Situational Leadership Alignment

Note: this is a multi-week series on Situational Leadership and its roll-out here in Pitt County Schools.  To see read the other posts, please click here.

Over the last three weeks we’ve gotten a general overview of Situational Leadership and also talked about how it might be applied; today I’d like to take some time looking at how it aligns with some key initiatives we’re doing here in Pitt County Schools.  I anticipate people saying, “SitLead is just the next thing.  When will we ever have time to focus on and implement what we’re already doing without adding another thing or changing it up?”  That seems to be the mantra I hear from educators all over – but I have to say that in this case I don’t think it’s a fair assessment.  And here’s why…

Over the last two weeks I danced around the alignment of SitLead with classroom instruction, but I never explicitly talked about it much.  So let’s do that for the next few minutes.  For the record, I’m not the first person to do this – in fact, back in 1991 a gentleman by the name of Gerald Grow actually wrote an article on using the SitLead framework when teaching adult education courses, and even before that in 1976 a guy by the name of Philip Gates (who was a Director of Secondary Education) wrote about an application in his district! Let’s look at alignment in two different areas: instructional initiatives and leadership initiatives (since we have both in the district)

Instructional Initiatives


Let’s look at three different instructional initiatives.  I’ll start with two of the largest that we are implementing: the Learning Focused and MTSS frameworks in our schools.   A key aspect of MTSS (which includes PBIS within it) is meeting students where they are at and giving them the instructional interventions they need for success – recognizing that we need to look at individuals within different contexts because they may (and normally do) have different needs from context to context.  For example, you can probably think of a student you teach that struggles (either behaviorally or academically or even both) in one subject (let’s say science) and yet does fantastic in another (let’s say English).  And so you adjust your instruction based on their level of readiness by using an intervention of some sort designed to help them (hmm… That sounds vaguely familiar.. Almost like selecting a leadership style based on someone’s readiness…  let’s come back to that in a second..).

Learning-Focused-1Or think about Learning Focused.  A major aspect of LF is getting students to work on grade level by scaffolding instruction, support, and activities over the course of several days.  The focus is on growing students from a basic level of readiness to a level where they can demonstrate mastery.  Even beyond the basic lesson design is the whole aspect of previewing and accelerating – meeting students where they are at and designing interventions based on what they need, recognizing that different students have different needs at different times.

Both of these examples (MTSS and LF) are based on the idea that you have to:

  1. Identify the task (or objective)
  2. Assess current readiness
  3. Choose the appropriate leadership (ie, instructional) style, and
  4. Manage the movement.  Remember, in managing the movement we help support someone as they grow in readiness on a specific task – from needing lots of support to needing minimal support.  That’s the goal of SitLead: to develop someone over time.  

And, just to over-state the obvious, those are the same four steps to SitLead.

A third initiative (that we’ve been working on for at least the last seven years, if not longer) is Professional Learning Communities – and I’d say there are some connections between SitLead and PLCs.  Let’s review the four questions PLCs ask and see how they might align:

  1. What do we want our students to know/do?
  2. How will we know they know it/can do it?
  3. What will we do when they learn it?
  4. What will we do when they don’t learn it?

FourQuestionsPLCs-300x207Do you see some alignment there?  Question #1 is almost identical to Step 1 in SitLead: both require us to identify the task (or learning objective)!  Then question #2 is preparing us to  assess readiness (which is SitLead Step #2)!  And while there may not be direct correlations between questions 3 and 4 and steps 3 and 4, there is certainly some strong alignment between them.  At its most basic level, SitLead is about choosing leadership style based on readiness; at a very basic level PLCs focus on choosing next-steps in instruction based on student readiness (depending on whether they have learned it or not)!

Leadership Initiatives

cognitive coachingThose three initiatives that I just shared, while they are for (and involve) everyone – teachers and administrators – these next two initiatives have been more focused on leadership development than on instructional development.  Let’s start with Cognitive CoachingSM.  We have been training Instructional Coaches and administrators (and even some teacher leaders) in CC (as we call it) for over 4 years now.  The mission of Cognitive Coaching actually starts with “to create self-directed persons”.  In last week’s post I talked about how a goal of SitLead is to “create self-directedness” in individuals (and even had a cool pic to illustrate it).

But beyond the mission statement and over-all goals of CC and SitLead there are more similarities.  One of the first concepts we teach in CC is that there are four distinct support functions, or ways of supporting another person.  Those functions are:

  1. Cognitive Coaching
  2. Collaborating
  3. Consulting
  4. Evaluating

And the way we work in each of those support functions is slightly different.  But here’s the kicked – choosing which support function we use is based on the need of the person we’re supporting.  Hey, that sounds familiar, doesn’t it??!!  Basing our leadership style on what someone needs…  When we support someone the first thing we do is figure out exactly what they need support on and what type of support they need (which sounds an awful lot like “Define the task” and “Assess readiness”).  How do we do those two things?  By using the coaching tools of paraphrasing and posing questions.  And then based on how the person we’re supporting responds to the paraphrases and questions, we have a choice to make: which support function do I use? (wow, that sounds like “Select and communicate leadership style”).

But wait – there’s even more… Another thing we teach in CC is that we should communicate our support function either verbally or non-verbally – and we teach how to do that.  So while our bias is that over time the support function that most develops someone is coaching, we acknowledge that all four are needed and we teach how to switch between them to develop someone (which sounds an awful lot like “Manage the movement”); one of the four capabilities of coaches is to “Navigate between and within maps and support functions to guide mediational interactions.”

ASBanners-2012-2Another leadership initiative we’ve been implementing for about three years now is Adaptive Schools, which also focuses on developing self-directedness, but its focus is on developing self-directed groups rather than self-directed individuals.  In this aspect it’s like applying SitLead to leading teams rather than individuals (and, lo-and-behold, there’s actually a training called Situational Leadership for Teams to help us take the ideas in our current SitLead training and apply those to teams, but that’s for another post!).  The point here is that there is significant alignment between these two leadership initiatives and SitLead.

And…Be Careful

Speaking of Adaptive Schools, one of the ideas we train is to think in terms of “Both/And” rather than “Either/Or” – so we talk about the idea of using the word “And” rather than the word “But”.  So, rather than saying, “But here are some areas it may not work”, let’s say “And, given all that, let’s remember that SitLead is not MTSS, LF, PLCs, CC, or Adaptive Schools. For while there are some clear ways in which SitLead aligns with these initiatives there are also some limitations, and I do want to acknowledge that.”  It’s a “Both/And” situation we’ve got here.

SitLead is a leadership framework, not an instructional framework, and while I do believe there is strong alignment between it and instruction (as I’ve talked about today), there are some differences.  For example, in MTSS we talk about how there are those universal processes – those that apply for everyone (and even how LF provides us a universal framework); but there is not correlation in SitLead to that idea.  And I’ve already mentioned that while steps 1-2 align with the first two questions of effective PLCs, steps 3-4 are not quite as clearly aligned.

Similarly, regarding the leadership initiatives, while some people have suggested the four quadrants in the SitLead Model align with the four support functions of Cognitive CoachingSM I would caution against making such a clear connection.  To do so ignores the nuances of each system (CC and SitLead).  Again, while there is some strong alignment between the two I believe there are also some very clear differences (though that’s not for this post; perhaps another day we can delve into those).

Bringing it All Back Together


Even if you’ve not been trained in one or more of the initiatives listed here, I hope that you’re starting to see alignment between them and Situation Leadership.   The point of this post is simply to highlight the similarities between some of the major initiatives in PCS so that people across the district can see how they are related to, support, and compliment each other. I’m hoping this post has at least started to help you see how our arrows are more like the second illustration than the first – that we are consciously working to align our work at the district level and move everyone (including ourselves) in the same direction.

Next week I’ll close up this series by looking at some of our next steps for SitLead as a district and provide a longer-term vision for implementation.  Until then, I’d encourage you to consider the following questions: in what ways might the SitLead framework support you in meeting the needs of the people (or children) you serve on a daily basis?  How might it make the implementation of your given initiative even more successful?

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