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How to Apply the Ethos of the Craftsman to Our Leadership


This is not another article on leadership admonishing us to be more productive, relational, or visionary. There are too many of those. Instead, this is an article about how to apply the ethos and values of craftsmanship to our leadership.

I first ran across this concept in an inspiring article in the Art of Manliness blog.* I am borrowing heavily from that article. My contribution is providing examples and biblical references for tailoring the principles of the craftsman’s ethos to school leadership. The best place to begin is to quote the opening of the article from which mine is derived:

Across cultures and time, the archetype of the craftsman has represented man’s ability to create and has been the mark of mature manhood. He is homo faber – man the creator. Instead of passively consuming and letting things happen to him, the craftsman fashions the world to his liking and proactively shapes and influences it …

When we think of the archetypal craftsman, images of a bearded man clad in a leather apron and rolled-up sleeves, toiling away in his workshop producing beautiful and useful items comes to mind. What’s interesting is that the ancient Greeks had a much more inclusive idea of the craftsman than our modern conception. Besides masons, potters, and carpenters, the ancient Greeks included jobs now considered “knowledge professions” like doctors, legislators, and administrators under the craftsman label. Even the work of a father was considered a craft of sorts that required the same care and attention to detail as that of the carpenter. Indeed, the ancient Greeks believed that the values and ethos of craftsmanship were things all should seek to live by. In so doing, a man could achieve arete, or excellence, and thus experience eudaimonia (human flourishing), or a flourishing life … Below we take a look at how these overarching principles of the traditional craftsman can apply to all areas of your life, no matter your profession.

Brett McKay, the publisher of the AoM blog, lists nine principles of the craftsman:

  1. Do things well for the sake of doing them well
  2. Plan but not too much
  3. Measure twice, cut once
  4. Work with what you got
  5. Cultivate patience
  6. Let go of your ego
  7. Develop your practical wisdom
  8. Mastery brings meaning
  9. Find your workshop

Do Things Well for the Sake of Doing Them Well

This principle states what should be the primary motivation for our work. We are to do our work well not so we will be praised, not so we will be rewarded, and not so we will feel good about ourselves. While not bad in and of themselves, these motivations are subordinate to the more noble motivation of doing things well because doing so is intrinsically worthwhile, it is the right thing to do. “Fundamental to the code of craftsmanship,” writes Brett, “is the desire to do something well for its own sake.”

This is a noble motivation but even this is subordinate to the Christian’s ultimate motivations. There are three scripture verses that set forth the motives for our work:

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 1 Cor. 10:31

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Col. 3:17

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. Col. 3:23–24

The quality of our work is to reflect well on God. It is also to be done as though we were doing it for Christ.

For example, in preparing a presentation, the motivation is not to do well so that our audience will be impressed with us; our motivation is to impress them with God. And, we should devote the same energy and attention to detail in preparing and delivering our presentation as we would if we knew Jesus was going to in the audience—because he will be.

Likewise, how we conduct a meeting, how we teach a class, how we make decisions, how we train staff, and how we craft an email are all to be done with such craftsmanship that God is honored and Christ would be pleased if he were on the receiving end of our work. Imagine Jesus sitting in the audience, our class, our meeting, or at his computer reading our email. Those images should shape the motives and quality of our work.

There are two examples that will serve to illustrate what craftsmanship in our work looks like—one from “old world” craftsmanship and one from the biography of Steve Jobs, founder of Apple:

Furniture Making

“Make every product better than it’s ever been done before. Make the parts you cannot see as well as the parts you can see. Use only the best materials, even for the most everyday items. Give the same attention to the smallest detail as you do to the largest. Design every item you make to last forever.” – Shaker Philosophy of Furniture Making

Computer Making

[Steve Jobs’s father] tried to pass along his love of mechanics and cars. “Steve, this is your workbench now,” he said as he marked off a section of the table in their garage. Jobs remembered being impressed by his father’s focus on craftsmanship. “I thought my dad’s sense of design was pretty good,” he said, “because he knew how to build anything … Fifty years later the fence [his father built] still surrounds the back and side yards of the house in Mountain View. As Jobs showed it off to me, he caressed the stockade panels and recalled a lesson that his father implanted deeply in him. It was important, his father said, to craft the backs of cabinets and fences properly, even though they were hidden. “He loved doing things right. He even cared about the look of the parts you couldn’t see” …

Jobs’s father had once taught him that a drive for perfection meant caring about the craftsmanship even of the parts unseen. Jobs applied that to the layout of the circuit board inside the Apple II. He rejected the initial design because the lines were not straight enough.

Plan (But Not Too Much)

With any project, the craftsman creates twice: first mentally and then physically. Before he sets chisel to stone or hammer to wood, the craftsman has already created his work in his mind. In other words, he plans how to bring out the object from the rough materials and tools before him.

On the other hand, while the craftsman understands the importance of planning, he isn’t over-fastidious about it. Instead of detailed blueprints, the master craftsman prefers the rough sketch because he knows that unforeseen problems (or opportunities) can arise once he’s actually working.

For any leader planning is critical. Properly crafted plans steer our schools in the right direction and ensure that we have allocated our physical, financial, and human resources for maximum impact. But for some, procrastination masquerades as planning. Plan well but don’t spend so much time planning that little time or energy is available for execution. It is much easier to turn an aircraft carrier when it is moving than when it is dead in the water. Plan but get moving.

Measure Twice, Cut Once

This is one of the simplest and most memorable maxims of craftsmen, although it’s not always easy to follow through with in your everyday life. Suffice it to say that while you should leave room in your plans for improvisation, when it comes to making decisions that you can’t take back, make sure you’ve studied and pondered the choice thoroughly before you make your “cut.”

During my career as a school leader I have had the privilege of starting several significant initiatives. Two stand out in my mind: starting a new Christian school from scratch and launching 1:1 computing programs in two schools, one in the late 1990s and one this year. I have followed the BS/BS model: “Build Slow, Build Solid.” It is far better to spend the time, attention, and energy preparing properly than to rush headlong into a project and then be faced with cleaning up the resulting mess.

The adage to “measure twice, cut once,” was taught to me by my father when I helped him build houses. He taught me that, “lumber is expensive. Before turning on the circular saw measure again—make sure of your measurements then, and only then, cut.”

There are a lot of applications to this principle but hiring is at the top of the list. It is far better to be thorough and careful in finding the right person for a position the first time than to be faced with cleaning up after a bad hire and to do it over and over for the same position. Take your time, be thorough, hire right. Measure twice, cut once.

Work With What You Got

The master craftsman understands that most times he’ll never have the ideal materials, tools, or environment to work with. Unforeseen knots are discovered in wood and hidden imperfections in stone are revealed. Instead of becoming frustrated by such curveballs, the master craftsman adjusts his plans and works these imperfections into his creation so that you’d never know they were there … Instead of seeing these constraints and contingencies as obstacles, see them as creative opportunities and incorporate them into your life as unique and interesting pieces of texture. Remember, some of history’s greatest men turned what could have been a weakness into a strength.

Do not use your lack of gifts or resources as an excuse for not being a craftsman. No one has everything he or she needs or desires. Personal abilities and school resources are always limited.

Instead of focusing on what you do not have, make the most of what you do have. This is consistent with Jesus’s parable of the talents—each steward was given a different amount. He was not accountable for how much he was given, he was accountable for what did or did not do with what he was given. This should be our attitude as leaders—what has God provided? Let’s make the most of it by being creative, by focusing on possibilities rather than on limitations.

Cultivate Patience

A good craftsman has the patience to stay with frustrating work, even when it takes longer than he originally thought. He avoids frustration by living by the following maxim: when something takes longer than you expect, stop fighting it and embrace it

Us moderns have a perverse expectation that things should happen NOW. We want emails answered immediately and we even expect success to come right away … The reality is that things almost always take longer than expected, especially those things that are good and noble. So instead of fighting it, embrace it as the calm craftsman does. Life will become instantly more enjoyable and less stressful once you cultivate this virtue of patience.

Patience is a virtue often mentioned in the scriptures. Consider these examples:

Be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Rom. 12:12

And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 1 Thess. 5:14

Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. James 5:7–8

We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love. 2 Cor. 6:3–6

You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness. 2 Tim. 3:10

I recently learned the value of patience. After nearly three years of planning I was ready to launch our 1:1 computing initiative called Learning Unleashed. My plan was to implement the program last January in grades 7–8 and this fall in grades 9–12. My board suggested another plan—use January through June to conduct a small pilot program in the seventh grade before deploying the entire program in the Junior High.

After three years of hard work and having successfully launched a similar program several years prior, I was convinced we were ready. The delay was not necessary. It was time to move forward.

Although frustrated, I decided that the biblical thing to do was to embrace the delay, graciously submit to the board’s advice, and to publicly support the board’s recommendation.

While we would have been successful with the earlier and larger rollout of the program, the pilot revealed a number of unanticipated issues that would have made the launch more difficult and frustrating than anticipated. The delay gave us the opportunity to correct these problems and to provide more training before we deployed more broadly. By being patient and embracing the delay, we ended up with a smoother and more effectively deployed program.

Let Go of Your Ego

This principle is so important and so well stated in the original article that I am going to quote it at length.

The craftsman willingly opens himself up to teaching, criticism, and judgment from his peers and clients because that’s the only way he can improve. He doesn’t take criticism personally because the craftsman is more concerned about doing good work than feeling good about his work. A true craftsman understands that nobody cares how he feels about his work. In the end he knows that the only question that matters is: “Does it work?”

Modern culture has indoctrinated us that it’s more important to feel good about our work than to actually do good work. Self-help and career books tell us that we should find work that feels “authentic.” School children are taught that the only thing that counts is their effort, not if their work is actually good or correct. Crawford calls this emphasis on feelings as opposed to results a consumer ethic as opposed to a craftsmanship ethic.

The problem with the consumer ethic is that it creates individuals with self-inflated and fragile egos who are unable to withstand the sometimes harsh criticisms and judgments that invariably come in life and in work. Clients and bosses don’t care if you felt authentic” when writing a memo or if you tried really hard on a project. All they care about are the results. In life, it often takes mistakes in order to get better. You can’t get better if no one ever points out your failings.

If you wish to become the best man you can be, you must rid yourself of the consumer ethic of feelings and replace it with the craftsmanship ethic of results. Does your creation work? Does it look good? Does it add something to the world? If not, seek feedback and use that criticism to improve your work.

I am going to be transparent. I don’t like to have my work critiqued. For whatever reason I have a high need to be and to feel competent. Anything that threatens my sense of competence produces anxiety and stress. Usually, the main threat to my sense of competence is criticism or “second guessing” of my decisions.

This attitude of resisting criticism, of allowing ego to blind us to our shortcomings, is wrong for both biblical and practical reasons.

Biblically, it is clear that pride is the fundamental underlying sin of human nature. Pride was the fountainhead of Satan’s rebellion resulting in his rejection from heaven. Pride was the cause of Adam’s and Eve’s sin.

All of the subsequent suffering, turmoil, and death in our world has its origin in pride. Pride is deadly. Pride kills careers. Pride kills marriages. Pride kills testimonies and effectiveness. Pride leads eventually to physical and spiritual death. And, pride stops us from learning and growing.

The antidote to pride is humility, exemplified by Christ (Phil. 2:3ff). The Bible tells us to be humble, to listen to the advice and counsel of others:

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. It is better to be of a lowly spirit with the poor than to divide the spoil with the proud. Prov. 16:18–19

There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes … Prov. 6:16–19

Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God … Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. James 4:6–10

Practically, it is important to embrace the truth that there is “wisdom in many counselors.” (Prov. 24:5–6) One of the roles of a good counselor and friend is to point out our shortcomings. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” (Prov. 27:6) We need honest counselors and friends to show us our blind spots, faulty thinking, character flaws and weaknesses.

We need others to point out our shortcomings—there is no other way to improve. Failure to embrace the critiques and criticisms of others is to embrace mediocrity and pride—both of which are dishonoring to Christ and detrimental to us and our schools.

Develop Your Practical Wisdom

Through years of experience, the craftsman develops what Robert Greene calls a “masterly intuition.” He can sense problems and solutions by merely looking at an object or listening to it operate. I liken it to how a man will often know if there is something wrong with his car just by feeling the way it drives or hearing something subtle that wasn’t previously there …

Aristotle called this kind of intuition phronesis, or practical wisdom. The ancient philosopher believed that the phronesis was a virtue that all men should develop, not just carpenters or masons. Practical wisdom is what allows us to make good judgments when we face decisions when there’s no clear right or wrong answer. It gives us the ability ”to do the right thing, at the right time, for the right reason.” Aristotle argued that practical wisdom for everyday life develops the same way craftsmen develop theirs — through experience and trial and error.

School leaders make hundreds, if not thousands, of decisions every year. In making some of these decisions we will not have all of the facts. In many instances there will be no clear right or wrong answer. We are often faced with a Solomon like decision in which we must “cut the baby in half.”

To make wise decisions when you do not have all of the facts or when faced with ambiguity, follow these steps:

  • Pray earnestly for wisdom, which God has promised to provide.

  • Study the scriptures for principles to apply. God does not give wisdom in isolation, he generally provides much of it through his word.

  • Seek the counsel of godly, biblically literate, and experienced Christians.

  • Take time to gather as much information as possible and to ponder the applicable biblical principles and counsel received. Then make your decision.

  • Assess the impact of your decision and amend if possible and appropriate. At the very least if your decision proves to be less than perfect-learn from it just as the craftsman learns from his mistakes.

Mastery Brings Meaning

Mastery is the goal of the true craftsman. As an apprentice, the would-be craftsman devotes years of his life humbly submitting to quiet observation. He watches his master work and gives an attentive ear to his instructions. After years of passive observation, an apprentice begins experimenting his craft to determine his skill. Through years of trial and error, he slowly hones his skill to a sharp edge. Even when a craftsman has obtained the level of master, he continues to dedicate his life to constant improvement. He understands that by increasing his ability, he increases his value. By mastering his trade, the craftsman is better able to live by the craftsmanship ethic, which in turn allows him to feel deeper personal satisfaction, develop confidence, contribute to his community, and thus discover greater and greater meaning and fulfillment in his work.

In Drive, Daniel Pink highlights research that has shown that, contrary to popular belief, it’s not the type of work that we do that leads to personal fulfillment. Rather it’s mastery of our work (along with autonomy and purpose) that brings us satisfaction. If you feel like you’re lacking meaning in your work or in your life, follow the example of the craftsman by seeking mastery. If you’re a computer programmer, make it a goal to constantly improve your programming chops; if you’re a manager, read the latest management research and apply it in your daily work. By seeking mastery, you’ll increase your self-efficacy and your ability to leave a mark on the world.

Each of us have been given “natural” and spiritual gifts for use in serving others and glorifying the God whose image we bear. We have a two-fold responsibility—to use these gifts and to hone and cultivate them so that we become masters of our “trade.”

Paul instructs his young apprentice Timothy to improve his teaching gifts: “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. (1 Tim. 4:13–15) In his second letter to his apprentice in the faith, Paul writes, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Tim. 2:15)

The day we think we have arrived is the day we stop growing and our effectiveness begins to diminish. Keep learning. Keep growing. Keep striving. Keep improving. Become a master of your gifts so that you can serve others well and mentor those who will follow you.

Find Your Workshop

We often imagine the archetypal craftsman toiling alone in his shop, but historically, the vocation of a craftsman was and still is very social. When a master craftsman wanted to commune with his fellow masters, he’d head to the nearest guildhall where new insights were shared and policies governing the craft debated. And now, as then, a craftsman’s workshop is the real hub of his sociality. Here he mentors and teaches an apprentice or journeyman, works alongside his peers, and interacts with his clients.

The workshop and guildhall give the craftsman a sense of community, identity, and belonging. Crawford says this of the community that craftsmanship fosters:

“So my work situates me in a particular community. The narrow mechanical things I concern myself with are inscribed within a larger circle of meaning; they are in the service of an activity that we recognize as part of a life well lived.

Mimic the craftsman by finding your metaphorical workshop. Be intentional about forming life-long brotherhoods. Find your platoon of men that will hold you accountable to a code of honor that demands excellence and honesty in all you do.

Where is your workshop? Who are the master craftsmen who mentor you and hold you accountable for excellence in your work and nobility in your character?

Where is your sphere of social interaction and influence? If you are a teacher it is your classroom. If you are a coach it is the locker room, the field, the gym. If you are a school leader it is your office, the meeting room, the faculty lounge, the hallway, the auditorium…It is everywhere you work and interact with others. This is where you ply your trade.

What are our tools? They are God’s word, good research, a good book, a hallway conversation, a presentation, an email. Perhaps an article or book or a football.

We have many tools at our disposal. Our calling is be a master at using them to craft lives. Craftsmen, traditionally understood, work with wood, metal, stone, clay, etc. Our material is nothing less than eternal souls. C.S. Lewis wrote:

Every human being is in the process of becoming a noble being, noble beyond imagination; or else, alas, a vile being beyond redemption…The dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet if at all only in a nightmare. There are no ordinary people. It is immortals that we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit. Immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

You and I are craftsmen. God has called us to work on eternal souls. To do this well requires the grace of God and the biblically informed ethos of the craftsman. By adopting and living the traditional values of the craftsman we will be a blessing to others, glorify God, advance His kingdom and as Brett notes, “find more personal fulfillment and meaning, enrich our family and community, and hammer, mold, and sculpt an indelible legacy as a [leader].


Measure Twice, Cut Once: Applying the Ethos of the Craftsman to Our Everyday Lives by Brett,, July 3rd 2013

[Ref2]: Isaacson, Walter (2011–10–24). Steve Jobs (pp. 6, 74). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

[Ref3]: C. S. Lewis in his essay, “The Weight of Glory.”


Six Simple Steps to Create an Engaging In-service Training Program

That was a waste of time!

I have often muttered those or similar words to myself after sitting through a workshop. I walk in hoping that the workshop will be different from so many others, hoping that it will be engaging, informative, and practical. I usually emerge disappointed and frustrated.

That is the bad news. The worse news is that too often our teachers leave the training sessions WE conduct or arrange thinking or muttering the same thing–or worse.

After a few years of enduring fragmented training programs that are long on talk, short on practice, and with little accountability and follow-up, teachers soon learn to go through the motions of professional development. “This too shall pass” is the oft unspoken mantra. They make their appearance and then disappear with little evidence that the training changed anyone or anything. That is a waste of time, talent, and money.

It does not have to be this way. It should not be this way.

Professional development should be engaging and practical for teachers. It should also propel the school forward in achieving its core mission and strategic initiatives.

Here are six simple steps for creating an engaging and relevant professional development program.

Strategically Align Your Training
Training programs should align staff values and skills with your school’s strategic initiatives. For example, if one of your strategic initiatives is to enhance STEM instruction, then your in-service program needs to emphasize training in these areas. If one of your strategic initiatives is to strengthen student writing, then your in-service should focus on developing teachers’ writing skills and their skills in teaching writing.

Surprisingly, aligning training with the school’s strategic plan is rare. Usually, in-service training programs show little sustained connection with strategic objectives. As a result, training is disjointed with a different focus each year.

Road sign direction arrows confused

Take dead aim at your strategic objectives when planning your professional development program. Every tributary of training should flow into the strategic stream so that everything is moving in the same direction and mutually reinforcing. Your training should support your strategic plan and your strategic plan should inform your training plan.

Sustain Your Focus
Old habits die hard. New skills require time and sustained practice to become new habits.

The best way to create positive change is to maintain sustained focus in your training. Focus on a few key concepts and skills over several years. Avoid the trap of annual de jour training. Serve up the same basic entree for several years but add courses to the training entree from year to year.

This one and half minute video beautifully illustrates the power of focus:

Apple WWDC 2013 Intro video

Scaffold Your Training
To maximize your ROI, professional development programs should be focused, sustained, and scaffolded.

Skills work build future plan

For example, if your goal is to improve student writing, you could design a focused, multi-year, scaffolded training plan. For example:

  • Year 1: Train teachers to improve their own writing skills. After all, you cannot teach well what you have not mastered.
  • Year 2: Train teachers how to effectively teach writing.
  • Year 3: Train teachers how to efficiently and effectively assess student writing.
  • Year 4: Train teachers to help students use technology to produce and publish their writing to authentic audiences.

Clearly the training sequence above can be shortened. By combining training objectives, the above training can occur over two to three years. The point is that one week of in-service training will not produce significant improvement in the ability of teachers to teach writing, or any other skill. Unless training is sustained and scaffolded, there will be marginal impact on the quality of student writing.

This should not be a revelation. It takes years to teach students to write well. Why do we assume that we can teach teachers to become experts at teaching writing, or any other skill, in one week?

Less is More
We try to cover too much. I have been guilty of packing too much training into the in-service week. While well intentioned, this is not effective. Like too many clothes stuffed into a suitcase, teachers come out of training feeling pressed and wrinkled, not crisp and sharp, ready for a new year.

An individual can only absorb so much. The central question to ask is; “what are the two or three specific behaviors I want teachers to demonstrate in the classroom from this point forward?” The answer to that question should determine the scope of training. Discard or delay everything else.

Do an excellent job on a few things rather than a mediocre one of on many. Do not seek to cover topics, seek to master two or three.

Lectures play an important role in training but lectures seldom change professional practice. Consider the following diagram:

The Learning Pyramid

Reflect on the diagram for a movement. If the majority of your training is lecture-based then the majority of your training is lost, it is not affecting classroom practice.

Practice changes practice. There is a place for lecture, e.g., providing important background knowledge or explaining the rationale for the training but only hands-on-practice will change how teachers teach. Accordingly, the dominate form of training should the practice of new skills and concepts.

The best illustration I can give is technology training because we have all experienced bad technology training. The typical training involves a group assembled in front of a computer instructor. He or she demonstrates on the screen how to do “x.” We watch, take notes, and perhaps fiddle with our computers. But, if we do not quickly start practicing what we have been taught we will forget. Remember, there is a difference between being taught and learning. Practice produces learning.

If, on the other hand, a short presentation of a technique is shown and ample time is provided for practicing the new skill, then we begin to understand and use it. The more time we have to practice the more likely we are to incorporate the skill into our work.

Here is a good rule of thumb; a ratio of 1:3 should be used for training. For each hour of training 15 minutes should be lecture or demonstration and the remaining 45 minutes for hands-on work. Doesn’t this sound like good classroom teaching? If this is good classroom teaching it is good professional development.

Add Accountability

The adage, “what gets measured gets done” applies to teacher training. Because change is hard we need help and accountability. It is seldom enough to provide the rationale for change or even to practice new skills. If there is no consistent and transparent accountability for implementing new concepts and skills in the classroom there will be little change.

It is easy to make accountability a part of your professional development program. Revise your teacher evaluation instrument to include an assessment of the training provided. For example, if you provide training on techniques for teaching writing skills, add those techniques to the evaluation instrument so that they are assessed as part of the evaluation process.

Professional development can be effective and enjoyable. But is must not be ad hoc or an annual *de jour* experience. Good professional development is strategically aligned, is focused, sustained and scaffolded over several years. It is also hands-on with high levels of accountability for applying the training.

When these six elements of professional development are consistently practiced by school leaders, teachers are more likely to emerge from training declaring, “that was helpful, I can do that!”




How do I get the most out my HS teacher evaluations?

A School Success Excellence grade

Q – How do I get the most out my HS teacher evaluations?

A – Ask your students!

Guest post by Dr. David Balik 

I’ll never forget when one of my doctoral professors warned us as a cohort that we’d better have a dissertation topic that we’re really interested in, so that when “the going gets tough” and we’re grinding our way through the writing and the research, the level of interest and excitement we have towards our subject matter will carry the day, and help keep us going. After ditching my first topic because it didn’t meet the aforementioned litmus test, I continued to search for a meaningful topic that would actually add something to the over-all “conversation” in education today. I soon realized that it was right under my nose!

Three years ago, along with the support and guidance of my Superintendent (Dr. Barrett Mosbacker), I developed a “Student Feedback Survey” that we determined would be carefully incorporated into our Faculty evaluation process, at the high school level. Part of this decision was driven by my reading and research on teacher evaluations, and their relative uselessness where instructional improvement and student learning were concerned. Case in point: the Department of Education recently released data that shows 96.8 percent of teachers and 93.8 percent of principals evaluated received satisfactory or “proficient” ratings. While most teachers and principals across the country received a state ‘satisfactory’ rating, officials – including the Secretary of Education – say that means there’s something wrong with the evaluation system used to rate them. One spokesman said, “It is very difficult for me to rationalize how a state can have virtually 100 percent of educators evaluated as satisfactory when, based on the statewide assessment, one-in-four students are scoring below proficient in reading, and one-in-three are scoring below proficient in math.” What’s more disturbing, based on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), more than half of our 4th and 8th grade students are scoring below proficient in math and reading. I believe these results are a clear indication that our current evaluation system is in major need of change. Herein lies the problem…. across much of the United States, the system of teacher evaluation is old and outdated, and does not accurately assess or evaluate teachers in such a way as to truly promote better instruction and improved student learning.

Teacher ratings are most commonly associated with student evaluations at the college or university level. Student evaluations can be used in both formative and summative systems (Peterson, 2000). That distinction is critically important because the two goals require different techniques and personnel. Student evaluations are formative when their purpose is to help teachers improve and enhance their skills. This seems to work especially well when used during a semester to determine what practices are working well and which are not, to pinpoint needed changes, and to guide those changes. Student evaluations are summative when they are used to assess the overall effectiveness of an instructor, particularly for tenure and/or promotion decisions.

The use of student rating evaluations in assessing teacher performance has received considerable attention in the literature for many years. They began in the 1920s, when Harvard students published assessments of their professors’ effectiveness. The first published form for collecting student ratings, the Purdue rating scale of instruction, was released in 1926.

Important, useful, and reliable data about teacher performance can be obtained through student feedback. Students are good sources of information because they are the objects of the instruction, have closely and recently observed a number of teachers, have the subjective bias of students, and benefit directly from good teaching.

According to Peterson (2000), “seventy years of empirical research on teacher evaluation shows that current practices do not improve teachers or accurately tell what happens in classrooms. Administrator reports do not increase good teachers’ confidence or reassure the public about teacher quality” (p. 18). Peterson (2000) goes on to assert that teacher evaluation as presently practiced does not identify innovative teaching so that it can be adopted by other teachers. Despite these obvious and long-standing problems, many schools continue to rely on principal reports.

Common sense suggests that the most effective form of student evaluation for formative purposes would include ongoing assessment combined with teacher response over the course of a semester or year. There are several studies that explored the impact of student feedback with consultation on teacher performance, student attitudes, and student learning. For instance, two different meta-analyses conducted by Cohen and L’Hommedieu, Menges, and Brinko (1990) indicate that teachers who received mid-term student ratings feedback and peer or administrative consultation showed significant improvement in teaching effectiveness. In a more recent study (Hampton & Reiser, 2004), final student rating results revealed significant differences in favor of the assessment/feedback/assessment model on teaching practices, ratings of teaching effectiveness, and student motivation. Similarly, a study conducted indicated that feedback with consultation provided statistically significant changes in the overall effectiveness of instructors.

Research also shows that students of teachers who received feedback and consultation demonstrated more positive attitudes than students whose teachers did not receive feedback and consultation (Hampton & Reiser, 2004). They found that teachers receiving student feedback and consultation had higher ratings from their students in relation to how interesting their subject area was thought to be. In another study at a large university that addressed the ratings of 263 teachers, different treatment groups showed significant differences in personal interest towards courses. Furthermore, teachers in the feedback and consultation group were rated higher according to the overall value of the course.

Today, student evaluation is being promoted by the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) Project, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and led by more than a dozen organizations, including Dartmouth, Harvard, Stanford, University of Chicago, University of Michigan, University of Virginia, and University of Washington, Educational Testing Service, RAND Corporation, the National Math and Science Initiative, the New Teacher Center, Cambridge Education, Teachscape, Westat, and the Danielson Group.

            Partnering with nearly 3,000 volunteer teachers in six school districts around the country, the MET Project is based on three simple premises:

1.     when feasible, an evaluation should include students’ achievement gains,

2.     any additional components of the evaluation (e.g., classroom observations, student feedback) should be demonstrably related to student achievement gains, and

3.     most importantly, the measure should include feedback on specific practices that can support professional development.

Launched in 2009, the preliminary findings of the MET project stated

any measure of teacher effectiveness should support the continued growth of teachers, by providing actionable data on specific strengths and weaknesses. Even if value-added measures are valid measures of a teacher’s impact on student learning, they provide little guidance to teachers (or their supervisors) on what they need to do to improve. Therefore, the goal is to identify a package of measures, including student feedback and classroom observations, which would not only help identify effective teaching, but also point all teachers to the areas where they need to become more effective teachers themselves. (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, 2011, p. 5)

            Students in the MET classrooms were asked to report their perceptions of the classroom instructional environment. The Tripod survey, developed by Harvard researcher Ron Ferguson and administered by Cambridge Education, assesses the extent to which students experience the classroom environment as engaging, demanding, and supportive of their intellectual growth. The survey asks students in each of the MET classrooms if they agree or disagree with a variety of statements, including “My teacher knows when the class understands, and when we do not”; “My teacher has several good ways to explain each topic that we cover in this class”; and “When I turn in my work, my teacher gives me useful feedback that helps me improve.” 

            The goal is for students to give feedback on specific aspects of a teacher’s practice, so that teachers can improve their use of class time, the quality of the comments they give on homework, their pedagogical practices, and their relationships with their students.

            Despite the work of the MET project, the vast majority of the research on student evaluations has been done at the college and university level. Even so, research on the impact of midterm feedback to instructors is almost nonexistent (Mertler, 1996). In an exhaustive literature review of these studies, Finley and Crawley (1993) found that about 80% of studies concern higher education. Less research has been done at the high school level (Peterson, 2000; Smith & Brown, 1976; Traugh & Duell, 1980), and even less real application of this method occurs in high schools (Levin, 1979). Hanna, Hoyt, and Aubrecth (1983) stated that student evaluations at the high school level have been largely neglected. That is why initiatives like the MET Project, and this study are critical to research of high school students.

Teacher evaluation is an integral component of a teacher’s professional career. Nevo noted that evaluations are usually perceived as a means to control, motivate, and hold accountable teachers, including firing them for poor performance. He also concluded that evaluations have the reputation of being harmful rather than helpful to teachers.

            Current evaluation methods are seriously flawed. The system relies often on untrained evaluators lacking time, expertise, and resources needed to accomplish the task. Most current teacher evaluations serve only a summative function and thus have little effect on professional development. Many researchers recommend methods providing better feedback to meet this formative function.

            Student evaluations are not the only basis for instructional improvement, but they are a cost-effective, readily available technique that provides a unique perspective–that of the education consumer. As Cashin mentioned “… extensive review of literature indicates that in general student ratings tend to be statistically reliable, valid, relatively free of bias, and useful, probably more so than any other form of data used for teacher evaluations”. Therefore, when properly constructed and administered, student ratings can provide valid and reliable data for both formative and summative purposes.

            Teachers exposed to student feedback should understand how it can provide a valuable and useful review of their present practices, and a basis for modifying those practices to improve instruction. 



How to Design & Deliver High Impact Presentations: Before & After Examples

Leaders make presentations. Transformative leaders deliver inspirational, informative, and persuasive presentations.

Good presentations are hard to design and deliver, which is why we have suffered through so many poorly delivered seminars and workshops. Although I like to think of myself as a decent speaker and presenter, the truth is that I’ve given my share of poor keynotes and boring seminars.

Fortunately for those who must listen to me (my staff) and those who will do so voluntarily during conferences, graduate classes, and workshops, I’m improving. My growth in giving higher impact presentations is the result of reading articles and books, the critique of others, and trial and error. I offer the following tips with the hope that you can benefit from my reading and experience.



Preparation Time

The amount of time that you spend on your presentation will vary based on the subject and context but in general, a 30-60 minute high impact presentation will require 36-90 hours of preparation. You read that right; a quality one hour presentation = 36-90 hours of preparation.

Presentation authority Nancy Duarte, author of the book Slideology and principal at Duarte Design (clients include Apple, Cisco, and Al Gore among many others), puts it this way; “The amount of time required to develop a presentation is directly proportional to how high the stakes are.” Duarte goes on to provide this guidance:

  • 6-20 Hours Research and collect input from the web, colleagues, and the industry
  • 1 hour Build an audience-needs map
  • 2 hours Generate ideas via sticky notes
  • 1 hour Organize the ideas
  • 1 hour Have colleagues critique or collaborate around the impact the ideas will have on the audience
  • 2 hours Sketch a structure and/or a storyboard
  • 20-60 hours Build the slides in a presentation application
  • 3 hours Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse (in the shower, on the treadmill, or during your commute)

Total Time: 36-90 hours

Is that accurate? Thirty six to ninety hours for a one hour presentation given all that I have to do? For what it is worth, that has been my experience lately. It takes a long time to prepare a good presentation. I have spent hours over several weeks preparing and designing presentations.

You are a steward not only of your time but of your audience’s time as well. Don’t waste your time or theirs by giving a poorly designed and delivered presentation. Don’t abuse your audience with a mediocre presentation.

I recommend that you schedule time throughout the week for several weeks to prepare your presentation. Your preparation time will be more efficient if you work on it in small, frequent chunks over an extended period of time.

Know your Audience

Your presentation is not about you; it is about your audience and what they need to hear, learn, and/or do. Your presentation is a service to them.

To serve your audience well you need to know them and their perceived as well as real needs. If I am speaking to an outside group I make it a habit to ask my host the following questions:

  • How many will be in attendance?
  • What is the average age?
  • What is the average educational level?
  • What will be the gender mix: balanced, mostly women, mostly men?
  • If this is a school audience, are most in attendance teachers, administrators, board members? If all three, in what proportion?
  • What are the primary areas of interest or concern of this audience regarding this topic? What are some of their likely questions?

Tailor your presentation to your audience. The stories you tell, the examples used, and the graphics employed should match the demographics and needs of your audience. Otherwise your presentation will be largely irrelevant.

Know the Venue

To prepare properly you need to know the venue and to request things that you may need. I typically ask:

  • What type of room/auditorium will I be in?
  • What type of sound and video equipment will be available?
  • Will I be controlling my slides or will you have an AV tech. assisting?
  • Will there be a podium mic? May I use a lapel mic.? (I prefer a lapel or head mic so that I am not restricted to standing behind a podium.)
  • I am using a Mac/Windows PC, can I load my PowerPoint/Keynote presentation on the local computer or do I need to have my computer on the platform?


Less is MUCH MORE! This is probably the most important lesson I have learned from my reading and my experience. Keep it simple, clean, and elegant. Remove everything that is not absolutely necessary on your slides and charts.

Less is more-fewer slides, fewer points, less text, and less time.

This is harder than it seems! We want to add information, not eliminate it. When designing your slides keep the following in mind:

  • You want to talk to your audience and you want them to listen and watch you. You do not want them reading slides!
  • Slides are NOT a teleprompter! Do not design and use slides as an outline of your talk.
  • Slides are used to illustrate key points. They should be simple, clear, and uncluttered.
  • Eliminate most transition effects–they distract from your presentation.
  • Have few to no bullet points.
  • You should seldom have more than six to eight words on a slide.
  • Use large easy to read font.
  • Use consistent font styles and colors.
  • Do not use clip art! It is cheesy and unprofessional. Find good photographs or graphics.

You should seldom use template designs for the same reason–they are distracting. Here is an example of a distracting verses a good slide template:

Distracting Template:


Good, Clean Template:


Good and Bad Examples

Assuming that a “picture is worth a thousand words,” here are some examples of before and after designs. Many of these are slides that I have produced–both good and bad and a few are provided from other sources as examples. My slides are indicated by the initials BLM.


Continue Reading…


How to Reduce Stress While Getting More Done


Too much to do!  Too much stress!  Not enough time!  More expectations!  More demands!  More information!  More interruptions!  People, meetings, calls, emails, documents, events to attend, speaking engagements, budgets, training ….. and the list goes on!

Does that sound familiar?

In today’s world, we are constantly bombarded with information, the urgent, and ever increasing expectations. 

The weight upon us and the pace of our lives often leave us feeling dissatisfied, stressed,and sometimes burned-out.

There must be a better way!  There is!

How I work

Over the years I have worked hard at working smarter. My goal is to increase effectiveness and to decrease stress. I make no claim to having arrived—I haven’t. I have learned to juggle the myriad demands paced upon my professional and personal life by developing habits and leveraging technology to help me work smarter.

Below is a brief summary of how I approach my work and responsibilities. If you want more detail or have a question, simply leave a comment and I will respond with more information.

Continue Reading…


Product or Produce?

Dr. Barrett Mosbacker, Publisher
This article has been reposted by request. 

imageI love dessert.  One of my favorites is pecan pie.  When I sit down to enjoy a piece of warm pecan pie Ala Mode there are two things that I am careful to do: 1) I eat slowly savoring each mouth watering morsel and 2) I am very careful not to waste a single crumb.  My dog Comet studying 2can lick a plate clean but he has nothing over me when it comes to getting every last morsel of taste off of my plate! (yes that is my dog–like father like son!) 

When it comes to my dessert, I do not waste it!

Are We Wasting Our Lives and Ministry?

Dessert is trivial when compared with one’s life and ministry.  One of my fears is that my efforts will be wasted.  I sometimes ask myself, "in the end, will all of my hard work and long hours, the stress in dealing with upset parents and the occasional recalcitrant employee, and the energy expended in creating a world-class Christian school prove to  be for naught?  What if the only thing imagethat I have achieved is the creation of a great product–superior students, excellent staff, and an outstanding school–but I have not borne fruit?  What if I am doing many good things but ultimately not the essential thing?  What if I am building and running a very efficient factory rather than planting and cultivating an orchard?"

If I build a great school and produce great students but those students do not grow to love and obey Christ and if they do not learn to love their neighbors–and if the fault lies with me because I failed to do what was necessary to produce spiritual fruit rather than creating a great product–then I will have ultimately failed in my calling.  I will have wasted the ministry entrusted to my stewardship.  That would be tragic.

Distinguishing Produce from Product: What Does Fruit Look Like?

To ensure that we are cultivating produce and not merely producing a product we need to be clear what produce or fruit is.  What does authentic fruit look like in a Christian school?

In answering this question I would like to expand upon the typical definitions, which include producing students who: Love Christ, evangelize, raise godly families, and who are serving in a local church. All of these are essential evidences of spiritual fruit in the lives of our students.  Unless these things are true we clearly have not produced the desired fruit.

Nevertheless, I would like to offer a broader understanding of the fruit we desire to produce — an understanding that incorporates and expands upon our typical definitions so that the spiritual completely engulfs the secular.

Below, for lack of a more creative title, is what I call the "Educational Pyramid" for Christian schooling.  The limitations of a blog article do not permit a comprehensive treatment of each component of the pyramid so a concise summary will have to suffice.Education Pyramid

Each block of the Educational Pyramid builds upon the other. Beginning with the foundational understanding that Christ is the source and object of knowledge, the biblical doctrine of mankind’s general call to exercise dominion and stewardship over creation is realized through each individual’s vocational calling.  (for more information on this subject and the Creation Covenant, click here and see below.1)

Discovering and preparing for one’s calling requires the development of a comprehensive course of instruction and co-curricular and extra-curricular programs.  Fulfilling one’s calling for God’s glory and in fulfillment of the Creation Covenant requires that one’s time, talent, and treasure, realized through and arising from one’s calling, be consecrated to God and to loving one’s neighbor. 

Consecrating one’s time, talent, and treasure through the dedication of one’s vocation to God’s glory and in loving one’s neighbor inevitability leads to cultural transformation as Christians function as salt and light in this world.

More specifically, each block of the Educational Pyramid provides a rich framework for an expansive understanding of Christian education and for defining more comprehensively what we mean when we say we are striving to cultivate fruit, not merely create a product.

Christocentric Foundation

Christ is the ultimate source and object of all knowledge.  There is no knowledge, no truth, no harmony, no beauty, no freedom–nothing apart from Christ.  He is quite literally the Alpha and the Omega of existence and therefore of knowledge. 

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Rom 11:36, ESV)

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. (Col 1:13-18, ESV)

Covenantal Mandate—General Call to Dominion and Stewardship (Gen. 1:27-30, 2:15)

Man has been called to the twin duties of exercising dominion and stewardship over creation. This is the raison d’être of his existence—to glorify God by engaging in creative and redemptive acts of dominion and stewardship over creation under the Lordship of Christ. To subdue and rule implies the sovereign exercise of control—the subjugation of creation to man. Cultivation is a stewardship activity—the process of preserving, nurturing, and improving creation for the purpose of increasing its beauty and benefit to man.

Continue Reading…


Not So Fast: Is Technology Diminishing Our Quality of Life?

Anyone who has been reading this blog knows that I am an advocate for the appropriate and effective use of technology in our personal lives and in our schools.  I am not a Luddite.

Nevertheless, I also share the conviction that technology, like many good things in our lives, can become an obsession and a cruel master.  Any addiction, even to good things, is harmful and unbiblical whether it is sex, food, work, or technology.

I recently came across a beautifully written article by John Freeman in the Wall Street Journal.  You can read the entire article here.  If the link is broken, you can access the article in PDF format here.

Because the article is copyrighted I will not post it here but I am providing a short excerpt with the hope that you will read the entire article. 

Not So Fast (August 29, 2009) WSJ Online

… We will die, that much is certain; Continue Reading…

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