concentrated effort.
• Students can high level concentrate for 1 hour max (mornings best) and then 5 hours maximum of practice – school schedule implications?
• The number of hours one practices is far less important than receiving clear and frequent feedback against a known standard. Once again, short intervals between teaching and testing. Set mini-goals and provide constant feedback against them.
• Experts tend to focus on small but vital aspects of their play and scrupulously compare one round to the next. Make complex tasks simple, long tasks short, vague specific, etc.
• Rapid positive feedback builds self confidence. When failure comes, which it inevitably will, sometimes it signals greater effort or persistence. Often however, a change in strategy is needed.
• A long section on how to switch off the “flight or fight” response when dealing with others and going into the deliberate thinking mode.

Source #3 (social) Harness Peer Pressure

Humans place a high premium on the approval of others. They need praise, emotional support, and encouragement from those around them. When dealing with a group, it is vital to find the “early adopters” the 13.5% of the population who are socially connected and respected, these are the opinion leaders, and the other 85% will follow. Interview questions should include this question. Influencers need to spend more time with them. People (including teenagers) pay attention to individuals they respect and trust and that can be gained by frequently interacting with them.

The second part of the chapter goes into the code of silence in many organizations. It is not politically acceptable to speak openly about what is wrong, this sustains unhealthy behavior. Influencers need to create an environment where formal and informal leaders relentlessly encourage vital behaviors and skillfully confront negative behaviors.

Source #4 (social) Find Strength in Numbers

This chapter is all about social capital. Social capital is the idea that groups of people working together function better than any one individual. Studies show that groups of 7-10 are ideal and can come up with better ideas than someone working alone. This comes into play when you think colleagues are the problem. Instead of attacking them, “co-opt them.” The Delancey project concept of “minyans” are great.

A new idea that I want to implement is the fact that teachers learn more than students! All teachers know this. The Delancey project does not use professional teachers, coaches, and counselors. They have residents help each other because of the idea that “teachers learn more than students, mentors more than mentees, and trainers more than trainees, so why restrict all this important learning to outside professionals who have already been to school?” How can I use this with our ISB students?

• NQ – Network Quotient more important than IQ – essential to find people who can make up for your blind spots.
• To improve with anything, ex) public speaking, get a personal coach for the real-time feedback from an expert. They only do this in sports, why not other areas?
• When establishing an organizational culture, solidarity is important. Everyone must implement the tough standards or it doesn’t work. Ex) both mom and dad “no means no”

Source #5 (structural) Design Rewards and Demand Accountability

Extrinsic rewards should be the last strategy implemented. First use intrinsic satisfaction, then social support before going to extrinsic awards. Rewards are good to use if they are given soon and are tied to a vital behavior. The thought behind the award is more important than the monetary value of the award. Reward small improvements in behavior along the way instead of the results at the end. Praise is important and pay attention to small improvements.

Punishment is unavoidable and necessary. It is good to “place a shot across the bow” or in other words a clear warning that negative things will be happening if they should continue down their current path. Ask the question, “What does it take to get fired here?”
The key point is “that if you aren’t willing to go to the mat when people value a core value, that value loses its moral force in the organization.”

Source #6 (structural) Change the Environment

This is an area I can improve in as I don’t think much about it. The physical space is soooo important. Office needs to be approachable to employees, not the 480 feet of Hitler (propinquity). The chapter also touches on the “broken tile” that I always talk about. That disordered surroundings send out an unspoken message but powerful message that encourages antisocial behavior (NY subway example). Environmental changes are easier than people changes because things never resist change and remain so forever. Some examples:
• Diet Tips – Smaller plates, cups mean less food consumed, sweets inaccessible places
• Exercise – Put treadmill in common area not isolated basement or exercise room
• Excess Paper Use – Put cost of packet of paper on the package itself or near photocopier (making the invisible visible)
• Information affects behavior – give teachers data that will shake them up; one idea I have is to find out the IB scores of schools in the CEESA region
• Remember that it is hard for teachers to act in a balanced way when they don’t have access to an admin data stream
• The frequency and quality of human interaction is largely a function of physical distance. Applications – Put students in conflict together in a positive project – an early field trip – teachers meeting with food, when they casually bump into each other, common planning occurs
• Most common predictor if colleagues collaborate is distance 30m — 90 m
• Change the system when finding ways “to motivate people to continue with their boring, painful, dangerous, or otherwise loathsome activities”
• Make the right behavior easier to do than the wrong behavior
• Often the lure of gambling in casinos is the interaction with others, not the gambling itself
• Meet regularly with employees to solicit ideas / put the positive behavior into the agenda of a meeting
• Look up the work of Fred Steele

Conclusion: Become an Influencer
One needs to put into practice ALL six sources to become an influencer.

Common Vocabulary
social capital
NQ network quotient
opinion leaders
deliberate practice
delayed gratification
experience vs. verbal persuasion
vital behaviors
recovery behaviors

The First 90 Days

I am reading The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders At All Levels by Michael Watkins. Watkins was a professor at the Harvard School of Business when he wrote the book. Now he is a professor at IMD, a business school in Switzerland. The premise of the book is to speed up the time to adjust to a new position and begin to contribute to the organization.

(business jargon- transition acceleration to the breakeven point)

The book was written with business managers in mind, but there are many things I can apply to a non-profit organization and the principalship of an international school. International schools have a high transient rate and principals are in positions for 3-4 years on average. I will probably be making several more transitions in my career so this book will be useful. I read parts of this book during a seminar in 2004 I took with AISH with former CEO Clark Kirkpatrick. I am revisiting the book and reading it more in depth because this is truly a new school I am going to, not like in 2004 when I was promoted from within. Although in retrospect, I should have followed the book more closely. I won’t make that mistake this time. While reading the book, I am writing my own 90 day entry plan for the International School of Belgrade. Below are my notes from my reading:


The Five Fundamental Propositions of the Book

1) Failure or success at a new school is caused by a combination of the school’s opportunities and pitfalls AND the flaws or strengths of a new leader.

2) There are systematic methods a leader can use to lessen the chance of failure and speed up the process.

3) The major goal of a new leader is to establish early credibility.

4) Transitions are a challenge for anyone – they will test one’s personal stamina, demand growth, and strengthen diagnostic skills.

5) Schools can use these methods to accelerate new people coming into the organization.

Road Map of the Book

  • Mentally break from my old position into the new position
  • Soak up systematically as much learning about the new organization
  • Match the strategy to the situation
  • Build your credibility early
  • Have critical conversations about the organization (New Entry Plan Interviews)
  • Figure out if the school’s mission and organization are sound
  • Evaluate inherited team, make tough personnel calls early, get right people into the right position
  • Find supporters who will be on my side
  • Find the right advice-and-counsel network
  • Help teachers make the transition quickly too

Chapter 1 “Promote Myself”

Everyone has the urge to work where they were, not where they are during a transition. People have a tendency to micromanage in areas they know best. It is important to find people who will give me good political counsel and personal advice.

Reflection: At EA I do it all and I will have to let go of that and focus on the principalship. One of my strengths is my relationships with parents, teachers, and students. I will need to continue this. Some of my new duties will be an increased focus on student discipline and teacher evaluation. I will also need to learn the IB curriculum and the programs in use at the school

Chapter 2 “Accelerate My Learning”

This chapter is about organizing the critical conversations I need to have with the key people in the school. Advice when setting up the interviews are as follows

  • Ask essentially the same 5 questions to everyone; challenges, why these challenges, opportunities to grow, what should I focus on
  • Careful listening and reflective follow-up will gain insight
  • Who answers directly and who evades; who takes responsibility or puts blame;
  • The goal is to quickly define key issues the school is facing

Another aspect is to read all of the documents of the organization. I also need to get IB scores because this will give me an outside view of the organization. The next section of the chapter goes into learning the culture, which is really important at a school. On the surface level there is the style of dress, classroom decor and arrangement, etc. – casual or formal? -aggressive or laid back? Below the surface are the norms shared by the group, such as what behaviors get rewarded and what get punished. Most importantly are the assumptions underneath, the unspoken truths everyone takes for granted. Another aspect is how the Serbian culture affects school culture. This I feel, especially with a high percentage of locals on staff and on the student body is the strongest force in a school.

Chapter 3 “Match Strategy to Situation”

This chapter instructs a new leader to study the school and diagnose which of the 4 situations the organization is in. This includes the school as a whole and individual programs.

Start Up – Assemble the team and materials together to start something new

Turn Around – A group recognized to be in trouble and work to get it back on track

Realignment – Revitalize a good group that is drifting into trouble

Sustaining Success – preserve vitality of good group and take it to the next level

Each situation requires different actions from the leader. The first two, one needs to be offensive and make tough calls early. This would include assembling a good team and setting benchmarks without restrictions. The other two are more of a learning about the history of the program and convincing the group that change is necessary. Schools are slightly different than businesses, because many times the personnel is already determined as the nature of schools is to remain static, like a family. It is important that I secure early wins and establish credibility (next chapter) and I can do this by reading the situation early. With a school I need to learn the culture/people/politics aspect which I feel is more important as well as the technical side (IB, Admin Software, Schedule, etc.)

Chapter 4 “Secure Early Wins”

My first few weeks and months at the school will be crucial to how I am perceived. I need to “secure early wins” that is establish my credibility and confidence of the community.

Watkins mentions several traps to avoid.
• Failing to focus, as it is impossible to achieve results in more than a couple of areas.
• Related to that is failing to get wins in things that matter to my boss.
• The last is failure to take into account the culture. I need to include that Serbian culture/school question into my interviews.

I need to define quickly my “A-Item Priorities”. I will do this by speaking with Eric and seeing patterns in my interviews. These priorities need to be neither too general or specific and the goals may need adjustment as I learn more about the situation. If I want to achieve my A-item priorities by the end of my era, I will have to address dysfunctional patterns of behavior of the people in my organization. I need to be very clear on how I expect people to behave. I should do the EARCOS “hot buttons” and the dealing with difficult people workshop learning early in the school year with the staff. Below are some problematic behavior patterns I need to correct:

Problematic Behavior Problems:
Lack of Focus – resources spread too thin, putting out fires instead of endearing solutions.

Lack of Discipline – There are great variations in levels of performance of the team. Teachers and others don’t understand the negative consequences of inconsistency (children learn and grow less) and people make excuses when they fail to meet commitments.

Lack of Innovation – Group does not compare itself with other schools, and employees rewarded for stable but not trying new things.

Lack of Teamwork – People compete and create fiefdoms rather than work together to achieve common goals.

Lack of Sense of Urgency – Teachers ignore the needs of students and parents and are complacent.

I need to really think about what message I want to give to the staff. They will be asking themselves about me…
• Does he have the insight and steadiness to make tough decisions? (tough but humane – decisive but not judicious)
• Does he have values I admire? (focuses but flexible)
• Does he have the right energy?
• Does he demand high levels of performance from himself and others? (demanding but able to be satisfied)

Action Items-→ 1) Get my A-level priorities
2) Clear expectations of teacher behavior

Chapter 5 “Negociate Success”

Too many leaders just play the game and take the situation as a given and failing because of this. This chapter shows how to avoid this by negotiating success. A leader must negotiate success by

  1. establishing realistic expectations
  2. reaching consensus on the situation
  3. securing enough resources

I need to do this with my boss and these are the fundamental Don’ts

  • Don’t trash the past – understand it and don’t tolerate mediocrity
  • Don’t stay away from the boss; communicate often
  • Don’t surprise the boss; give him a heads up on a developing problem
  • Don’t approach the boss with only problems – have a solution by taking a few minutes to think about your role and the help you need
  • Don’t run down your checklist
  • Don’t try to change the boss (adjust to his style)

There are also some good do’s

  • Clarify mutual expectations early and often
  • Negotiate timelines for diagnosis and planning
  • Get wins in areas important to him early
  • Pursue good marks from those whose opinion he respects

There are five conversations I need to have with the admin team:

  1. Diagnosis of the situation (start-up, turnaround, realignment, sustained success)
  2. Expectations – What will constitute success long term/short term? Measurement of my performance? (Better to under promise achievements and over deliver results.)
  3. Style- What form of communication is preferred? How often? How do our styles differ and the implications?
  4. Resources – What do I need to be successful? from him?
  5. Personal Development – Where do I need to improve? What can I do to improve them?

Other items addressed in the chapter that I need to consider

  • Try to deduce what my boss is sensitive about
  • Ask the same question in different ways to gain more insight
  • Ambiguity about goals and expectations is dangerous
  • Decisions – Which can I make and not tell him? Make and tell him? Make a recommendation and send for approval? Defer to him?
  • Better to address difficult issue directly and early

I am now at the point in my book to begin writing my 90 day entry plan. I will be able to devise and finalize this after a couple of weeks on the job. Break up the plan into 30 day blocks.

Chapter 6 “Achieve Alignment”

The higher one climbs in an organization, the more one can take the role of organizational architect. One can provide the context for the personnel to reach excellence.

Chapter 7 “Build Your Team”

The most important decisions I will make in the first 90 days will be about the people on my team. “Hire in haste, repent at leisure.” With poor team members, I have to do more myself. In the first 90 days I should be able to decide who will go and who will stay on. There will be likely some good, average, and bad performers that are at any new school I go to. I need to establish criteria on how to judge personnel. The book suggests the following criteria:

  • competence -do they no the subject matter, pedagogy, and how to engage students
  • judgment – do they make good decisions
  • energy
  • focus – can they set priorities and stick to them
  • relationships – can they get along well with others
  • trust- can they keep their word and follow through

Which of these are threshold issues- issues that if a person cannot meet the standard, then none of the rest matters. Most leaders will put trust as the threshold issue. All areas are important, some more than others. I need to ponder this a bit more. I need to keep these in mind when I interview and observe them. The book gives suggestions on how to assess their judgment by pressing them on an outside interest to give an opinion. Also look at how each person acts within the group. Pay attention to eye-rolling, deference, etc.

The business world is a bit more harsh in these areas than schools. I also will not be making the final call on any personnel, but I think I will be asked to make recommendations. The book suggests to place people in the following categories:

  • keep in place
  • keep and develop
  • move to another position
  • observe for awhile
  • replace (low priority)
  • replace (high priority)

The book also reminds leaders to do these assessments respectfully.

The chapter goes on to discuss decision making processes. There is a decision making continuum and most leaders stick to only one way to make decisions, but different situations warrant different processes. The continuum is as follows:

MORE CONTROL – unilateral – consult & decide – build consensus – unanimous LESS CONTROL

The best are the two in the middle (Aristotle’s golden mean). If it is a painful decision, the consult & decide is best, but when a project needs most of people on board, then the build consensus is better.

Chapter Eight “Create Coalitions”

This chapter is about convincing or motivating a staff to go along with a project or system. The advice is to first map the “influence landscape.” That is figuring out who the key players are, and this can be formal or informal. The head of department would be a formal one, and an example of an informal would be a long-time teacher at the school.

A lot of this chapter is about managing resistance to change, which I have done workshops before. Watkins breaks ups the staff in three categories supporters (new to school, people quietly working for change, people who share your vision) and opponents. People are usually opposed to an initiative because of the following:

  • comfortable with status quo
  • fear of looking incompetent
  • threat to their values
  • threat to their power
  • negative consequences for people they care about

When there is resistance, leaders need to try to grasp the reasons behind it, before labeling the person as an implacable opponent. The third category are the convincibles (swing voters). Once again the advice is to put yourself in their shoes.

The tools of persuasion a leader has are as follows:

  • bribery & threats (bribes make the change more attractive than the status quo and threats make the status quo not an option
  • compelling arguments – (It is good for student learning. It is the right thing to do. Respect their profession. Do the best you can. Create a better school/country.)
  • set up action-forcing events – lock people into timetables, set goals, careful not to close to soon until the balance of people are on your side

If none of the above work, then one needs to resort to entanglement strategies. This means to have them do a small step first (attend the first presentation), because each step brings them closer, and when possible, try to make the step irreversible. Get them to see the problem and work on solutions. Another good strategy is to approach influential people first before the group to get them on your side.

Chapter 9 “Keep My Balance”

This is a valuable chapter for me as this is one of my weaknesses. I try to do too much. Leaders of schools are pulled in all directions. There are many roles we have to play, from counselor, to businessman, to disciplinarian, to curriculum specialist, to marketing, etc. There are some traps to avoid to stay out of the vicious cycles of time traps.

  1. Riding off on all directions – The job has infinite # of tasks you could do during your transition, but few are vital.
  2. Undefended boundaries- Not being clear with boss, parents, & teachers what you will and will not do. People will keep taking if you always say yes and you must establish boundaries.
  3. Brittleness – An overcommitment to a failing course of action.
  4. Isolation – Relying on a few people for information.
  5. Biased judgment – Allowing ego, prior beliefs, over confidence, or personal stake clouds judgment
  6. Work Avoidance – Choose to delay tough decisions by burying yourself in work.

Watkins gives me 3 “Pillars of Self-Efficacy” or habits that will get me out of the behaviors above:

Pillar #1 Adopting Successful Strategies -Use the ideas in the previous chapters.

Pillar #2 Enforcing Personal Disciplines – To avoid the little pitfalls of doing things that are not important, one must plan every day. Set goals and then take 10 minutes at the end of each day to see my progress towards those. When someone comes up and asks, judiciously defer commitment. This means to say, “Sounds interesting. Let me think about it and get back to you.” Never say yes on the spot. If pressed (perhaps by someone who knows your vulnerability to such pressure) say “Well, if you need an answer now, I’ll have to say no. But if you can wait, I will give it more thought.” It is always easier to say no first and then yes later, than vice versa I also need to set aside time for hard work, that is shut off email, phone, and focus. When emotionally wrapped up in a decision, “go to the balcony”, that is distance myself to take a fresh look at the problem. Also remember to structure reflection often to gauge my feelings and how things are going. I need to ask myself the following:

  • What do you feel so far?
  • What has bothered me so far?
  • What has gone well or poorly?

Pillar #3 Build My Support Systems

It is hard to focus on pressing issues when the infrastructure is not in place. So take the time to set up my office, develop routines, clarify expectations with my secretary. I also need to stabilize the home front. We will arrive a couple of weeks early to sort through the transition. We have already begun to learn Serbian and talk about life in Belgrade with the kids (cultural familiarization) and they seem to be on board. We need to find a good nanny/maid, doctor, and dentist. We also need to preserve the familiar routines. Finally I need to build my advice-and-counsel network. I need to think hard about this to find people inside and outside that know what is going on and I can truly trust. These people will be invaluable.

Technical Advisers: These people will provide expert analysis on the IB, teaching strategies, etc.

Cultural Advisers: They will provide me with insight into the cultural norms, both with the families (most important) and within the school.

Political Counselors: Help you deal with the politics of the school. Sounding board for option, ask what if questions.

Chapter 10 Expedite Everyone

There will be lots of newcomers in the school next year. The single most important thing I can do is to introduce the language of my entry plan to them. This will give us all clear expectations, A-item priorities, counsel networks, etc. A common language makes discussions of these issues dramatically more efficient. Most importantly, it will mean conversations wil happen that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. To get everyone with 90 days plans will be good.

I am now done with the book. Thank you Michael Watkins for writing it, and Clark Kirkpatrick for introducing it to me. I will now begin to write my 90-day entry plan to ISB.