The Seven D’s of Leadership

The Seven D’s of Leadership

Written by Principal Angel Oliphant

As a child I developed a love of reading and was like a sponge when it came to learning new things. By the time I got to high school, it was clear to me that both race and socio-economic status have a major impact on student learning and achievement. I saw this as a huge problem and made a vow to be a part of the solution. Now as a principal in a Title 1 school, my top priority is meeting students’ academic and social-emotional needs.    

These are seven leadership tips that I’ve used over the years that have contributed to my effectiveness as a principal:

1. Determine the needs of your students and put them first. Before any decision is made I always ask myself if it is good for students. I analyze multiple data sources and make sure students’ basic needs are met before trying to close their academic gaps. This can be accomplished through formal and informal assessments and observations. Counselors and Social Workers also play a key role in this.

  1. Develop strong relationships. People don’t care what you know until they know that you care. Show compassion for students and teachers and what they are going through. Be a good listener as they share their concerns with you. Just as I encourage teachers to develop strong relationships with their students, it is important for me to develop relationships with my teachers. Teacher support, nurturing and coaching are extremely critical for students’ success.

3.Depend on parents and other stakeholders within the school community for support. Parents love their children and want them to be successful. Partner with them by keeping them informed of students’ progress and engaging them in what is happening in the classroom and throughout the school. Remember the saying, “It takes a village.” All stakeholders are important. I’m a firm believer that the collective knowledge and experience of the whole far outweighs my knowledge and experience as a single individual. 

  1. Deposit into students’ and teachers’ emotional bank accounts. Even the smallest accomplishments should be recognized. This helps to motivate and encourage students and teachers to persevere. Let them know how proud you are of their efforts. They want to feel valued and appreciated.
  1. Delegate to others. You can’t do everything on your own.  Empower and promote the growth of teacher leaders by assigning them responsibilities and various leadership roles in the school. I trust teachers to accomplish these tasks independently because I’ve armed them with tools for success. This also includes soliciting input from teachers on important decisions.

7. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Choose your battles wisely. It’s ok to give in sometimes as long as it doesn’t hurt the students. Some things are just not that important. Spend your time on things that matter the most.

Letter From a Compassionate Educator

Letter From a Compassionate Educator

I’ve been trying to come up with something to say in regards to the school year being finished early.  Over the past two weeks, I have been struggling with what to say to teachers and administrators as they worried about their students.  Not only about their learning, but more importantly about their well-being. 

We are in our second week of providing meals to over 1,000 students each day and will continue until tangible support allows for us to do otherwise.  Our schools have also been asked by the governor to prepare to possibly provide childcare to specific essential staff if needed in the near future. Early stages of that plan are beginning…

Right now, my message to our teachers is that parents are not teachers and we shouldn’t expect them to be. Their main job is to take care of their kids. My only expectation is that we are communicating with our families, offering them suggested material, and to do what they can without frustration.

There are many activities out there being shared online and it’s great to see. Right now it’s all fairly new.  However there will be an increasing number of families who will have to work from home, or have no work at all…and “teaching” their children their grade level curriculum shouldn’t be top of the priority list.

Educators are seeing this and know what will need to happen; we will have to teach more when they come back. And it’s what we will do.  Yes, most likely the gaps will be bigger…but my hope is our students take this time to read, have fun learning when they can, read some more, and spend time with their families.

For families who want to continue learning, reach out to your child’s teacher. Some of our online programs are personalized to be on each child’s level. But expectations should be minimal…because new material has to be taught before learned/mastered. Some students will have the means to get it while others will struggle. Knowing where your child is and what they can handle will help and your teacher can help with that as well.

Like many other communities, many of our families do not even have internet access to allow for online learning. And because of our demographics, the reality is many of our students are not on grade level. This at least gives us time to reteach and have fun doing it.

Most people outside of education, or those with no children in school, do not know the amount of support schools offer to our students and families. Besides educating them, we are their shelter, their meals, and their emotional support. I already have a long list of students/families we need to reach out to…we were doing it before and we will continue to do it now. But it will definitely be more challenging. Our school counselors will be on the frontlines in developing ways to help our students.

I feel awful for our seniors…no words can really take away from the anger and frustration they are currently feeling. This will make them stronger and more resilient.  We learn from the most difficult moments of our lives…and this will surely make our seniors even more extraordinary than they already are. Most schools will be thinking about how to make sure they are celebrated and it will be a special one. Give them time to plan it out…we will get there!

Most of all, we have to use patience. I know, I wish I had all the answers. Everyone is anxious…but we have time.  Don’t try to do it all at once. Less, will certainly be more. 

Take care and be healthy.

Jake Boula | Winchester Public Schools
Director of Elementary and Intermediate Instruction



Who is your 5 Tribe?

Who is your 5 Tribe?

I was sitting at Chicago Pizza waiting on my to-go order when an older gentleman, much more seasoned in life, leaned over and asked me, “What do you do?”  I smiled and said, “How much time do you have?”

After quickly explaining my mission and purpose we began chatting about life.  He explained how my success and confidence in living my purpose was contagious.  My inner goddess leaped! Winning! That was until he asked his next question that stopped me in my tracks and sent me into a tailspin of reflection and prayer over the next several weeks. 

“Do you have 5 people?”

In the weeks before, the idea of your inner circle having a direct impact on who you are continually popped up in my life somehow.  A gift from a friend, a post on social media, a Proverb at church, two different books I was reading, subscriber emails, and now… this man..this stranger I just happened to sit beside.

We have all heard the famous figure of speech, “If you lay in bed with dogs, you get fleas,” and we know that we should surround ourselves with good people, but all these moments were different.  This learning was not speaking to me about who pulls me down. This learning was asking me who lifts me up. Who is in your community? Your inner circle? If iron sharpens iron, who is your iron?

Your environment supports your goals.  What do I mean by that? In his book, The One Thing, Gary Keller explained that the people and places around us will either rob us of energy, effort and resolve OR send us into a “positive spiral of success”.

None of us live in isolation.  We have factors all around us that influence our mood, impact, and effectiveness.  These factors are absolutely out of our control, but will inevitably be a driver or barrier in our lives.  What is not out of our control is who and what we allow to influence us. We must surround ourselves with factors that will lift us higher toward our best selves.

Do you have 5 people?  Whether you are growing into your best spiritual, physical, emotional, or intellectual self you need people around you that will aim you toward your goal.  None of us, no matter how strong, do life alone. Pay attention to who you allow to infiltrate your space. Remember attitude is contagious. The right people and physical surroundings can expedite your energy and actions toward where you want to be.

Here are 5 strategies to reflect on your circle of influence:


  • Take ownership of your influencers.  Just like a ship captain cannot control the weather, you can not control the fact that there are influencers in your life.  This does not mean the captain is powerless. He can make strong decisions that lead both he and his crew through stormy waters, just as you can make a strategic effort in navigating the influencers in your life.  
  • Embrace the chaos.  Anyone who has known me for more than a day or seen me navigate through a storm has heard me say, “So what, now what”.  Spend less time reacting to the chaos and more time embracing and problem-solving. It is what it is. What are we going to do from this point forward?
  • Find iron.  “As iron sharpens iron, so does one friend to another.”  Proverbs 27. Seek out the people who sharpen you. Find someone who encourages your journey, your dreams, your goals, your success.   Otherwise, they will distract you from life and selfishly pull you into their negativity. As a dear friend of mine always says, “You bring joy!”  Don’t be the only joyful energy in your life.
  • Walk away gracefully.  When you recognize your colleagues, friends, or family are your negative influencers, show love and kindness, but walk away.  I love Trent Shelton’s quote, “It’s ok to cut someone out of your space, when they hand you the scissors.” If someone’s deficit mind or heartset, poor work ethic, or just all around negativity is getting to you, step away.  It’s ok. The tricky part here is recognizing the people in your life who seem joyful and supportive but may distract you from your goals. If you find yourself taking back steps in your journey after being around someone seemingly positive, re-evaluate and decide if they are distracting you from who you want to be.  Talk to the person. Share your goals with them. If they continue to distract you, walk away.


  • Live regretless.  Don’t wake up one morning saying man I wish I would have worked toward this dream or purpose of mine.  Pray or meditate over who you are and live in that purpose every single day. Put 5 people around you that send you into your “spiral of success” and push you back into your path when you start stepping off.  Trust me. You will need these guys. Recognize who they are and make sure they know who they are to you. They are your 5 Tribe.  

 Janna Sells | @jannypsells
Right Out of Janna’s Journals




MTSS | Beyond the Textbook

MTSS | Beyond the Textbook

By: Janna Sells

Are you sick of feeling the MTSS implementation burnout?  Has MTSS become a four letter word where you serve? Tired of the theory not matching practice?  We were too.  Welcome to our roadshow.  A group of educators who were charged with the job of making MTSS work to close gaps and raise student achievement.  In our journey we’ve uncovered the tools needed to build an effective 3 Tiered Model. Let us start off by first saying, it was not easy.  We made tons of mistakes, but we eventually got it right. We continued and will continue to lean into our own learning and improve what we know to be faithful and true about implementing this highly effective total school improvement model.  

5 Critical Components of MTSS 

There are 5 critical components, or pillars, that have to be carefully and thoughtfully crafted prior to implementation of MTSS.  Without these 5 essential inputs, an MTSS model is simply impossible.

1) It all begins with LEADERSHIP |
Leadership knowledge and reinforcement are the driving force behind a strong implementation model.  What does that mean?  

  • Leaders equip themselves with the knowledge they need to lead teachers through implementation  
  • Leaders LEAD MTSS PLCs – know the data, lead the discussion, and equip teachers 
  • Leaders help align the arrows between the work teachers are doing in PLCs to their School Improvement Plan  
  • Leaders are active problem-solvers and strong advocates who support teachers so they may best serve students

2) Clear and consistent COMMUNICATION & COLLABORATION |
More times than we are excited to admit, we’ve coached and supported sites with the best implementation intentions, but they failed because of the lack of clear communication.  The same factor for the leading cause of divorce in the United States is killing MTSS implementation across our country. Why do we continue to ignore the impact of good communication? Likely, because it is an art.  Knowing when and how to say the right things can make or break the culture around implementation. It’s equally important that you bring teacher leaders in with you as you build your MTSS model. Their boots on the ground feedback is immeasurable and will help you stay ahead of potential threats.

3) Capacity and Infrastructure build sustainability
Invest in your people.  Not programs. Work to build capacity in ALL of your staff to create a model that lasts.

  • Invest and equip all the people in your building to help them see the strong role they play in the MTSS model.  
  • It’s an all hands on deck approach.  Every person in your building should see how their role impacts and aligns the arrows towards total school improvement.

4) Data-based problem-solving | 
We would never expect a doctor to begin writing a treatment plan for an ill patient without data based indicators suggesting the treatment is exactly what the patient needs.  We would also expect that the doctor has a strong line of research to support the treatment plan he or she chooses to help the patient recover. The same is true for educators.  To teach without using a data-based, problem solving protocol is malpractice. 

5) Data Evaluation drives continuous improvement | 
Life is a constant cycle of continuous improvement.  We evaluate success in many different measurements, but nonetheless, we drive towards improvement.  MTSS implementation is no different. 

  • There are many tactical tools to measure whether or not your implementation model is having a positive, negative, or neutral impact on students’ growth and achievement.  
  • It’s important that you triangulate your implementation data to get a true measure of impact.  
  • You must listen to your current indicators and humbly reflect and improve on them until your desired implementation is achieved.  
  • Remember, this a marathon, not a sprint.  Be present. Be strategic. Be consistent. 

A Three-Tiered Approach to Academics, Behavior, and Social Emotional Supports

i-LEADR, Inc. coaches a three-part, three-tiered model (see image above).  We believe in order to truly serve the whole child, educators must systematically measure the effectiveness of tier 1 core supports in all three areas: academics, behavior, and social emotional.  There should be strategic core plans in place that identify grade or school-wide deficits in these major areas with a strategic improvement plan. 

Once the school begins acting on core areas of concern, they should start to identify students outside and perhaps within those areas who need strategic tier 2 and/or intensive tier 3 supports.  Intervention plans should be written to address the needs of these students and document support services provided. Educators should measure the impact of students’ response to instruction by using frequent progress monitoring. 

The life blood of this model – Professional Learning Communities.  None of this work should be done in isolation by a single teacher. These conversations, data-analyses, and service planning should be done inside a strong professional learning community model.  These PLCs should be facilitated by a strong leadership team and should be communicated through School Improvement Team work. A comprehensive model, but not impossible.

Just remember, tradition does not make best practice when it stops being best for kids.  Change is hard. Failure is unavoidable. How you rise from your failed attempts will determine the impact and effectiveness of your leadership.  It’s ok to ask for help when help is needed.

To learn more about how i-LEADR coaches and supports MTSS implementation visit us at:

Global Leadership

Global Leadership

By: Rob Lively
Global Leader. Speaker. Soldier

On the US holiday when we celebrate the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr. I
challenge you to seize this opportunity and ponder the extraordinary leadership of
Dr. King. As educators we must learn it before we can gift it and these teachings
are of great value but often missed. John Maxwell states that Leadership is
“influence, nothing more and nothing less”. Dr. King’s influence is unparalleled.
He was not elected or appointed. He had no rank or grade. He had no positional
power or authority. He had no pedigree. He had no money. He could not directly
offer a benefit or reward for following him or accepting his influence. Although he
held none of the previously stated variables, he did hold one extremely critical
element. He was right. He was simply just right. He was legal, moral, ethical,
peaceful, and simply just right. There was nothing about what he said or how he
said it that you could disagree with, that is if you had even the slightest bit of
conscious or sense of right and wrong. He believed in and invested in the fabric
and the future of not only the United States of America but mankind around the
globe. He was a man who tried his earthly best to be true to his beliefs. His intent
was simply to free all people from oppression and to liberate a union from hate.
He found common thread by supporting the founding documents of America
created by the founders of the nation. Dr. King had unbelievable discipline and
focus to the non violent strategy that he learned from his study of Mahatma

Through Dr. King’s leadership he was able to take the aftermath of Bloody Sunday
on the Edward Pettus Bridge and turn it into a non violent march of four days to
Montgomery. He changed laws, policy, and won the Nobel Peace Prize among
many other accomplishments. Most importantly he changed a nation and a world.
He changed mankind. I will not speak further on the topic other than to encourage
you not to study normally focused on advancement of civil rights of Dr. King, but
rather how he accomplished such things through the greatest display of leadership
the world has ever seen. Those are teachings of great value for any Student,
Parent, Teacher, Coach or Administrator. Those lessons are of great value to all of

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We Show Up

We Show Up

Being in education is hard.  It’s physically, emotionally, and yes even spiritually draining.  Being an educator is more than just showing up at work to do a job. Every one of us knows that.  We work hours well past what our contracts say. We put in more of our own money than probably any other career.  And we cry, laugh, get upset, have our hearts broken, smile, and pray over these kids on a daily basis.


And that can wear on you.  It can make getting out of bed some days really tough.  It can cause you to doubt your impact. It can take a toll.

So why do we stay in a field that drains us? Why do we continue showing up day after day when it often feels like we’re doing nothing except for spinning our wheels and getting more added to our already overflowing plates?

We do it because of those tiny bodies. Those children who show up every day with no other expectation than, “I hope my teacher is here today”.

We show up for that little girl who comes to school smiling because she knows it’s the only place she’s going to get a hug.


We show up for that child whose only 2 meals a day are the ones they get for breakfast and lunch (and the extra food someone may send home with them).


We show up for the little boy who knows he has to get an education so he can earn a living to help support those he loves.


We show up for that 4th grader who is told how worthless and stupid she is, at home every day.  How she shows up knowing that teacher will tell her how worthy and loved she is.


We show up to see the lightbulb moment when a child finally gets a concept they’ve been struggling with for weeks.


We show up because we know we have that little one who runs into school with yet another story to share from the magical book they’re reading.


We show up because we have colleagues who are fighting what feels like insurmountable battles, and we’re the only person they have in their life they can confide in and count on.


We show up because we’re educators.  That’s just who we are. And that’s what makes us different.


As I sit here knowing this month is National Principal Month, I’m reminded of the work that all educators do.  That titles are just that, a “title” and nothing more. So today I say thank you. Thank you each and every member of our educational family for showing up..

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