Thursday / April 25

3 Ways to Avoid Stopping Short

We have a tendency to “stop short” in education. Simply put, we don’t always see things through. We may stop short by prematurely committing to a particular idea or leadership strategy. When we commit to an idea at the expense of growing the concept we develop a tunnel vision of sorts. Tunnel vision makes us miss connections to novel ideas and decreases our ability to improve upon existing initiatives.

Whatever the case, stopping short means that there was probably more to say, more to do, or more to learn.

As a practicing principal and hiring administrator, I have the opportunity to interview hundreds of educators annually. As you can imagine, there are instances during an interview when a candidate stops short of fully responding to an interview question.

This past year, I made a concerted effort to overhaul some of the questions I was asking during interviews to ensure our team was learning as much as possible about prospective employees. (I wrote about this process in my book,  Renegade Leadership: Creating Innovative Schools for Digital-Age Students.) The open-ended questions we started asking provide candidates more latitude and ownership of their interview. The result of asking more open-ended questions has been greater diversity in candidates’ responses, and this has helped us learn more about who we’re interviewing (which is the point of an interview…right?!?).

Recently, I was listening to an aspiring teacher reflect on her approach to technology. She shared that she didn’t believe in using technology just for technology’s sake. Then, she stopped short. I realize that I could have followed up by probing for more, but in this instance I continued listening and wondering what her beliefs looked like in action. How had she applied them in her student teaching, and what was the result? By stopping short, she missed an opportunity to connect the dots.

By combining beliefs about technology with an example of a specific lesson or practice she could have driven home her point. One interview question typically doesn’t make or break an interview, but stopping short on multiple answers is a different story.

I know  I’ve done my share of stopping short in my career. There have been times we’ve implemented an initiative with widespread support, but then my attention lapsed and I prioritized other projects. An example of this might be the World Booktalk video project we launched several years ago. We kicked off the Augmented Reality powered booktalks with fervor, but eventually I focused my attention on other things and this resulted in participation in the project gradually declining.

Sometimes schools stop short by swearing by single book or leadership framework without considering how the concepts might be enhanced by pulling in research and ideas that complement the content. Without doing so, we may be excluding practices that could actually increase leadership traction.

Here are three surefire ways to start connecting the dots and avoid stopping short:

  1. First, seek feedback from staff about current priorities. Ask questions about what time, resources, and professional development might be required to support existing commitments. I’ve learned that we cannot assume beliefs and practices are systemically in place, and there is no such thing as an effective “initiative autopilot” mode in school leadership. Stewardship is required to create sustainability and long-term results.
  2. Second, when conversing with somebody (whether it’s in an interview setting or casual conversation) try repeating what you thought you heard the other person say, and then follow-up by requesting an example along with the results achieved. A related practice is to request counter examples by asking, “Have you ever experienced an exception or something that runs contrary to what you shared?” This type of listening and engagement requires time, trust, and a true commitment to learning.
  3. Lastly, look for opportunities to create coherence between books and across levels. Most leadership truths transcend level, and when you practice learning in new and novel ways your very capacity as a leader increases. This is precisely why we’re planning an opportunity to practice this skill.

You’re invited to participate in a live “leadership mash-up” on August 4 at 1pm EST. The mash-up will synthesize two different leadership books from two different levels via a one hour webinar. Click HERE to register for the free one-hour webinar.

To provide additional depth into the conversation, we’ll be focusing on one chapter from each book. Read chapter 3 from Renegade Leadership and chapter 5 from Future Focused Leaders to get the most out of the leadership mash-up webinar.

As a bonus to readers, everyone who purchases the discounted book bundle will receive a freer Renegade Leadership digital poster. Our goal is to empower practitioners to break barriers, connect dots, and avoid stopping short in their learning!

Written by

Dr. Brad Gustafson is an elementary principal in Minnesota. Brad has pioneered efforts to update pedagogy so it is responsive to the needs of digital age students. He is a TEDx and keynote speaker who exudes a passion for learning that is palpable. Brad was a national Digital Innovation in Learning Award (DILA) winner, and a Bammy Award Finalist in the category of Elementary School Principal. He was also a finalist for National Distinguished Principal in 2016.  Brad’s blog, Adjusting Course, was recognized with an Editor’s Choice Content Award by Smartbrief Education. It was named as a “Must-Read” K-12 blog by EdTech Magazine, and a finalist for Best Administrator Blog by the EduBlog Awards. Brad earned his Doctoral degree at Bethel University where his research focused on innovation and professional development. You can connect with him on Twitter via @GustafsonBrad or visit his website at

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