Diane Willis has worked diligently in education for 32 years, making a difference in the learning lives of students and teachers.  She is a veteran leader, serving 24 years in leadership roles in seven different elementary schools.

Diane believes an instructional leader must be present during learning moments to help discover the next best answers.  She believes that professional development is within things done, said, discovered, or planned each day.

Daniel: Imagine a school where PD happens every day. That's right. Professional development offered every single day, personalized to the educators and faculty that need it. How would you go about offering it? One question you might ask is what would need to be true in order to offer high quality, personalized professional development on a daily basis? You don't have to consider PD as this big, huge workshop, like all hands on deck sort of event. It could happen in the smallest of moments and be personalized and still have great value and move your school closer to achieving its goals. And that's really something that my guest today, Diane Willis is an expert at. She'll talk about a few of those moments in a couple of elementary classrooms where she experienced PD every day. We'll also talk about how her school has partnered with TeachFX, one of the sponsors of this podcast and how it has helped her and her teachers grow. Hey, it's Daniel, and welcome to the Better Leaders, Better Schools Podcast, a show for Ruckus Makers like you. An out of the box leader, making change happen in education. We'll be right back after these short messages from our show sponsors.

Daniel: Deliver on your school's vision with Harvard certificate in school management and leadership. Learn from Harvard business and education school faculty in self-paced online professional development, specifically designed for pre-K through 12 school leaders. Courses include leading change, leading schools, leading people in leading learning. Apply now for our June and July cohorts at betterleadersbetterschools.com/Harvard. That's betterleadersbetterschools.com/Harvard. Are you automatically tracking online student participation data during COVID? Innovative school leaders across the country have started tracking online student participation using TeachFX because it's one of the most powerful ways to improve student outcomes during COVID, especially for English learners and students of color. Learn more about TeachFX and get a special offer@ TeachFX.com/BLBS. That's TeachFX.com/BLBS.

Daniel: Students have an opportunity to succeed with Organized Binder who equips educators with a resource to provide stable and consistent learning. Whether that's in a distance hybrid or traditional educational setting, learn more@organizedbinder.com. Hello, Ruckus Maker. Today I'm joined by Diane Willis who has worked diligently in education for 32 years, making a difference in the learning lives of students and teachers. Diane is a veteran leader serving 24 years in leadership roles and seven different elementary schools. She believes an instructional leader must be present during learning moments to help discover next best answers. Diane believes that professional development is within things done, said, discovered, or planned each day. Diane, welcome to the show.

Diane: Well, hello. It's good to be here.

Daniel: Something I really admire about you, Diane, is this idea that you say that PD, professional development is every day. I don't know a lot of leaders that actually have that same point of view. I think it's unique and interesting. Can you describe a bit about what PD every day means to you and maybe even want to take us to a moment where you were sitting there in a fifth grade math class that illustrated this principle?

Diane: Many years, I've thought about this. I feel that PD is every day and it is in every moment and every opportunity. If we aren't present as leaders and administrators, we can often miss that. When I first became a leader, I remember having an executive director who said to all principals, "Make sure you have a PD plan." Before we started the year, we'd have a plan of the kinds of curriculum development we wanted to get going in our schools. I often struggled with that, especially when I was new to a school because I didn't have all the background that I felt I needed to be able to make a decision about the whole year. It wasn't something that was in stone. I realized as I got out and about that, I was learning more about the needs of our school, our kids, our teachers, and myself, every day that I was out and about.

Diane: I began to realize professional development happens in many moments or any moment around each day. I began to believe that PD is every day because those little gems that you elect along the way, as you step into a room or have a conversation with someone or talk to a student or to a parent, you learn something that will set the course for your next step or what I call next best answers. One time I was in a fifth grade math class and the school had some goals around math and some things we wanted to accomplish. When I went in there, it just was so exciting to be able to lean down, see what one student was working on and the solution she came up with because it wasn't like no other solution that was being shared or that I could see as I walked around.

Diane: The teacher was having students share their answers and how they came up with the answer. I was about to move on and I raised my hand and said, "Hey, can she share" because I'm wondering what it is that she thought about and how did she come up with this? As she started to explain it, it ended up where the teacher said come and write that so we can see it better and understand it better. In that moment, I realized that being in those moments to even capture the things that teach you, but easily miss is very valuable. We would have lost that learning moment if that little girl hadn't shared her idea, written it for us to see, and then kids are going, "Oh, okay, I see what she's doing. I see what she's saying."

Diane: We want kids to get those opportunities, to see what we mean and to see the ideas that come from one another, because a lot of times we may have one way of thinking. Kids, say an eight year old has an eight year olds thinking and can connect better. Every moment that I get a chance to be out and about, or as we were virtual, to be able to kind of log in and do some virtual visits that helps to inform many things for us so PD is every day.

Daniel: I love that story because one part is the teacher would have missed it and we're only human, you can't catch everything, but having you in the classroom to say, "Hey, can this student share?" What I love about that and you advocating for the student, she was able to describe it in her terms that connected even better with her peers versus what the teacher was showing in terms of one way of solving the problem. So that does happen, the importance of student voice, and you were there to capture it and to bring it to light. I know you have a story too, about a fourth grade class this time with some boys. Uh, I think maybe math, again, working with some big numbers, maybe even counting on their fingers or something like that, but can you share that story?

Diane: There was an opportunity and this was a different director was with me and he was doing walkthroughs with me. We happened to go to a fourth grade class during the math block. Again, where I was at the school, we were really focused in on math and mathematics through problem solving and all of these different things. Of course, a student talked during math, et cetera. The teacher had the two boys working together and they were excited to work and they turned to each other and there was some big numbers that they had to do some work with. Immediately, one of the boys started doing tally marks and he kept tallying and tally. Finally, the other one looked at him and said there's gotta be a better way. In that moment, just that student saying that leads to the development of the staff to say that there's gotta be better ways for kids or different ways or different ways of kids working together, talking together, exploring together that will lead to these aha moments that we work hard to try to get kids that happened naturally.

Diane: Again, me being in that moment, I feel gave it a platform to say what the research says or what we read in whatever publication is true because it's happening right here with us. It makes for good conversation as leaders and instructional staff to say, "what that is? That is true. This is the research is right." It's not that they haven't been in my room, even though they haven't, but those things do happen right there in our rooms with kids. In that instance, it was just funny that the students said almost exactly what we needed him to say, be able to convince us that there are better ways and this is where we swoop in or step in and give other points of view and options for kids, but thinking. If kids don't talk, if we don't get that visible thinking, we don't know what is going on in their head.

Daniel: To pull out of that story for the Ruckus Maker listening is the idea that we default to what's comfortable and sort of the way we like to do things. Whether it's the principal sharing at a faculty meeting or a teacher is sharing with her students, we're going to use approaches and ways we like to solve problems and that kind of thing. A lot of the times that's only one path. It'll work, but there might be infinite different ways to solve the issue. It's important to always challenge our own sort of natural tendencies and remember that, uh, learners have multiple styles of how they figure stuff out. You were talking about just the importance of student discourse, dialogue, communication. I love that the little boy hit a frustration point. He's tally and a pretty big number.

Daniel: He says, "There's gotta be a better way" and there is right. But for him to hit that and to be able to say, "All right, there's gotta be a better way" and then to explore it within the class to find it is exactly what we're looking for. I think now it makes sense to ask you a bit about TeachFX. I know your school has used it in the past, and I want to bring it up here because I think it's important. It connects to this idea of creating more space for students to communicate and to discuss. A lot of times we find that the teachers owning or monopolizing or dominating all that space. Can you talk a bit about your experience working with TeachFX?

Diane: We'll start with the beginning. It came out and I did not know of TeachFX, several teachers brought that to my attention and wanted to try it in the school because the school's goal was to increase student talk and that was in our comprehensive school improvement plan. Their PLC said, "We're going to try to hone in and see what we can do. What kind of data can we collect?" They found TeachFX and it was perfect for gathering that data. "I think I give kids the floor and enough time to talk and think out loud and bounce ideas back and forth." They realized they really didn't. TeachFX, gave that data that says, this is something that we can, uh, improve on because it does tell you how long the teacher talks, how long students talk.

Diane: The bonus at that point was wait time. Teachers then started discovering I'm not providing enough wait time. And then that wait time supports more student talk. We also have to look at how we are encouraging kids to talk, how we support the talk and is this something that's natural in schools or do we have to set the stage for, talk with like sentence stems or sentence starters when they're learning how to be respectful talkers how to respectfully disagree and agree? I led to all of these things, but anyway, TeachFX came in and was a simple, like I said, data collection tool that also turned into professional development and we're currently using it at my current school, turned into actual development that has us thinking about our practice. If we believe that student talk is valuable and we do feel that that has a high effect size.

Diane: We want to get kids talking because the more they talk, the more they think. Teachers can record or uploads. Since we've been virtual, learners they do some recordings of lessons. They can upload a snippet and do their own kind of self guided development through TeachFX, which I do like. They set goals for themselves and then they can check on themselves and see are they narrowing down where they don't talk as much as students talk? Are they asking the right questions, but really leads you down this path of some really good best practices.

Daniel: That's neat. I didn't realize they can set personal goals in get feedback.

Diane: Yes. They can also get connections to reading that they can do about a certain topic. If it comes down to TeachFX can even script out the types of questions you've asked and you can go in it and it take you to articles that you can read about questioning or wait time, or it has really been good for teachers to have something to work independently in. Plus TeachFX does meet with us too, as a staff to talk about in general, based on what direction we are going on with comprehensive school improvement plan.

Daniel: Personalized sort of goals and development, there's articles and supplemental materials, even a quick action sort of guides like ask these questions to promote more discussion. The reason I love TeachFX too, it reminds me a lot of Paulo Freire's, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, where he was asserting that "banking model of education" is a bad approach. Where you have the Sage on the stage. You have this teacher who, uh, has all this knowledge experience and wisdom, and your students are these open bustles. You open their minds and you pour all that knowledge, experience and wisdom into them, but that's not how we most effectively learn. You have to transfer power and ownership over to students. In what I heard you say too, when students are talking more, they're thinking more. I agree with and that's one easy way to not only transfer that ownership to your students, but to liberate, to actually liberate your students because you're empowering them to take control. People hear about TeachFX on the podcast. You were talking about the power of it within the school. Can you paint a picture of what maybe some of those reports look like or how you engage with them as a principal or how your teachers do, uh, just in case folks, um, listening, uh, need some help connecting the dots.

Diane: Currently my school, this is just our first year doing TeachFX. I have given, um, most of this to be independent for teachers. They do share reports with me. I do not say I need to look at it, collect this or whatever, but TeachFX will give us data that we asked for, but pretty much this year teachers can share it. If they'd like, if I say, "Oh, how's it going?" If I do an observation and I give them feedback, I may ask a questions, "how does this fit in with the goals that you have with TeachFX? Is there any resource through TeachFX or from our last professional development with TeachFX that would support you moving forward with this or supports what you were I saw you do today?" and that's my goal right now on my role. I have seen reports where they even do a Wordle, something as simple as a Wordle that will show the main words that you said in your lesson snippet. Teachers have been really thrilled by that because they can see all the important questions and question words their asking. If we're saying we want to do more questioning to get kids talking. It will show one that the teacher had and one the student had. So that's one report you can get and there is simple ones. It will also transcribe everything that was said like critical questions. You can click on it and hear that specific place where the question was asked. It will tell you another good thing that I didn't know about, but we really haven't gotten into yet is the equity piece because even among the students, is the same student answering, is the same students doing most of the talking, are we seeing other kids? You get a report like that too. So you can say, "Okay, I see that this student is not having a voice as much as this student or these students." Data that helps you kind of adjust what you're doing,

Daniel: What I love too, is it really multiplies yourself. You're not in all those classes providing feedback and doing observations and it's non-threatening too. It's not you evaluating them. It's really a teacher teaching in front of a mirror in this case, it's app on a phone and it, uh, records what's happening, but then provide you with the data. That's an honest representation. If you're asking the right questions, talk time, wait time, which is even more important. The equity piece. Thanks Diane for pointing all that out. I think at this point, it's a good place to pause for some quick messages from our show sponsors.When we get back I want to ask you one more question in regards to freeing yourself up, to be available for teachers and students get professional development without leaving your home.

Daniel: Harvard's online certificate in school management and leadership helps you establish your legacy and deliver on your vision for your learning community. Learn from Harvard faculty. As you examine case studies of leaders in education and business. Since 2018, we're proud to have served 4,450 plus school leaders from over 120 countries. We are honored to welcome you to our June and July cohorts. You can apply today at betterleadersbetterschools.com/Harvard. That's betterleadersbetterschools.com/Harvard. Better Leaders, Better Schools is brought to you by school leaders like principal Katerra's using TeachFX. Special populations benefit the most from verbally engaging in class, but get far fewer opportunities to do so than their peers, especially in virtual classes, TeachFX, measures verbal engagement automatically in virtual or in-person classes to help schools and teachers address these issues of equity during COVID. Learn more and get a special offer from Better Leaders Better Schools, listeners teachfx.com/BLBS. That's teacfFX.com/BLBS.

Daniel: Today's show is brought to you by Organized Binder. Organized Binder develops the skills and habits all students need for success. During these uncertain times of distance learning and hybrid education settings, Organized Binder, equips educators with a resource to provide stable and consistent learning routines so that all students have an opportunity to succeed, whether at home or in the classroom, learn more@organizedbinder.com. All right. We're back with Diane Willis, who has been talking about how PD happens every single day. She illustrated that through a couple of stories in the fifth and fourth grade classroom, as well as I hope Ruckus Maker, you can see how having an app like TeachFX In all your teachers classrooms will allow PD to happen every day. They'll be reflecting on talk time and wait time and equity in terms of the classroom. Diane obviously TeachFX helps free you up so that PD can be every day. I'm curious if you just have any more ideas, tips or tricks for the Ruckus Maker listing when it comes to what you do to free yourself up so that you're available for teachers.

Diane: Over the years is just the team effort. I know when I first became the administrator principal, actually, we always have had good leaders that stand beside us and behind us and guide us. We get good advice and the advice that I've had for many years is to schedule the day of being out and about. Scheduled time. We've always been encouraged to be able to say, "Okay, here's some new teachers I'm going to see them on this day, this time for this particular thing." I started writing my own administrative targets and then publishing those so that teachers know that these are the things we're going to look at. Again, you take your comprehensive school improvement plan and say, "Today I'm going out and I'm looking at these particular things." It becomes a team effort that the secretarial staff, the admin staff, my AP, all know that they will take care of things so that I can be out and about.

Diane: My AP he's out and about, uh, looking for the same targets, the same goals that come from our school improvement plan and that's how we make the time to do it. Of course, they're going to be times that you can't do what you plan to do but you have to plan it first. It seems like when you've planned it, you do get to it most of the time. The only advice I have for getting out there, but you gotta be out there because you just miss those moments. Those are the moments that make it real. I know that often people will ask me if people are receptive to you being out and about. When you're doing those right moments, I find that teachers and staff are more receptive because you're in with them. It's not, I've caught you doing something that you don't do. It's, we're going to learn how to do these things together. If these are our goals that we've decided on together, and you have goals that you've shared with me, I'm going to support be that extra set of eyes. My AP is going to be an extra set of eyes that just supports and gives that feedback that will feed you forward.

Daniel: I'm gonna caution the Ruckus Maker listening do not discount the idea Diane shared in terms of planning out the day. You may say, "Oh, that's common sense" but here's the thing it's not common practice. I've worked with hundreds of school leaders, coaching them at this point from around the world. It's few and far between the school leader who has a very specific plan each day. I recommend doing it the Friday before you leave for the next week or on the weekend. If you don't mind dabbling into some work on your time off. It's not common practice. That's one very easy thing that you can do to boost your leadership starting today. Diane I like to ask these questions to all my guests here at the end. The first one is what message would you put on all school marquees around the world if you could do so for just one day.

Diane: I am a John Hattie fan, so of course I would have to go with the John Hattie quote. It would be "Know thy impact."

Daniel: You're building a school from the ground up. You're not limited by any resources, you're only limitations your imagination. How would you build your dream school and what would be your top three priorities?

Diane: When I think about building, I think about the building. I'm looking at the things, the practices that happen, um, within the walls of the building. If I can say that. One of the things I would want is ways to even the playing field. I've been at many different schools, different programs, and I want to even the playing field within that building. I would want ways that parents and families can get to and from school other than the traditional bus. I would want opportunities to be more connected with their lives and their needs for social, emotional growth and recreation. Different things. I think also on another note, I would want more time for not being restricted by pacing so much, but more time for the thinking out loud, the talking the discussion, the digging deeper and not feel rushed to think and figure things out to be able to share and reflect. I think anytime I come to a school and we talk about student talk, it's often said that without saying it, but we don't have time.

Diane: Of course, wait, time takes time. I would want the restrictions of time somehow not to be restrictions of time. I guess the last thing is just budgetary things to make sure that our budget includes everyone in a variety of ways. Not just students, families, but also staff in ways that we can support the work that they're doing and not just the traditional support.

Daniel: Diane, thank you so much for being a guest here on the Better Leaders, Better Schools Podcast of everything we talked about today. What's the one thing you want a Ruckus Maker to remember?

Diane: The one thing is just be there in the moment and professional development is at any moment, any time, any day, a question, any activity, if you've got a focus on what matters most at your school, go out and look for that. Once you find it, celebrate it, talk about it, share it, and it will spread like wildfire.

Diane: Thanks for listening to the Better Leaders, Better Schools Podcast from Ruckus Maker. If you have a question or would like to connect my email, Daniel@betterleadersbetterschools.com or hit me up on Twitter @alienearbud. If the Better Leaders Better Schools Podcast is helping you grow as a school leader, then please help us serve more Ruckus Makers like you. You can subscribe, leave an honest rating and review or share on social media with your biggest takeaway from the episode, extra credit for tagging me on Twitter at alien earbud and using the hashtagBLBS level up your leadership at better leaders, better schools.com and talk to you next time until then class dismissed.

Show Highlights

  • Tips to free yourself up to be available to be where it matters.
  • TeachFX isn’t “one more thing” it is a way to multiply yourself.
  • Transfer ownership to your students to liberate learning.
  • Offer high quality, personalized professional development on a daily basis.
  • PD is every day with these little gems that you elect along the way.
  • How to be present as a leader with the “next best answers” of the day.
  • Tips and tricks to not miss moments to support your staff and share goals.
  • Schedule the day out and share your improvement plan for optimal team effort. 
Diane Willis: PD is Every Day

“The thing is just be there in the moment and professional development is at any moment, any time, any day, a question, any activity, if you’ve got a focus on what matters most at your school, go out and look for that. Once you find it, celebrate it, talk about it, share it, and it will spread like wildfire.”

Diane Willis



Transform how you lead to become a resilient and empowered change agent with Harvard’s online Certificate in School Management and Leadership. Grow your professional network with a global cohort of fellow school leaders as you collaborate in case studies bridging the fields of education and business. Apply today at http://hgse.me/leader.



School leaders know that productive student talk drives student learning, but the average teacher talks 75% of class time! TeachFX is changing that with a “Fitbit for teachers” that automatically measures student engagement and gives teachers feedback about what they could do differently. 

Learn more about the TeachFX app and get a special 20% discount for your school or district by visiting teachfx.com/blbs.



Organized Binder is the missing piece in many classrooms. Many teachers are great with the main content of the lesson. Organized Binder helps with powerful introductions, savvy transitions, and memorable lesson closings. Your students will grow their executive functioning skills (and as a bonus), your teachers will become more organized too. Help your students and staff level up with Organized Binder.

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