Leadership Imperatives For Today’s School Leaders

Leadership Imperatives

As leaders we aspire to achieve for the sake of our kids, teachers, and parents; seeking to elevate others along the way. As we embark on another year, our challenge is to continue to refine our practice as reflective leaders, so we increase in effectiveness. I would suggest that there are 7 Leadership Imperatives that can increase self efficacy and build our own capacity. Keep in mind as a fellow administrator, I am speaking as one on the journey of leadership and learning daily.


Over Communicate

This doesn’t mean over communicate through email, mass emails become frustrational and impersonal.  Utilize every possible means to get the story of your school out in a way that positively conveys the great culture and learning that you know is taking place. Consider creative ways to push beyond the newsletter and Twitter by using a Smore, Voxer, or video blogs with stakeholders to tell a compelling story. Don’t confuse mass distribution of information with telling a story. Allow the celebrations and learning in your school to be front and center, make it visible.

Value Principles over Rigid Rules

Have a few principles and stick to them, allow those to be hallmarks that others know guide your leadership. Guiding principles are the standard in today’s world, we live in post Newtonian world no longer governed by black and white. Furthermore, we work with kids, lots and lots of grey. When we get bogged down in rigid rules we actually become ineffective. Maintain those few non-negotiables, but consider those areas that truly at the end of the day are simply preferences.

 Develop “Next Up” Leaders

Yes, everyone has the capacity for leadership development. However, make it a priority to spend time with your best people, develop the talent that exists within your personal sphere of influence. If the day came that you are no longer the influencer in chief on your campus who will continue the momentum? It is by having focused conversations with your top talent and allowing those emerging leaders to experience actual decision making opportunities that they develop. Many leaders will assign tasks rather than shared ownership of ideas. Give yourself permission to release control to those highly qualified individuals that you are investing in daily. Like a relay runner, know when to pass the baton.

 Commit to Taking Care of You

Taking personal time might seem counterintuitive since educators are wired to give of themselves and be poured out so others can benefit. In the process of giving your all to kids, don’t give it all away, or you will have nothing left. Having white space, those moments to recharge, and reflect are crucial for you – plus your family and friends need you too!


Try to Be the “Other Guy”

Leaders can feel the pressure to be the leader they know or have heard about down the street, sorry it doesn’t work. Make a commitment to be uniquely you for your time, setting, and situation. Every organization has it’s own DNA, free yourself to focus on your people, you gain nothing by comparison.  Of course, maximize learning from others,  but just because it works somewhere else doesn’t mean it will in your setting. Study your culture and find out what you need to start and stop doing immediately.

Believe That the Best Way to Get Results is Top Down

The best ideas never trickle down. Leaders can be very driven and feel the mandate to generate ideas. Focus on believing and instilling a value where the best ideas emerge not from the front office but the classroom. Seek to create a culture and venues where teachers are frequently heard and their ideas showcased. Avoid statements, “we will look into that, “maybe next year,” or “that won’t work” and instead look for opportunities to continue dialogue through PLCs. Listen to and invite student voice. Students often feel like learning is something that happens to them, not something they get to affect. Change will only happen to the level we allow.

Allow the Critics to Interfere with Momentum

Do you need to listen to all stakeholders? Absolutely. We would be foolish not to understand the various points of view that exist. However, in our desire to build consensus we can give more time and attention to the squeaky wheel beyond what is reasonable. Know when to listen, and when it is time to be the leader, making those tough decisions.

So here is to you having a new year and starting well. Drawing on the words of leadership giant, John C. Maxwell,  “You don’t have to be great to get started, but you do have to start to be great.”


Engaging Parents as Partners

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It could be said, “We do what we do because of them” for if there were no parents there would be no students to nurture and teach in our collective schools. Yet why is engaging parents often posed an afterthought or a good idea to be explored or tried when other strategies are exhausted. I would like to assert that building parental partnerships is one of the most critical things we do as schools.


Admittedly, there are barriers to parental engagement, but the benefits outweigh the barriers every time! I would like to explore the benefits to engaging parents as partners.

  • Parents are a child’s first teacher and are critical to supporting their child’s social and academic growth. When parents and schools interact as partners, both parties have the green light to enhance what the other is teaching. Student success is catapulted as parents are empowered fulfil their role as their child’s first teacher.
  • Without parental partnerships, the school’s influence with students is automatically lessened, but with it student learning and growth has the opportunity to multiply exponentially. It is the school’s responsibility to empower parents to take a front seat role in their child’s education. Schools are obligated to create front door opportunities to provide parent learning experiences throughout the school year. My school puts on quarterly afterschool IMPACT (Importance of Parents and Children Together) events where parents and children experience a fun, carnival like atmosphere while participating in carefully designed activities that align to our state Pre-K guidelines. These IMPACT events empower parents because they go home with free educational materials and ideas of how to continue fostering joyful learning in their homes in natural ways. (Learn more about my school’s IMPACT events.)
  • When parents engage as partners, the community at large is brought together and connections are strengthened. Think about what happens in the brain when neural paths are created and strengthened. The more use the path gets, the stronger the bond, and the more automatic the neural response or skill becomes. The same principle is true for a community. All entities benefit when the bonds between families, communities, and schools are strengthened. Unfortunately, many families are increasingly disconnected from traditional extended family and community bonds. The school should and can be the heart of its community. I propose that a supportive school culture is a critical variable for supporting students, strengthening families, and bringing communities together.
  • Engaged parental partners are positive advocates for their child’s education. They lovingly embrace their child’s school and advocate for better; better schools, better learning for their children, and better communities at large. As engaged advocates, this parental stance is one of collaboration and shared partnership as opposed to an adversarial stance that can poison progress and relationships.


How does your school engage parents and partners? What are the persistent and creative ways your school does this? The benefits of engaging parents outweigh succumbing to the barriers any day! When parents are engaged as partners, there is a rightness of the world that is not found in our school communities in any other more profound way.

Serving together, Heidi

*For more on the topic of “Engaging Parents as Partners” check out Participate Learning’s archives of resources compiled from the 12/19/15 #LeadUpChat that my good friend Nancy Alvarez and I co-hosted/moderated.

Grace Changes Everything


There are many meanings for the small word grace. According to Webster, the word Grace can be defined as, unmerited divine assistance given for the purpose of regeneration or sanctification :  a virtue : sanctification : a way of moving that is smooth and attractive and that is not stiff or awkward : a controlled, polite, and pleasant way of behaving.” I would like to offer my own reflections on its meanings, and why it is a necessary element for someone who wants to live a life of impact all year.

G… Given. Grace isn’t grace until it is given. It is intended to be given and given freely, with no expectation for anything in return. When it is given, the receiver experiences unmerited pardon, hope, renewal. Additionally, the giver experiences freedom from holding a grudge or gnawing hurt.

R… Ridiculous. In the eyes of many grace is a ridiculous concept.  Why would anyone pardon another when it is clearly undeserved, and the offender is clearly in the wrong? Ridiculous, right?

A… Another. Grace can only be expressed from one person to another and is best experienced inside a relationship.

C… Culture. Imagine a culture of grace. Not phoney forgiveness or flippant pardon, but authentic give and take with the heart of everyone growing, and becoming better everyday, because of grace both given and received.

E… Equip. As important as it for oneself to be equipped to give grace, equip others to receive it as well.

Grace is something to practice and seek to understand, knowing it is a life time pursuit.

Above all, know that grace is a choice. It doesn’t happen by accident or even serendipitously. Grace will always be present in our world as long as people are willing to give it.

Serving together, Heidi

Love Them, Reach Them, Teach Them


      The social-emotional growth of early childhood students should be a top priority for every early childhood educator. On my campus, we believe that social-emotional learning trumps academic learning any day of the week for our early childhood students. And this goes double for a child facing adversity! Self regulation skills are not something that a child naturally develops without intentional shaping and guidance from the influential adults in their lives, and gone are the days when schools are responsible for only teaching academic subjects. Early childhood educators have a unique responsibility to teach the vital skills associated with self regulation.

      In the specific context of children facing adversity, social emotional learning is their lifeline of hope for a healthy emotional future. A child coming from an at-risk setting cannot only be seen as at-risk for academic failure. They are at-risk for difficulties far beyond not “passing the test”. These are students who can display erratic and unsafe behavior, tantrum for seemingly no reason, display extreme self regulation deficits, hurt the very people trying to help them, lack empathy, and withdraw from the world. Any or all of these behaviors are possible for a child facing adversity. I’m reminded of the truth that a hurting child, and in need of love, will often ask for it in the most unloving of ways.

forelorne boy

      What are teachers of our youngest and most vulnerable students to do when working with students facing adversity? I would like to suggest a few critical ideas for building the educator’s tool box.

      The educator must first and foremost cultivate a relationship with a child facing adversity.  The teacher has to learn the student’s likes and dislikes, their triggers, their needs, and their nuances. The teacher does this by spending time with the child, giving them one-on-one attention, and noticing changes in their lives.

      Next, the educator should directly teach a wide variety of social-emotional skills. I strongly believe one of the most powerful things a teacher can do is to equip an at-risk child with social-emotional skills in the face of the stresses and struggles of their lives. This could look like role playing, using social stories, group lessons, playing purposeful games, using puppets, sharing songs, and other social-emotional learning experiences. Consider implementing a curriculum such as Second Steps because it serves as a comprehensive, solid Tier 1 resource for social-emotional learning in a classroom setting.

      Thirdly, I suggest tapping into the team of responsive adults that surrounds the at-risk student. Bring together those who can collaborate to find solutions to the unique problems that a child facing adversity can face. Together, the team has access to resources, pulls on experiences, and can support the both the child, the family, and the classroom teacher.

      Last of all, as educators, we must cultivate a growth mindset. This looks like continuing to learn about the needs of traumatized or at-risk students. Read articles, attend conferences, participate in (free) webinars via edWeb.net or Early Childhood Investigations Webinars (ECE Webinars has a free webinar coming up on December 16, 2015 specifically about SEL and facilitating resilience and inclusive culture), connect with experts, listen to podcasts (check out the podcast that inspired this post: Teaching Students Who Face Adversity Beyond Your Experience), and learn from any opportunity that comes your way.  A book I would highly suggest reading is The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog by Bruce Perry and Maia Szalavitz. This insightful book chronicles real stories of children raised in the most traumatizing situations imaginable and how they transformed despite their dire circumstances. Bridging the Relationship Gap:Connecting with Children Facing Adversity by Dr. Sara E. Langworthy “provides caregivers tools and encouragement to be the strong, positive, and nurturing adult these children need in order to thrive” (Amazon summary). Dr. Ruby Payne’s renowned book A Framework for Understanding Poverty is, in my opinion, an essential read for any educator working with student’s specifically dealing with the adverse effects of poverty in their lives.  

A child's current reality may be dire, but their future is not yet determined. @vealheidijhveal.com (3)

      The truth is, children facing adversity come to us having experienced things no grown adult should have to endure, and our obligation is to love them, reach them, and tech them. We bridge relationships by responding to their needs instead of reacting, teaching them replacement behaviors and skills instead of punishing, and meeting their needs from a heart of compassion instead of making assumptions. Their current reality may be dire, but their future is not yet determined. Who will join me in my commitment to love, reach, and teach?

Serving together, Heidi Veal