Starting Strong – Launching the New Year

Starting Strong – Launching the New Year

One of the highlights of my time as superintendent in Seattle, was “opening” the monthly PD sessions for principals. These openings were my opportunity to: a) say good things about what I had seen in buildings; b) add context to current events; c) share and reshare the importance our equity work; and d) give a book plug for my reading list favorites.


I first learned about “powerful openings” from  Shelley Harwayne one of the leaders of District 2 success in NYC.  She emphasized the importance of taking every opportunity, every gathering to teach the mission and the importance of student learning.


You have, no doubt, worked hard with the board, your team and many others, to make great plans for the coming year.  In word, print or tweet what are the really important initiatives of the year? Why are they important to you, to students, to staff?  As we launch a new year, all of us – students, parents, teachers, principals and district leaders – are full of optimism and hope for the coming year.


8 ways to use ‘powerful openings’ to make this school year better than ever:

  1. Hope

    One of my favorite quotes says the number one job of the leader is to keep hope alive.  Now is the time to build on that sense of hope and good will.

  2. Gratitude

    We have the privilege to shape lives and create positive futures.  Now is the time to applaud the ‘service above self’ attitude that compels us to be educators, to serve students.

  3. Equity

    And early on, right from the start, a call for equity sets the tone for the year.  Now is the time to let all know where you stand.  When you are clear about your position, most will join you.

Then there is the much harder part.  Your goals, quite likely, address the need for change, transformation, doing better so that all students excel on our watch.

  1. WHY

    Simon Sinek, in his book, Start with WHY, says we all want to be part of something bigger than ourselves.  Jim Collins says the same thing in a different way; he calls out the need to be clear about the brutal facts.  Now is the time to be clear about the goals, the initiatives – and the WHY – for this year.

  2. Transparency

    Acknowledge that this is hard work.  It is!  Now is the time to let staff know that you are all in.  Let them know how you are stepping up to our own personal level of change.

  3. Ask them: Do ask teachers and leaders to step up and take on the new work.  And ask them to let you (and others know) how it is going.  Now is the time to let them know, despite best efforts, it likely won’t be entirely right from the start.  They can help by implementing as intended and letting us know what would improve implementation.
  4. Skills:

    Successful change initiatives put five to ten times more effort into skills than they do into motivation.  Motivation without skill is unlikely to change behavior.  Now is the time to talk about the skills that teachers are being provided, where they can go to get help and identify the other supports you have put into place.

  5. Team:

    Finally, talk about what we can do together.  If you have team/leaders who have been leading this work, call them out.  Thank them. Celebrate them. Now is the time to let everyone know we are in this together.

Pledge to listen to and support teachers and staff in their efforts to make changes work for kids.

Staff will sign on when they know how much you care and how you are supporting them in the process.


PS:  Make Powerful Openings an important part of EVERY session.

The start of the school year – whether in person, in print, or on-line.  The start of every cabinet meeting, board meeting, leadership meeting, and professional development session.  And the start of every school gathering of staff.  That first ten minutes – just like in the classroom – is your opportunity to set the stage, reinforce key messages and celebrate progress toward the goals of student achievement for each and every student.



For added information see:


Going Public: Priorities & Practice at the Manhattan New School

by Shelley Harwayne 

Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change, Second Edition

by Joseph Grenny Kerry Patterson , et al. | May 14, 2013

The Leadership Engine: How Winning Companies Build Leaders at E (Collins Business Essentials)

by Noel M. Tichy (see TPOV = Teachable Point of View)

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action

by Simon Sinek

Telling Your Public Story: Self, Us, Now…/wp…/story…/Appendix_7_Telling_Your_Public_Story.pdf

by M Ganz – ‎

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Larry Nyland – Leadership Coach and Consultant.
Seattle Schools superintendent 2014-2018

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