The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels

Cross posted on LeaderTalk.

Five years ago I used Michael Watkins‘ book, The First 90 Days to help me prepare for my transition into a new principalship and I plan to do the same with my next job. In August, I’ll become the High School Principal at the Escola Graduada de São Paulo, or as those of us in the international circuit refer to it, “Graded”. Graded is an American international school in Sao Paulo serving the children of host nationals and expatriates. I feel strongly that this book was a main reason that I was able to successfully transition into my last job change. The first 90 days definitely set the tone for the rest of my tenure.

You might say, “This doesn’t apply to me because I’m not changing positions”, but you can also use the book and process with new leaders (e.g. assistant principals/superintendents, department heads, coordinators) in your organization. It doesn’t matter whether the new leader is coming from within the organization or from the outside. The book would be great to use in orientations and/or retreats before new leaders begin.

Michael Watkins is the Chairman of Genesis Advisers, an executive on-boarding and transition acceleration company located in Newton, Massachusetts and he opens the book by stating,

The actions you take during your first three months in a new job will largely determine whether you succeed for fail. Transitions are periods of opportunity, a chance to start afresh and to make needed changes in an organization. But they are also periods of acute vulnerability, because you lack established working relationships and a detailed understanding of your new role. If you fail to build momentum during your transition, you will face an uphill battle from that point forward.

If nothing else, Watkins creates an awareness of the importance of planning for “accelerating transitions” for the reader. Instead of going into the details I prefer to share just a few highlights.

The foundation of the book is based on the following propositions:

1. The root causes of transition failure always lie in a pernicious interaction between the situation, with its opportunities and pitfalls, and the individual, with his or her strengths and vulnerabilities. “Transition failures happen when new leaders either misunderstand the essential demands of the situation or lack the skill and flexibility to adapt to them.”

2. There are systematic methods that leaders can employ to both lessen the likelihood of failure and reach the breakeven point faster.

3. The overriding goal in a transtion is to build momentum by creating virtuous cycles that build credibility and by avoiding getting caught in vicious cycles that damage credibility.

4. Transitions are a crucible for leadership development and should be managed accordingly.

5. Adoption of a standard framework for accelerating transitions can yield big returns for organizations.

With an understanding of the five propositions one can then embark on the 90-day plan. There are ten steps to take during the process.

  1. Promote yourself
  2. Accelerate your learning
  3. Match strategy to situation
  4. Secure early wins
  5. Negotiate success
  6. Achieve alignment
  7. Build your team
  8. Create coalitions
  9. Keep your balance
  10. Expedite everyone

After just reviewing these ideas I’m excited to get started with my accelerated transition.  After all, August will be here before I know it.

Anyone else used these strategies in the past? If so, I’d love to hear more about what happened.


$150,000 for a Language Lab – I Don’t Buy It!

Cross posted on 1 to 1 Schools Net.

I saw this article yesterday in Digital Directions from Education Week and  it’s been on my mind ever since. While I’m actually a huge supporter of the use of technology in teaching and learning for languages,  I believe that there are problems with the way thinking that is portrayed in the article. Now I don’t know what the situation is at the school and I’m not in their shoes, but it seems to me that their view is myopic and that they are not looking at the big picture of the future. The future (and the present for many schools) is not in fixed labs where students and teachers have to be in a specific location for learning to happen. The future is anytime, anywhere ubiquitous access.

The article mentions that Robotel’s language lab software packages range from $500 – $1500 per seat. I’m assuming that this does not include hardware costs since the article states “software”. Based on this figure, the Holmdel foundation raised $150,000 and, according to the article, they had three choices on which to spend it.

The Holmdel foundation was presented with three options for a large fundraising campaign this year: the language lab, LCD projectors in every classroom, or installation of wireless Internet throughout the school building. The foundation chose to raise money for the language lab, Bals says, because parents felt it was important for students to learn to speak other languages, especially in preparation to compete for jobs in a global economy.

What if the money could be used to increase overall student access to technology and also provide students and teachers with access to tools that will help with learning languages?

Let’s take the one classroom scenario that Scott M. Hansen, a vice president of Sanako Inc., presents in support of the language lab solution.

… Advanced Placement language courses require students to undergo an oral exam that may take 15 minutes of speaking directly to the teacher. In the past, teachers would have to pull each student to the hallway for the oral exam, while other students kept themselves occupied in class. Depending on the number of students in a class, that activity could take the whole period.

With a digital language lab, says Hansen, the students can take the oral exam, using their headphones and microphones, all at once. Their comments are recorded, and the teacher can listen to each student later.

Let’s say that the school instead decided to invest in a number of laptops for students to check out so that they have access to a portable machine. With a wireless network, they can work anywhere in the school. I propose this scenario in support of investing in wireless, mobile access:

While the students are waiting their turn to speak to the teacher they can be …

  • recording their own orals using Audacity, which is a free program. They can then listen to their recording and self-assess their work or they can have a peer or the teacher review their work later on.
  • collaborating on a story using photos on VoiceThread, which is available for about $1/ user per year. Voice Thread can be used in all subject matter classes since it’s not just geared for learning a 2nd/3rd language.
  • studying vocabulary, listening to pronunciations,  or taking short quizzes for formative assessment by using one of many iPhone apps that are available for a minimal cost.

These are just three low cost options that I brainstormed within a matter of 30 minutes and these provide the teacher with a larger bag of tricks to use as he/she deems appropriate.

Lastly, this topic is a timely one since my family and I are beginning to learn Portuguese to prepare for our move to Sao Paulo, Brazil in July. One of the free tools that we are using is Livemocha and my wife and I are very impressed by the quality of this free web 2.0 resource. Aside from the video/audio lessons our written and oral work is critiqued by Portuguese speakers from around the world. Our responsibility is to do the same for users who are studying English. Livemocha has:

  • courses in 36 languages
  • over 160 hours of lessons for each
  • helpful tips from native speakers
  • a focus on conversation skills

While I’m not a language teacher, as a 21st century educator I’m for providing the students and teachers with the the portability that these other tools and a laptop provide.  To me they make more sense than investing in a fixed lab with costly software and hardware solutions.

The Historic NYC Library and The Future

From Flickr by melanzane1013

On my recent trip to New York City I had the opportunity to visit the main New York City Public Library. As someone who truly appreciates history I was in awe of the building. It truly is a magnificent place. Work on the building started in 1902 and the library opened in 1911. The initial building contained 75 miles of shelving and it had one of the most sophisticated book delivery systems of the day. The first patron waited 6 minutes for N. I. Grot’s Nravstvennye idealy nashego vremeni (Ethical Ideas of Our Time). To learn more about the history you can visit the NYPL site.

When thinking about schools of the future, today we have to consider how libraries will change and adapt. By just looking around and then checking out their website is appears that the library is working hard to move ahead into the future. In fact, I think that school libraries can learn a thing or two.

Start with the cool looking banner showing “Discover”, “Connect”, and “Get Inspired” on the website . There is a link that shows you how to connect to the library through a variety of social networking sites (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, iTunes and Flickr). Patrons can also subscribe to their blogs and check out their audio/video and digital projects. The library uses VoiceThread for people to contribute comments and to highlight the NYPL Picture library.

One of the highlights of the library is the main reading room which is very impressive. I couldn’t resist taking this picture of the dictionary on the stand and all of the illuminated laptop screens. I have to wonder how often the dictionary and thousands of beautiful books in the room are used. Users can go online to reserve a library laptop to use within the library.

It is refreshing to see the contrast between the historical surroundings and the new technology. Hey, they even had a Wii in the children’s library for kids to play. I hope that places like this will keep pace with today’s digital world so that we can continue to learn from the past.

How Will School’s Prepare to Meet My 3-Year Old Daughter’s Needs?

My 3-Year Old at the Apple Store

This is a photo of my 3-year old at the Apple store in NYC. Seems pretty amazing that she would have just as much fun in this store as she did at the famous FAO Schwarz store next door.  She’s familiar with the iPod touch because she has a variety of apps that she plays with on my wife’s iPod touch so maneuvering through songs and apps is fairly easy to her.

Let’s look ahead 3-4 years from now when she is ready to enter 1st grade. Who even knows what other technologies she’ll be exposed to by then. How can the current school model possibly fit with her background and experiences? If she is in a typical American school, it probably won’t.

Will Richardson in his post entitled 2020 Vision questions the ability of our educational system to make substantial changes over the next 10 years. He mentions Alan Collins and Richard Halverson’s book Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology: The Digital Revolution and Schooling in America and their point that we are not going to fix education by fixing today’s schools.

While these ideas can be depressing I choose to look at how I can use this information to make me a better parent and school leader. I may not be able to influence the entire system, but I can certainly act within my own circle of influence. As a parent, I can provide my children with learning opportunities that better match today’s digital world and as a principal, I can strive to lead my school community into this digital revolution. In both roles I must constantly scan the current landscape and horizon to find out how technology is being used in real life now and in the future. I can then have meaningful discussions with my wife, children and community members on how these technologies can be used to adapt teaching and learning. Or maybe just learning.

By thinking about the challenge this way, I have hope for the future of education for my children and my students.