A Good Book

Last Friday night I attended the big football game for my area.  Everyone was hyped and the atmosphere was lively. I have to admit I, too, was excited for the first game of the season. However, instead of keeping my eye on the game I was mesmerized by a young student in front of me who was reading a book.

She sat up, legs criss-crossed and whipped out her book. Sitting behind her right shoulder I could see the corner of a smile. She was anxious to read. I watched her for the entire first half. She turned pages, leaned in, adjusted her seating and engaged with the book. I put myself in her shoes and thought about all of the books I’ve read and couldn’t put down, no matter where I had been reading them. Even my husband commented on how disciplined she must be to read like that at the noisy game. The educator and former reading teacher in me just smiled.

There is nothing quite like a good book!

-Sonja Howard, Coordinator for Statewide Leadership


Will Your Leadership Become Extinct?

I read a blog post from thoughtleaders that had me reflecting on the work that I do with leaders. The work of effective leadership is challenging and rewarding. Very often in this work we make the sacrifice to focus our attention on others: students, staff, teachers, teams, etc. It is so easy to forget about our own growth and development.  Then we have the factor of time.  There is never enough time to focus my attention on continuing to grow my skills as a leader.

Consider the novice administrator. They are proud to complete their programmatic learning and are ready to get started.  For those leaders I say: Yes, your program was long. Yes, it was intense. However, this was just a start. Leadership is a work in progress that takes action and practice. Don’t stop learning and growing now.

Consider the teacher leader. You see that you are making a difference on your campus with your teams and departments, yet you push to the back of your mind how you can continue to grow yourself and or take the next step in your leadership, whatever that may be.

Consider the veteran administrator who has been doing the work for a while. They have a strong commitment to support and develop others and often leave little time to invest in their own continuous improvement and growth as a leader.

So I ask: Where do you stand in your leadership development? How will you continue to grow? What is one thing you could do right now that could make all the difference?

Here’s are a few opportunities as you consider these questions:

-Sonja Howard, Coordinator for Statewide Leadership (Administrator Quality)

Beat The Heat Summer Conference

On June 21-22 Region 13 will host the 22nd Annual Beat the Heat Summer Conference.  Beat the Heat is one of the largest conferences in the state focusing on students, ages 3-12, with significant disabilities.  This conference is specifically tailored for supporting our students and is open to educators, para-educators, related services providers, transition specialists, child care workers, administrators and parents .  Don’t miss this opportunity to learn and network with other educators, parents and service providers.

Day 1 of the conference is devoted to a full day of in-depth workshops.  Day 2 will consist of a keynote presentation and break-out sessions provided by the best and brightest from Region 13 and around the state. Lunch will be provided. Mark your calendars and register today!

Click here for more information.




The Value of Student Questions

When young children want to know something they ask lots of questions. We’ve all had some experience with this right?  Recently, while spending some extended time with my family I had this experience with my 3-year-old niece. You can probably imagine our conversation.  It went something like this:

Nella:  What are you making Auntie? (In her sweet, 3-year-old voice)

Me: I am making dessert.

Nella: Why?

I went on to explain the process of mixing the ingredients of a recipe to make something delicious for us to eat. As she watched me mixing and measuring in the kitchen she continued to ask me multiple questions. No matter the answer I gave, she’d follow with “Why?”.

After this went on for a while my educator light bulb popped on. As I participated in what seemed like a game, I reflected on what was actually taking place through this process.  Nella was making sense of her world. She was opening up her brain for learning. At the end of my time with Nella, I realized how much she was learning and soaking up through the experience and her questions. Further, I learned so much about her as a thinker and learner.

We know from John Hattie’s research, that asking questions about things we don’t know is another way to learn new information. We know higher levels of questions produce higher levels of thinking and learning.  Surprisingly, however, John Hattie’s work reveals that in a typical classroom a teacher may ask over 200 questions.  In that same classroom, however, a typical student may only ask 1-2 questions. What does this reveal about the critical thinking and  learning of our students?  How do we foster our learning environments where questions thrive for both the teacher and the student and open us up to learning and thinking for students and teachers alike?


John Hattie

Author Costa’s Levels of Questioning


-Sonja Howard, Coordinator for Statewide Leadership (Administrator Quality)


Turnaround Leadership Development Program Launch

Region 13 is proud to announce the launch of a new program geared toward preparing current and aspiring administrators for turnaround work in low-performing schools.

The Turnaround Leadership Development Program (TLD) at Region 13 provides high-quality training, coaching and support to prepare leaders for work in turnaround schools. Benefits include: Individual Leadership Development Plan, Executive Leadership Coaching, 2 observation visits with feedback, specialized turnaround leadership training and an endorsement certificate upon completion of the program.

Applications are now being accepted through April 3, 2017. More information can be found on our website http://www4.esc13.net/turnaround-leadership-development-program/.


-Sonja Howard, Coordinator for Statewide Leadership (Administrator Quality)


Give Way to Voice

Everyone has a voice. How are we listening to the voices that matter most in the work that we do?

I was deeply moved by an article I read recently. It told of the thousands of letters written on a daily basis by people in our country. These letters were written by everyday, ordinary people like you and me. The letters expressed their hopes and dreams, thoughts and questions. The article didn’t stop there.  It went on to share the thoughts and feelings of the special people responsible for reading those letters. Every. Single. One.

This article took me back to my own principalship and the many opportunities that allowed me to hear the voices of those in my own school community. I remember the times students ran down to my office to have me read a story or essay they had just written, giving a glimpse into their hearts and minds. I remember the times parents scheduled individual meetings with me to tell me something unique and special about their child and why they felt it was important for me to know. I recall the many conversations in the halls and informal meetings with teachers where they shared what mattered most to them. I especially remember the time I was suddenly ill and my assistant principal delivered a basket of letters from many students in my school. I remember reading the one from the student who asked for clarity on the “no paper airplane” rule and why he thought it was unfair. Much like those letters from my students, the ones shared in the article caused a similar reaction, including causing me to laugh and cry. But mostly the letters made me think. Eventually, those letters caused me to act.

How are you as leaders making time for hearing the hopes and dreams of students, parents and teachers in your school? What are their stories? How are you connecting those stories to the important work in your school for the learning, growth and development of all?

-Sonja Howard, Coordinator for Statewide Leadership (Administrator Quality)

Finding the Time

Simply put: There is never enough time.

But as leaders, there are things we can do to leverage more from the time we do have.

  • Take some ownership by being more deliberate and intentional about what makes it to the top of your agenda on any given day.
  • Make some decisions.
  • Set some priorities.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • “Is this the most important thing right now?”
  • “Will this give me the best bang for my buck based on the amount of time I have?”
  • “Can this wait?”
  • “Is this a responsibility that I am taking from someone else?”

Schedule time for those important things. What gets written down gets done. Be deliberate. Make some choices. Value time. Honor time. Ask more questions.

My daily go-to question that I ask myself over and over: “Is this the most important thing right now?”

How are you finding the time to do what matters most in your work? What questions are you asking yourself? What commitments have you made for making the most of time?

Sonja Howard, Coordinator for Statewide Leadership (Administrator Quality)

Take A Break…But Not From Learning

“Take A break from education, but not learning…”

These were the words of Martha Saucedo, 2016 Texas Secondary Teacher of the Year, in a recent post entitled, “Make The Most of Your Break”. She suggested that students make the most of their break by learning something new, having fun and giving back.

I found Martha’s recommendations deeply inspirational and perfect for educators and students alike. I added my own reflections and thoughts to each of her suggestions:

1. Learn Something: There is something to be learned during this holiday season, no matter what you may be engaged in. Learn something new and share it with others.

2. Have Fun: Martha encourages readers to “make a bucket list”.  I also recommend that you find something that moves you and have fun doing it. For me, time with family and friends means so much and always includes loads of fun.

3. Give Back: Martha says, “There’s no better time than now to make people feel loved.” Show some kindness to another. For my own children, I encourage them to get a gift for others during the holidays, rather than making a list of things just for themselves. We also donate food to a holiday food pantry that will help others in our community.

What suggestions would you add?  Thank you Martha for keeping us inspired and reflective!


Sonja Howard, Coordinator for Statewide Leadership (Administrator Quality)


The Value of Soft Skills for Students

More and more schools and school districts are engaging in dialogue around the benefits of soft skills for students amid the goals and expectations of high academic achievement. However, we know that colleges and employers expect more soft skills in conjunction with academic knowledge. They ask: Do you possess integrity? How well do you work as a team? Are you courteous, adaptable and able to problem-solve? Do you have emotional intelligence and a strong work ethic?  Some would argue these are equally as important as academic knowledge.  I am one such person.

This week a principal intern and I participated in a walk-through of a middle school classroom where a lesson was being taught on the concept of empathy. (This school teaches social and emotional skills.) In our pre-conference the aspiring administrator was interested in how the lesson would be taught and assessed, along with its value to the students. I could detect a healthy dose of skepticism brewing.  Simply put, the lesson was amazing. The teacher engaged the students through videos and scenarios that were student led.  The students in the classroom were able to make direct connections to their own lives and the importance of empathy for societal issues and for their own lives.  The dialogue and activities were rich. After the lesson the aspiring administrator said, “Given the opportunity, I would certainly make the case for these kinds of lessons in my school.”

One day later, a local story of a young boy dubbed a hero for potentially saving his sister’s life, caught my eye.  In the midst of extreme fear, the young boy took courage, thought and acted quickly and solved a potentially deadly issue with his sister.  Further, after the incident he got help from a neighbor to call the police. Even the young boy expressed the magnitude of his actions when he proclaimed his fear stating, “I was so scared. I had jelly legs.”  During the news conference, a police officer recognized the 9 year old for his, “…mental fortitude, critical thinking and calm and quick response.”

I don’t know if this student was taught this kind of problem solving and courage in a classroom SEL lesson but his actions are certainly a model for why they would be beneficial and exactly what we hope students learn and are able to do as a result of those lessons.

How are soft skills playing out in your school and/or district? What models are you setting before the students and adults?

Here are a few of the soft skills colleges and employers deem as important for students to have: Responsibility, Grit, Perseverance, Teamwork, Social awareness, Emotional Intelligence, Integrity, Problem Solving and just plain, old courtesy.

-Sonja Howard, Coordinator for Statewide Leadership (Administrator Quality)

Are You In A Rut?

It happens to the best of us.  For whatever the reason you get stuck, things become ho hum, or that drive that keeps you going comes to a screeching halt. Whatever the case, you find that you are in a rut. What are you going to do about it?

Last week two experiences really brought this topic to the forefront of my mind.

First, I read a blog post by Mike Figliuolo, of thoughtLEADERS, LLC titled “How to Persevere When Facing a Work Grind”. It so spoke to me when he said, “I love writing this blog-except when I hate writing it.”  He shared a few strategies for when the work we love becomes a “grind”:

  • Recognizing the grind
  • Remembering why you love the work you do
  • Diagnosing why you are in a grind
  • Starting small with the work you do
  • Maintaining momentum and
  • Changing things up

The second experience was my engagement in a session with Anne Grady on Navigating Change with resilience and courage. Anne, too, shared strategies for bouncing back when faced with these “grind” or “rut” circumstances.  A few of her strategies for resilience were:

  • Focusing on your strengths and accomplishments
  • Reframing the way you are thinking
  • Taking care of yourself
  • Learning from your experiences

Whatever the rut, grind or setback you may face, thinking back to what brought you here in the first place by reconnecting to your purpose and passion is an amazing cure for the “grind”.

Thank you thoughtLEADERS and AnneGradyGroup!

-Sonja Howard, Coordinator for Statewide Leadership (Administrator Quality)