Studer Education- Leader Development Newsletter- January Issue 
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Conversation: A tool for change

Conversations to Change Results & Actions 

Change in behavior happens through conversation. In our work with individuals and teams, we have learned the opportunity for achievement of desired actions and outcomes follows explicit discussion. We also know that data are interpreted through multiple lenses. Relying on unspoken means of communicating results and expectations is not sufficient, when the quality of student learning and educational systems are at stake. Leaders are responsible for facilitating meaningful conversations about outcomes, to guide change and action steps.
We see examples of effective communication practices and tools in many of our school district partners. Two, in particular, stand out as models for using results to structure conversations.
  • The School District of Janesville has hardwired a framework for engaging in performance conversations. In this district, conversations center on the results of goals aligned to pillars of excellence. They also rely on several conversation preparation tools, including the Operational Review.
  • In Ysleta Independent School District, the executive team recognizes the power of relying on data to drive conversations. Survey results form the foundation of this team’s conversations with each other and throughout the organization.
Engaging in conversations based on results is an effective means of focusing team members on overall goals, while driving necessary adjustments in actions. As you think about building a process for using results to frame conversations with team members, consider the time-saving benefits also associated with this leadership practice and the tools available. Using specific conversation templates that incorporate the district’s goals and results will reduce time spent organizing notes and thoughts. The templates should also be shared with all involved. When the objective of results on quality measures is clear, team members will take the actions necessary to succeed.

Leadership Tips:
Questions to ask if your organization is struggling with high performance...
Making Problem Solvers: What do you think we should do?

Accountability System: Is your leadership evaluation holding people accountable for outcomes?

Leadership Skill Building: Is leadership skill building happening continuously?

Sequencing: Is your sequencing right? Are you implementing the right steps in the right order?

Managing Performance: Are you managing performance well?

Communication: Are you communicating the why along with the what and the how behind what you are asking people to do?

One elementary school had a spike in student discipline referrals during its third 60-day planning cycle. Instead of jumping in to solve the issue, the principal asked the teacher leadership team, “What do you think we should do?”

At first the teachers said they didn’t know. The principal followed up with, “Well, if you did know, what would be some of your ideas?” The teachers suggested that the number of indoor recess days had increased because of extreme winter and that the Positive Behavior Intervention Support approach was not being followed consistently by all teachers because of confusion about the process. This situation was an excellent opportunity to develop the teachers while gaining insight on possible problems to solve. At this point, the leader and teachers could do more research on the suggested solutions.

Click here for more leadership tips!
Tools for Performance Conversations
Performance conversations are likely the most important work leaders undertake as they lead.  Their skill set around getting the conversations “right” is critical to the success of their organizations and the success of the leaders themselves.  Jack Welch said, “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself.  When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”  
The performance curve tells us that all organizations, including educational systems, have approximately 34% high performers, about 58% middle performers, and about 8% low performers within the employee ranks.  High performing leaders have a clear evidence-based assessment of each employee they supervise.  They often use a
tool to differentiate employees and they are skilled in differentiated conversations necessary to help all levels of performers grow.  Leaders who understand that “it really is all about the people” focus energy on these conversations and avoid the trap of “neglecting high performers” and “worrying about low performers.”  Instead, they intentionally prepare for and carry out performance conversations with all levels of performers on an ongoing basis.  This is not an exercise in busyness, it is essential for reaching goals.
High performers must be recruited on a regular basis. They are getting results, mentoring others, and modeling “what right looks like” for all employees.  Savvy leaders take time to share with high performers what it is they specifically are contributing to the organization, why they are valuable, and how much they are appreciated.  Re-recruitment conversations should take place long before high performers start thinking about taking another job.
Middle performers require a completely different conversation.  This group makes up the large majority of the workforce and falls into two subgroups requiring different conversations.  High middle performers also need to be recruited and told what they do well, but they also need discussion with their leader around how they might continue to improve performance.  Low middle performers also can improve and they need very clear conversations with leaders about a few areas where improvement is needed, a timeline for improvement to occur, and a tangible plan for development.
Low performer conversations can be the toughest. Sometimes leaders put them off since these conversations are uncomfortable for everyone.  Leaders focused on moving an organization forward understand that these conversations are critical.  High performers are counting on leaders to do something about the low performers!  These conversations with sub-par performers are crystal clear and follow the DESK pattern:
  • Leaders describe the unacceptable behaviors and performance
  • Leaders explain and evaluate the impact these behaviors are having on the organization, its goals, and other employees
  • Leaders show what improvements are needed and set a timeline for improvement
  • Leaders make certain employees know what will happen if poor performance continues-termination
One of our Studer Education partner school districts, the School District of Janesville, WI, has hardwired this performance conversation skill set among leaders of the district.  These conversations (at all levels) are not occasional and haphazard, they are part of the daily work.  Employees expect them, leaders complete them, and everyone understands the important role this skill set plays in moving the school district toward its goals.
Here are two ways these performance conversations take place in Janesville:
  1. Leader evaluations are based on objective data. This data is directly aligned to School District Goals (Scorecard). By using the adopted six Pillars in the Scorecard, each school leader and district administrators place these Pillars and the actual results from their goals in a public place making these goals and results transparent to all stakeholders coming into their respective school buildings.
  2. Regularly, district administration (Superintendent and Human Resource Director) reviews data results as set  forth in their individal goal setting conference. If for any reason a leader is not meeting the expectations for the school or district and is consistently missing the intended and desired results, an Operational Review is implemented. The purpose of this review is intended to assist the leader by providing coaching and support to move towards the expected results. The leader under review devlops a detailed plan outlining the changes they will implement with specific details and timelines leading to the proposed changes. Expected data could include: Rounding logs, recognitions, pulse checks, any and all survey results, student data.
Our founder, Quint Studer often reminded us of the importance of performance conversations. “What you permit, you promote” he said.  Performance conversations are the leader tool for promoting “what’s right” for all of us. 
Utilizing Survey Results to Structure Conversations
Through continuous innovation and transparent communication, the Ysleta Independent School District (YISD) located in the city of El Paso, TX, has and continues to see results while effectively making use of those results to drive further educational excellence.
Under the direction of the YISD’s superintendent, Dr. Xavier De Le Torre, the district has undergone significant facilities updates, including the addition of new campuses. Most importantly, the district has experienced improved student outcomes. In 2015, all YISD schools met state academic standards, with 82% of schools earning special achievement designations.
It is clear to see they are doing something right and that something is likely to be one of the YISD’s key practices- executive team conversations.
In YISD, executive team conversations are based on survey results. This Evidence-Based Leadership style allows for the survey results to frame team conversations, serving to reinforce expectations while clarifying and being transparent about progress.
A key practice contributing to YISD’s growth and success is the utilization of engagement and satisfaction surveys. These surveys allow those in leadership positions to examine the engagement and feedback of all employees and other stakeholders. The survey data are examined by leaders at all levels, especially the executive level, for progress monitoring and action planning.
Using the results in team conversations makes the transfer to individual performance conversations more seamless.  Leaders should never be surprised about their progress, in relation to the overall district goals.  This information is consistently communicated in the survey results roll out process, so knowing where improvements are needed should be clear before individual conversations take place.
The use of survey data is key in ensuring that the district is providing the necessary resources and exercising effective and engaging leadership to attain a best-place-to-work environment and student success. 
Visit TeacherReady Site
FEB 6-7
Destination High Performance 
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Symposium on Continuous Improvement 
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August 1-2
What's Right in Education
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Our Next Chat...

Date: February 22, 2017
Time: 3:30 pm (CST)
Topic: Engage by Rounding
Coach: Dr. Robin Largue 
Register Here
The Nine Principles® are the glue that holds Evidence-Based Leadership together. They are probably the easiest way to communicate to every department what it takes to create a culture of high performance. What are The Nine Principles®? Years ago, The Nine Principles were developed to give organizations a process to attain the desired results—a roadmap to help them develop a success-based culture using evidence. The Nine Principles are the guiding concepts of Evidence-Based Leadership. What are The Nine Principles?

This month, we are focusing on Principle #6. What we are talking about here is ownership- it's how well people live the values. Individual accountability means employees take ownership of modeling and living the standards. 
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