Academy for Social-Emotional Learning in Schools

Leadership Qualities



The Principal: Character, Collaboration, Commitment

by Ed DeRoche, Character Education Resource Center, Director, University of San Diego

This blog was written as a direct result of reading David Brooks’s column, “Good Leaders Make Good Schools which I will summarize below. The column topic reminded me of previous notes and publications that I wrote about school leadership.

For example, several years ago, I published an article in the Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education, and Development (September 2000, Vol. 39, Issue 1) titled, “Leadership for Character Education Programs.” I suggested school principals and program leaders should be visionaries, missionaries, consensus builders, knowledge sources, standard bearers, architects, role models, communicators, collaborators, resource providers, and evaluators. For each responsibility, I offered commentary about the “what and why.”

Elsewhere, I wrote described two views about character and leadership.

One was that of Zenger and Folkman (The Extraordinary Leader) who made a clear case that “Character is the center pole, the core of leadership effectiveness.”

The other was a summary of the Turknett Leadership Group’s “Leadership Character Model.” Their view is that “Leadership is about character – who you are not, what you do.” Their model includes three core qualities as the keys of leadership character:

  1. Integrity [honesty, credibility, trustworthy];
  2. Respect (empathy, lack of blame, motivational mastery, humility); and
  3. Responsibility (self-confidence, accountability, focus on the whole, courage).


Current research about school principals is exciting and informative. The Knowledge Center at contains more than 70 publications about school leadership. In my readings of a few of the reports, I found evidence that effective principals establish leadership teams, led by the principal, assistant principals, and teacher leaders. Team members shared responsibility for student progress.

Another discovery (at least for me) was that effective principals encourage collaboration “paying special attention to how school time is allocated.” Another study reported that, coupled with collaboration, “principals who rated highly for the strength of their actions (commitment) to improve instruction were also more apt to encourage the staff to work collaboratively.” Note this important finding, “When principals and teachers share leadership, teachers’ working relationships with one another are stronger and student achievement is higher.”

Now, all of this information is what I call “in-house stuff.” My point—the public knows little about these significant findings.

Thus, it is left to journalists and the media to bring this important information to the public, especially parents, board members, and community leaders. David Brooks did this in his column, “Good Leaders Make Good Schools” (NYT, 3-12, 2018).

In brief, here is what he wrote.

     If you want to learn how to improve city schools, look how Washington D.C.,

     New Orleans, and Chicago are already doing it.

     Restructuring schools and increasing teacher quality don’t get you very far without a strong principal.

How do they do this he asks? His answer, “They build a culture…set by their behavior (character).”  

He also notes that “it takes five to seven years for a principal to have full impact on a school….When you learn about successful principals, you keep coming back to character traits they embody and spread: energy, trustworthiness, honesty, optimism, determination, and promotes a collaborative power structure.”

In bold type he writes a key finding from researchers who studied principals in 180 schools across nine states and concluded, “We have not found a single case of a school improving its student achievement record in absence of talented leadership.”

Brooks concludes, “We went through a period when we believed you could change institutions without first changing the character of the people in them. But we were wrong. Social transformation follows personal transformation.”

The question for current school principals posed by Baruti K. Kafele, an award-winning former urban principal in New Jersey: “Is my school a better school because I lead it?”

His answer:

“It’s my strong belief that to lead your school forward, you must consider this question daily. To answer this question affirmatively, you must be absolutely clear about who you are as the school leader, what your mission is, what purpose drives your work, and how you envision the future of your leadership and school. These characteristics determine who you are, what you’re about, why you’re about it, and where you are going. They serve as a mirror for why you do this work in the first place. You must lead your school with the confidence to say, ‘Yes, my school is, in fact, a better school because I lead it.’ And when you do, students win.”

Edward DeRoche, Ph.D.

Character Education Resource Center, Director

University of San Diego

5998 Alcala Park

San Diego, CA 92110



Helping Teachers Thrive

Summary:  This article offers suggestions for school leaders to help their teachers build resilience as the new school year starts.  This is important in weathering the day-to-day storms but it also helps teachers to thrive!

Source:  Elena Agullar, Edutopia, August 21. 2017

Categories:  Leadership Qualities, Emotional Intelligence, Classroom Practice, Performance Values, Positive Relationships



Student Achievement Depends Upon Faculty Relationships and Trusted Leaders

Summary:  This article points out the importance of relationships and trust as a necessary attribute for school leaders.  Drawing on an article by Steven Covey, the writers emphasize the importance of trust for leaders to be effective.

Source: Jill Berkowitz and Ann Myers, Education Week, August 20, 2017

Categories:  Leadership Qualities, Positive Relationships, Core Values, School Culture/Climate




From Teacher to Leader: Shift Your Mindset

Summary: This article focuses on the needed shift in mindset when a teacher becomes a leader.  The author shares some thoughts about how to work with others to encourage reflection and as well as the growth mindset.

Source: Starr Sackstein, Education Week, August 1, 2017

Categories:  Leadership Qualities, Mindset, Positive Relationships, Teacher Collaboration, Professional Development




What a Photograph of a Tree Can Teach Leaders About Change

Summary:  This article uses a tree metaphor to address the change process in education.  Change is almost always a difficult proposition that is often associated with loss.  The  authors show that when leaders are sensitive to various factions affected by the potential change, they can address those concerns and alleviate some of the fear and hesitation that goes along with any change process.

Source:  Jill Berkowitz and Ann Myers, Education Week, August 1, 2017

Categories:  Leadership Qualities, School Culture/Climate, SEL Basics



Woman Leader

Great Leadership Starts With Humility

Summary:  This article talks about leadership qualities that foster collaboration and a positive culture.  Honoring the contributions of others and encouraging building relationships are important leadership qualities to emulate.

Source: Starr Sackstein, Education Week, July 27, 2017

Categories:  Leadership Qualities, Positive Relationships, Teacher Leadership, Teacher Collaboration




6 Soft Skills You Need to Thrive At Work Right Now – And How To Build Them

By Sara Potler LaHayne

For a long time we’ve bucketed the coping mechanisms that get us through life as “soft skills,” “non-cognitive skills,” or “non-IQ competencies.” They’re the skills that we cultivate or prioritize last, after Excel, PowerPoint, or project management systems. But despite crushing it at “hard skills” like writing, math or coding, it’s our ability to ride the waves of disappointment and rejection, pump others up, and stay constantly attuned to feedback in real, meaningful ways that help us rise above. We see it from colleagues who are so stressed and overwhelmed that they can’t compartmentalize projects or move them forward. We see it from friends who are going through a rough time and can’t find it in them to feel happiness for others’ successes. And we see it in ourselves, when we’re tired,losing perspective, and running on creative fumes. Research links the effects of stress on our performance and the value these traditionally classified “soft skills” hold in making or breaking our success. According to the Stress Response Curve, “when stress is perceived as uncontrollable or unmanageable, the person begins to experience a gradual to drastic decrease in performance levels, causing a decline in productivity and enthusiasm to respond to the stress.” Not to mention that without “soft skills” like communication and conflict transformation, teamwork can suffer from poor collaboration and a lack of critical thinking.

We’ve all heard the saying, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” but studies show you actually can. Here’s how:

1. Active listening.

In order to respond to others and give them what they need to be empowered to succeed, they must feel heard and validated. We all are guilty of listening to a colleague ramble while drifting off to our pending to-do list. Active listening enables you to perceive both the words in an exchange and the feelings behind them, allowing for much greater understanding and empathy. We need to lean in with our ears and our bodies to show others we are truly present to what they are saying. Not only will the conversation be more productive, but our relationships will be built on respect. One way you can do this is by having each person on your team share their name and how they are feeling in that moment, along with a movement. Then have everyone repeat that back.This practice takes active listening to a new level, using imitation and synchronous movement to develop awareness and understanding through our bodies. By associating a thought or emotion with a movement, you are fostering kinesthetic empathy, or the idea that bodily experiences provide a type of knowledge that cannot be conveyed through words alone, allowing others to better connect with you and how you are feeling in that moment.

2. Self awareness.

In order to excel, we must be aware of what we need, and either give ourselves that, or seek it out. We have to be honest with where we’re falling short. We can’t listen to ourselves if we don’t give ourselves the space and time to go inward, to sit in silence, and reflect. Before we can express our emotions, we first need to name them. Studies show that a healthy sense of self awareness fosters improved communication skills, reduced stress and anxiety, increased empathy and resilience along with the ability to positively diffuse conflict. One tool you can use to cultivate mindfulness is to pay attention to your breath, noticing where you’re carrying weight or tension in your body and allowing yourself a few seconds at the beginning and end of every meeting to collect yourself.

3. Expressing emotions.

Once we’ve named and been able to identify how we’re feeling, we can move on to expressing those feelings in a healthy way. Research shows that suppressing or avoiding your emotions can make them stronger, causing them to bubble up and explode in an unproductive way. At the beginning or end of a meeting, try allowing each person to practice a healthy expression of emotions by sharing how they’re currently feeling in that moment and how they want to feel by the end of the day.

4. But then managing those emotions.

Now that we can identify and express our emotions, we have to manage them so that they don’t rule our lives. Managing stress and emotions allows us to watch those emotions come and go and not feel overpowered by them. Research shows that when left unregulated, chronic stress can result in physical health issues such as: stroke, asthma, stomach ulcers and heart disease. To practice managing your emotions, and supporting your colleagues to do the same, try naming one challenge you’re currently facing on a scale of 1-5 and one thing you need help with in working through that challenge. By containing this expression to a structured time in a meeting or workday, we’re holding one another accountable to working through and managing those stressors.

5. Discovering differences.

When we acknowledge diverse perspectives and backgrounds, we create an environment for healthy self expression and creativity. We understand that one person’s struggle is another person’s strength, and that our differences make us stronger. Cultivating resilience gives us the confidence to take big risks and support one another toward a common goal. Resilient individuals are proven to be more engaged, have improved communication, and are better team players.To create the space for this discovery, build in a few minutes at the beginning of a meeting for each team member to share what they’re most proud of that day, or one offering they would like to contribute to the group. The structured space for this sharing may illuminate gifts you did not know existed among your team.

6. Empathetic leadership.

Strengthening our soft skills and doing the self work is a lifelong journey that we will never complete, and if we don’t commit to the work ourselves, we can never expect our colleagues to do the same. We must continue to evolve and grow in how we make meaningful, authentic connections with ourselves and others. We must prioritize it and champion it, throughout the day and for all levels of our organization, because we know that soft skills are the coping mechanisms that allow us to navigate what work and life throw our way, and ideally thrive while doing it.

Want to learn more about cultivating “soft skills” and other ways to crush it at your 9-5? Subscribe to the Move This World blog today for weekly tips & stories.

Sara Potler LaHayne,, Founder & CEO of Move This World at




Success Clock

Why Emotionally Intelligent People Are More Successful

Summary:  This article summarizes research connecting emotional intelligence (EQ) with success in business.  There are also some ideas about hiring practices which involve an inventory of EQ skills to identify potential candidates.

Source:  Harvey Deutschendorf, Fast Company, June 22, 2015

Categories:  Emotional Intelligence, SEL Basics, SEL Research, Leadership Qualities



Presentation of idea

How to Lead a School Toward SECD

Joan Duffell is the Executive Director of the Committee for Children

The process principals use to lead SECD across the school community matters a lot. The community of people who will be doing the work each day (teachers, counselors, paraprofessionals) need to OWN the work. No matter how invested a district (or even a principal) is, when the classroom door shuts, the teachers will do what they believe is best for themselves and their students. Teachers and classified staff need to believe in this work if they are going to sustain it.

The steps below are consistently critical steps in the process from our experience at Committee for Children, working with thousands of schools. These steps are considered through an elementary school perspective. High school will be a completely different scenario and should be thought about very differently.

Step 1

Ask faculty’s opinion about bringing on an SECD program (the principal’s job is to get them to say YES—there are many ways to do this)—or if the district has already determined SECD needs to be happening, go straight to #2. If the principal goes straight to #2, they will share good reasons why SECD is needed in the district. This is a great time to ask if teachers in the school have implemented SECD programs before, and if so have them share their experience.

Step 2

Invite school staff to participate in a decision-making process in order to:

– Set up a site-based support team for SEL/SECD.

– Select a program(s) –from a list of evidence-based programs (or, if a program was already selected by the district, appoint a team to dive into the program and make a report back to their peers at a subsequent faculty meeting. Program providers should also be helpful in this process). Consider local/cultural needs of students, faculty, parents in the selection.

– Pilot selected program to get feedback from end users (teachers, counselor) –determine time frame for selecting a school-wide program (or, if district has already chosen, ask the district to share what they learned when they presumably piloted—important to share this so that people know that there has been some locally/culturally-based validation for the program).

– Select a program for school-wide implementation; establish the training, implementation, and assessment schedule for the whole school.Establish a framework describing how the SECD program integrates with and mutually supports other school-wide initiatives such as Restorative Practices, PBIS (some providers have these resources available).  Discuss ways to build in and integrate culturally-based content.

– Establish roles for SEL implementation: 

Principal: Visible, daily SECD leadership across the school:  Integrating SECD into school assemblies, morning announcements, faculty meetings, parent meetings, discipline referral practices (for students whose behavior lands them in the principal or asst. principal’s office). Principal and SECD coordinator should have training focused on SECD leadership and support.

SECD coordinator: Oversee, champion, coach, and support the work school-wide (riding shotgun with the principal, pardoning the term!)—this is not a new staff member (most schools cannot afford to hire someone additional) but someone the principal appoints from among the faculty—often the counselor or someone keen on SECD who also has the leadership skills to build momentum across the school community.

SECD measurement coordinator: Might be the SECD coordinator, might be the counselor—but someone should be focused on working with teachers to measure student SECD competencies.

Classroom teachers: Attend training, teach lessons with fidelity to program design or in the case of a program like Ripple Effects, be the wise guide on the side J; model SECD competencies in teaching practice (this will require some training too); integrate SECD into academic areas, PBIS, Restorative Practices, etc.; cue, coach & reinforce students’ use of skills in real life; communicate with parents.

Certified staff/specialists (music, art, computers, etc., if a school is lucky enough to have these folks): Provide training and ask them to develop ways to integrate SECD into their subject areas (some programs include these subject integration activities/ideas)—and at a minimum, cue and coach students to use SECD skills when issues arise in their classrooms.

Classified staff (lunchroom, playground supervisors, secretaries, bus drivers, etc.): provide training and simple tools that help them cue and coach students to use SECD skills when issues arise in their areas.

District level trainers/coaches: These can be very helpful supports to school-wide SECD, IF the school has put the foregoing into place.  We sometimes see districts with trainers who are good—but the school sites have not done their job of developing a process and structure for quality and sustained implementation so enthusiasm dies off when the trainer leaves (a la Alice’s example).

Program providers, trainers/implementation assistance staff and resources will be involved (often, providers’ implementation support teams work with district trainers and principals/site coordinators).

– Principal and SECD coordinator need to consistently and visibly lead from the SECD perspective. Faculty meetings can include check-ins on how SECD is going in classrooms, on the playground, with parent connections, etc. Principal should be asking teachers about SECD lesson activities in the course of their supervision, checking in with bus drivers and playground supervisors on a regular basis to see how the process is working for them (people rarely ask these folks their opinions—and they are often very keenly aware of what is and is not working)

– Assessment—best case, measures are implemented in the mid-fall, winter (teachers/counselors can use these data formatively), and in the spring (this interval is helpful to see how SECD is having an impact on students across the school from fall to spring).  Assessment can be a terrific motivational tool if used well—when teachers see that they are in fact moving the needle, they tend to be more motivated to keep the work going.  

Joan Duffell is the Executive Director of the Committee for Children. She can be reached at



7 Habits of Highly Ineffective Leaders

Summary:  This article by Peter DeWitt talks about leadership qualities shown by ineffective leaders with reference to Steven Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” 

Source:  Peter DeWitt, Education Week, March 7, 2017

Categories:  Leadership Qualities, Positive Relationships, Teacher Leadership