3 Lessons I Learned Leading Startups That I Wish I Knew as a Principal

Having worked in leadership roles in both public education and in the edtech startup industry, there are three organizational behaviors that, should I go back to school or district leadership, I would implement on Day 1.  

#1:  Daily or Weekly Standups

What’s the best way to have a well-run organization (whether a school or an edtech company)?  Communicate!  Take ten minutes every morning and assemble your office staff.  Go through the day, discuss what is expected to happen that day, and give every person a chance to ask questions.  Not only will doing so ensure everyone is on the same page, everyone’s day will run smoother.  

Standups allow for daily communication.

Oh, and what’s with the “standup”?  Everyone stands up for the meeting.  There isn’t a more effective way to keep a meeting short and on-task than by making people stand up while it’s happening.

#2:  Chat

I am against intercoms in schools.  In my opinion, they are the most intrusive and abused devices in existence – completely disruptive to teaching and learning (or general sanity). Download Slack (or embrace the use of any messaging tool that your teachers already like) and let every teacher and staff member in your building use it to communicate. These tools are efficient and allow for regular communication.

I like Slack because users can create “channels” that your staff can follow (i.e. lunch duty, after school clubs, 5th-grade team, etc.).  Of course, your staff may think big brother is watching their conversations.  But, as long as conversations on your messaging system put students first, what’s the worry?  

#3:  Ring the Bell!

Make no mistake, right behind the intercom, bells are the most obnoxious systems in schools.  But, in the workplace, ringing a bell is not the way employees know when to stop doing “this” and start doing “that” like the way many schools use bells to determine when Math is over and PE begins.

Bells are a way to let people know something positive has happened somewhere in the organization.  Full disclosure, this is stolen from car dealerships who ring bells with every car sale.  But, at Otus, big or small, we ring the bell.  A code bug is squashed…ring!  A sale is made…ring!  And, more of a full disclosure, we literally ring the bell emoji in Slack (you already know how I feel about distractions).

Bottom line, find your bell.  Don’t literally ring a bell in your school, but do make a point to publicly celebrate successful moments with your staff.  Maybe send an email blast or a group chat message containing small victories from the day (a great PD session, a positive call from a parent, etc.). Everyone has bad days and by “ringing the bell” you are showing that despite your bad day, good moments are always happening at school.

This post is written by my former co-worker and current husband, Keith Westman.  Follow him on Twitter at @keithwestman.


About Keith: Dr. Keith Westman taught third grade, served as a K-8 technology coordinator and was a middle school principal during his ten years working in school districts.  He left public education to work with his childhood friend who had started an edtech company.  That company, Aspex Solutions (now part of Frontline Education), grew up to provide AppliTrack and K12JobSpot.com to thousands of school districts and millions of job seekers throughout the country. Keith is the COO of Otus, the makers of the Otus Student Performance Platform, based in Chicago’s popular Fulton Market neighborhood, and moonlights as an Adjunct Professor at DePaul University.

Set your reading logs adrift 

I need to admit something. I hate reading logs. I hated them as a student. I hated them as a teacher, and I hate them as a parent. However, I spent years as a student completing reading logs because I was a rule follower. Then, regrettably, I spent years assigning reading logs to my students because I thought that was the only way to ensure they were reading at home. Now, as a parent, I have “logged” more time arguing with my child to fill out his log than the amount of time his teachers have required him to read! As my disdain of this practice continues to grow I really think it is time that we set reading logs adrift.

Reading logs are assigned in good conscience with the best of intentions. Reading is a fundamental part of learning and as diligent educators, we want to make sure that our students are reading both in and out of the classroom. Considering that we can’t monitor students while they are at home, we assign reading logs. This way, the students are held accountable for reading outside of school hours. The issue with this, however, is completing reading logs simply does not cultivate a love of reading. In fact, reading logs can actually have the opposite effect as often times they produce unfavorable feelings about reading. Furthermore, reading logs encourage students (or their parents) to “bend the truth” to avoid consequences as reading logs are frequently punitive in nature.

So, let’s rethink reading outside of school hours.  What is the goal? For me, the ultimate goal is for students to become stronger readers. We know that for students to become better readers they need to read more. So, how can we achieve this goal? Perhaps, the following ideas combined with appropriate in-class instruction and assessment just might do the trick.

  1. Encourage a love of reading through conferencing. EVERY student CAN enjoy reading if both the content and difficulty level are appropriate for them. During conference time use targeted questions to engage with your students. Ask questions that show your genuine interest in what they have chosen to read. Additionally, ask questions that help you garner whether or not your students are comprehending, whether or not they are reading enough, and what they need to grow.  The information you gain during the conference time (in conjunction with information from other formative assessments) will give you a far better idea of what the student needs than a reading log ever could.
  2. Allow for authenticity. Don’t require students read a certain number of pages or minutes each night. Initially, encourage students to read ANYTHING in their free time. Yes, this includes magazines, online blogs, and even The Guinness Book of World Records.  Through conferencing (see #1),  you will gain insight into students’interests and preferred mediums. Then, you can use this information to help direct them to other reading sources (literature, non-fiction books, higher level news sources, etc.) that correlate to their interests.
  3. Eliminate consequences for not reading. Instead of docking points or chastising students for not completing their reading, try rewarding accomplishments instead. Alex Corbitt gamified reading in his classroom. I think this is an incredible idea that pairs nicely with suggestions #1 and #2. In the infographic below you can see how Alex structures this proactive approach and start thinking of ways you might be to adapt this idea to work with your students. 

gamification Alex Corbitt

What else? I would love to hear other ways that you promote independent reading in your classroom. Feel free to comment here or on Twitter. Together we can set our reading logs out to sea.

Want more like this? Last I Checked, Compliance Isn’t a Learning Standard