Establish Your "Rally Cry"

Jan 18, 2017

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Interview with: Janis Meinke

Ryan Fellow / Principal, Carmen Schools of Science and Technology, South Campus

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Our team at Accelerate Institute talked with Janis recently to learn more about her new role and how she is leveraging the new Accelerate Framework to push Carmen’s success even further.

Although this is Janis’ first year as Principal at Carmen South, she has been on the leadership team for the past seven years. Stepping into the principalship gave Janis an opportunity to zoom out and look at the school from a different lens of leadership. 

It was the “zoom out” that showed Janis a terrific way to get her leadership team to buy into the mission of the school: form a rallying cry, and then use that rallying cry to make sure everyone was on the same page. 

Getting to a rally cry

Early on, Janis and the leadership team at Carmen noticed their students were struggling at times as critical thinkers. In fact, data from recent mid-terms and final exams showed some students were far less successful on critical thinking questions than the other parts of the exams. 

Janis started with our Change Management Objective and focused on the school’s mission statement: “Graduate all students as critical thinkers and self-directed learners prepared for success in college, meaningful careers, community involvement, and family life.” This inspired the rally cry for her team: Develop every Carmen Eagle as critical thinker. 

By leveraging the school’s mission, Janis knew it would do more than just keep the mission top-of-mind—it would help teachers embrace the rally cry as part of the larger buy-in to the mission of the school.

The first step to getting buy in was going to be the planned summer Professional Development for Janis’ staff. 

The team worked hard to strategize some small changes teachers could implement to start the process and then planned professional development around Webb's Depth of Knowledge. (Click here to learn more about Webb's Depth of Knowledge). 

The summer PD was a success. Now it was time for them to embrace the rally cry and start to influence change. 

30 days in

At the Accelerate Institute 30-day visit, it was evident that staff members were bought into the focus on critical thinking and thought it was the right approach. However, the leadership team had not done enough to actually help them make visible changes in the classroom.

The problem, they realized—like many high schools—was finding professional development time for the whole school.

The problem, they realized—like many high schools—was finding professional development time for the whole school.

Janis and the leadership team had to take a step back. By reviewing the Black Belt Teaching Objective and the drivers within, it was clear they could help develop a teacher’s necessary skills utilizing professional development and teacher coaching. The problem, they realized—like many high schools—was finding professional development time for the whole school. “Without that time set aside for the whole school to come together, I knew our change would be inconsistent…or maybe not even happen where we needed it most,” Janis says.  

Four Fridays to the rescue

These were early release days for students, and also the time for grade level and content meetings. It wasn’t enough, Janis knew. So she and her team made some hard choices and changed those meetings into whole-school Professional Development sessions specifically focused on critical thinking.carmen_table_02_r2.jpg

They took four Friday’s and laid out a plan to help make sure the main goal of the school was being implemented. In order to make these Friday professional developments a success, they had to ensure their messaging was clear and that they had staff buy-in. 

They did this by framing the Professional Development time by re-connecting to their rally cry—and shifting priorities to align with their big goal for the year. Not surprisingly, buy-in was high because everyone wanted to push critical thinking to make that happen. The challenge then became how to differentiate the veteran teachers—who were already demonstrating the ability to do this well in their classrooms—and make sure they continued to see PD as a valuable use of their time.

You can’t just do it during August Summer Staff Development. It needs to be continually spiraled into your staff’s professional development, even more than you might think is needed.

After the Friday Professional Developments, it was clear to Janis that her role was to guide the leadership team; to help measure implementation in each classroom through aligned observation; and focus on feedback and walkthroughs. 

“Right now, we are in the process of creating a walkthrough tool to look at the types of questions being asked regularly and scheduling a weekly questioning walkthrough done by the leadership team. In our coaching model, each teacher sets a student outcomes goal for each cycle, and coaches are learning how to embed action steps around critical thinking as a way for teachers to meet their student outcome goals.”

When Janis reflects on the importance of Black Belt Teaching to ensure the main goal of the school will be met, she realizes you need to devote time on a regular basis to your rally cry. “You can’t just do it during August Summer Staff Development. It needs to be continually spiraled into your staff’s professional development, even more than you might think is needed,” she says.  

One more thing Janis learned? Crafting coaching goals that align with both teacher need and the school’s rally cry helps the leader keep the number of "asks" of your teachers down. 



Janis Meinke is a Ryan Fellow principal, currently leading Carmen High School of Science and Technology - South Campus in Milwaukee. Carmen 11th graders achieve the highest ACT scores of any non-selective enrollment school in Milwaukee Public Schools.


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