Author Archives: Sandy Wozniak

What Keeps School Leaders Up at Night?

When we recently asked current administrators “What keeps you up at night?” one thing that they all mentioned was that increased community involvement brought increased (and often stressful) preparation for (or rehashing of) difficult conversations.

Many times, going into a difficult conversation – whether it be with parents, colleagues, students, or community members – you prepare yourself with talking points as if you are preparing for a debate. If you indeed do have the conversation – you might “hear” the “other side,” but you hear it through your own filters, or you may jump the gun, anticipating points and in an effort to make your points and never hear the other side.

Focus on what’s right, not who is right

Without developing some kind of understanding, difficult conversations can go south very quickly.  When trust and understanding fall by the wayside, outcomes become less than satisfactory. Going into a difficult conversation with the right questions rather than the right answers can help you achieve a collaborative, satisfying resolution.

Process can help

Using a variation of SCAN – Situation Appraisal – can help you prepare for difficult conversations.

Step 1 See the issues:  set the stage for a conversation rather than a debate by setting the tone and purpose and demonstrate neutrality – ask questions like these to get their perspective:

e.g., “Can you tell me what your concerns are?”   “What do you see as the real problem?

Listen for information: feelings, concerns, fears, goals, “words behind words.”

End Result:   Building TRUST

Step 2 clarify – ask questions that will help you separate opinions from facts, listen intently, clarify similarities and differences identify common ground.

e.g., “What do you mean by?” “Can you explain so I understand?”

Listen for similarities and differences and identify common ground.

End Result: You’re on the same page!        

Step 3 Determine priorities-use common ground to develop “musts” to drive solutions.

e.g., “what is the most serious of your concerns?” “What concerns can either of us put aside for the time being?” “If we don’t address this concern what could be the consequences?”

End Result: “MUSTs” are agreed upon

Step 4 determine solution and plan for success:  Develop a collaborative action plan (with built-in monitoring)

e.g., “How would you suggest we resolve this?”  “What significantly is impacting getting the job done?”

“Can we make a timeline for project completion?”  “If we don’t do something, what are the consequences?”


End Result: An agreement owned by all

Difficult conversations that are not managed well—either avoided or not resolved—result in unsatisfactory resolutions.  The SCAN process can help you ensure stakeholder input with defensible conclusions and solutions with clear rationale.  Proactive planning for the difficult conversations that lie ahead can give you and your constituents increased understanding and satisfaction with actions needed.




7.3 Miles – A Lesson in Leadership

Traffic on city Streets – link to –

With the suitcases loaded in the rental car and the girls buckled in the backseat, we set off on our mini adventure into New York City. Our agenda was set and Central Park was loaded into Waze for directions. Although I had been to New York several times, I had never driven in the city. It can’t be that hard, right? I mean, I know how to parallel park a school bus. Surely, I handle driving in one of the busiest cities in the world.

I quickly realized that there was nothing I could have done to prepare for this 7.3 mile drive. With my grip tightening on the steering wheel at every turn, I did my best to adapt to the rules (unwritten and written) of driving in the city. As much as I wanted to slow down, or even pull over just to get my bearings, I knew I had to push through and keep going in order to keep up. Several traffic violations and almost accidents later (all self reported of course), we made it to Central Park. I was overwhelmed and exhausted.

As we begin yet another school year, I cannot help but think of all the parents, students, and educators who are navigating a new school year. Whether it is the same school as last year, the start of a new school year always brings a nervous and overwhelming excitement. Unfortunately, the past doesn’t always prepare us for the new – new teachers, new friends, new routines, new experiences.

The trip before all of us this school year is so much greater than the 7.3 miles that stood between me and getting my family to Central Park. Education leaders are tasked with the enormous challenge of leading their students, staff members, and school communities through another school year all while dealing with teacher shortages, increasing dissension regarding public education, gaps in student achievement, disproportionality in schools, chronic absenteeism, and the list goes on.

Thus, we have to resist the urge to grip down on the proverbial steering wheel just to get through. There is simply too much at stake. Our communities need to see our schools as examples of inclusivity where each and every child is valued and encouraged to reach their full potential.

Our destination is set. Will it be hard? Yes, but as the late Dr. Rita Pierson once said, “We can do this. We are educators. We were born to make a difference.”


As a non-profit organization, TregoED would love to have the opportunity to lead with you on your journey this school year (and hopefully beyond). We specialize in building individual and district capacity in collaborative problem solving and decision making. At the core of who we are is an unyielding belief that investing in education leaders has the highest potential for benefiting the entire school community.

30 Years of Change in Education – What remains the same?

The problems that educators face today have changed over the last 3 years, never mind the last 30.  What has stayed the same?  A good approach still works every time!

We recently asked TregoED process users “What is the most critical issue on your plate right now?”:  academic recovery, finances, school safety, mental health, or staffing? These multiple-choice answers gave us a nice-looking graph, but speaking face to face to school leaders at a conference recently, I got a different picture.  They added the everyday perennial challenges of parents, student behavior, etc.  and made it clear, that it was not any one issue, but the onslaught of many issues that was plaguing them.

Ed Leaders: What is the most critical issue on your plate right now?

Chat Bot Chimes In

I then asked ChatGPT  what the biggest issues in education were 30 years ago in 1993 – and after a disclaimer that it did not exist in 1993 therefore had no personal experience- it listed these issues:

  1. Funding
  2. Standardized testing
  3. Diversity and inclusion (in curriculum as well as teaching staff and administration)
  4. Technology
  5. Dropout rates
  6. Violence in Schools

Sound familiar?

Everything is different.  Nothing’s changed. 

While we can’t control what the issues are, we can control our approach and increase the odds of a successful resolution.  Our approach to issues over the past 30 years has not changed – we use research based, proven TregoED processes to help district leaders deal with complex issues using a collaborative approach based on a series of proven questions that will lead leaders to the best possible solutions. Using stakeholder input has always been a key component of the process, with results that are both visible and defensible.

We deeply appreciate the dedication and passion that education leaders bring to the table every day to address the myriad of issues that impact the education of our children.  We feel fortunate and grateful to be able to help them make the tough decisions that ultimately serve the needs of the children in their care.  With the increase in complexity of problems, people, and data over the last 30 years, the need for a proven, transparent, data driven process to develop lasting and effective solutions is a must.

Top 5 Critical Issues in Education in 2023 – link to –

Critical: (crit·i·cal)

  1. having the potential to become disastrous, at a point of crisis
  2. having decisive or crucial importance in the success, failure, or existence of something.

Education leaders are facing serious issues in 2023 driven by a period of disruption – a worldwide pandemic, divisive politics, prevalent gun violence, and financial crisis.  Looking at a study of trends to watch in 2023 at least 5 of these trends have risen to the definition of critical in every sense of the word:

  1. Student safety– just when you think that you have heard the worst possible gun violence headlines, events that “could never happen in your district” have happened in districts that have said the same thing.  What will you do to pre-emptively ensure the physical and mental safety and security of the children in your school?
  2. Mental health – the mental health issues our children, staff members, family members, community members have all been exacerbated by the past years of polarizing politics, isolation, and fear. Besides the extreme results of poor mental health (see #1) student mental health issues are now considered the #1 learning obstacle.
  3. Teacher and staff shortages (see 1 & 2) – staffing shortages, especially in the area of special education, have forced districts to look for creative and innovative solutions. The difficulty of finding, hiring, and retaining staff has affected the daily operations of many school districts.
  4. Academic Recovery – a new study indicates that our students have lost up to 1/3 of a school years’ worth of knowledge and skills. What will student assessment look like and how will we address the inequitable legacy and economic disparity that have been compounded by the pandemic?
  5. School Finances – Significant changes to school finances due to the looming Covid spending deadlines, the implication of the May 11th end to the Covid public health emergency, shifting student populations, etc. will force decisions with wide implications and potential polarizing outcomes including school closings, staffing issues, etc.

On the heels of COVID, education leaders are facing an inordinate number of critical decisions and issues. Critical decisions require critical thinking – “exercising or involving careful judgement or judicious evaluation.” These issues call for collaborative work and creative solutions.  They call for transparent thinking processes – the ability to break down problems into manageable pieces – and the ability to “show your work.”  They call for deliberate and step by step approaches that guide the discussion, clarify your understanding, prioritize your criteria according to your district’s needs and wants, creatively develop options, weigh the risks and determine what needs to be done.

All district actions, big and small, are facing intense scrutiny …..from selecting a book to closing school buildings…and all deserve the benefits of critical thinking – a judicious evaluation – using solid processes like Situation Appraisal or Decision Analysis.  Critical thinking will enhance your efforts and elevate you solutions to ensure that you get the best possible results for your district with transparency and support.


Making Decisions Under Pressure Requires Patience

“Pressure!”(With apologies to Billy Joel)

Spending deadline’s coming up


You had better not screw this up


You have the money, now’s the time to spend

But here you are with your wants and your needs and your shortages and such

Your regulations and your tests and your parents and the rest

It’s all just



Superintendents, new and experienced alike, are faced with unprecedented funding and opportunities to remedy some of the effects and inequities caused by or brought to light by the Covid Pandemic.  With deadlines looming there is a lot of pressure to both spend the money and get it right!

Time is of the essence

Time seems to be a major source of that stress – time to assess what’s working, what needs are, and what can be done in the time allotted. Slow reimbursements, confusing requirements, materials delays, staffing shortages, and changing legislature have added to the pile. As the National Report Card just reported huge losses in math and reading, the urgency for investing in academic recovery, demonstrating positive results and planning for the future are now even more apparent.  Hardly seems like the time to slow down the decision making, does it?  But that is exactly what needs to be done to achieve the results that you are looking for.

With great spending comes great responsibility  

Take the time to get it right.

Take the time to:  Clarify your goals

Take the time to:  Define what you need in the results

Take the time to:  Consider your objectives and evaluate each alternative against your objectives or criteria

Take the time to:  Weigh the risks

Using a process (like Decision Analysis) that incorporates all the above considerations is the key to making the best possible decision for your American Rescue Plan spending as well as other crucial decisions involving investing in materials, building renovations, transportation, and personnel.  Shared decision making (not the “we made the decision and now we’re sharing it with you” type) is the key to collecting the best information to drive your decision making.  While it may take more time, having the right information and people involved saves you both time and money and the possibility of getting it wrong in the long run.

Make Your Meetings Matter

Looking forward to your next meeting?  In many cases, the answer to that question is “nope.”  Many meetings have been viewed as at worst – time-sucking obligations, mind-numbing information dumps, frustrating rehashes and/or contentious public forums of off-track topics, or at best dull and uninspiring.  Holding meetings in an online platform has only amplified those negative views. So, how do you make meetings matter?

How do you avoid the most common pitfalls of meetings? Let’s tackle each, one at a time.

Pitfall #1:  The Time Suck or “my time could have been spent better or this could have been done in an email.”

Solution:  Planning, planning and more planning. Determine what the purpose of the meeting is, who needs to attend it and what is the best format or process to use. Meetings that are efficient in design start with an agenda based on efficient and proven processes like Situation Appraisal, keep discussions focused on the business at hand and are driven by powerful questions that are designed to gather information and perspectives.

Pitfall #2: The unproductive meeting or “didn’t we talk about this last week? Month? Year?”

Solution:  Build accountability and tracking into your action plan.  When you record each issue and the action you need to take to address it, you also need to determine “by whom? And by when?”  Including a responsible name next to each action and a due date keeps people accountable and makes supervision or “checkups” or “report ins” both automatic and expected.

Pitfall #3 Conflict or “we’re going to need a bigger room”

Solution:  When you know you are stepping into a meeting where the issues being addressed are liable to be emotional, plan ahead to ensure that situation will be addressed in a transparent, collaborative manner.  Frame the discussion in a way that reflects an unbiased approach.  Listen and record input to build a shared understanding of the issues and keep the discussion from devolving by using a clearly delineated and understood process.  In Paul Axtell’s book Meeting Matters, he outlines the 4 C’s of effective meetings:  Clarity, Candor, Commitment, and Completion.  We might also add collaboration and conversation driven by a predetermined set of powerful questions.


Pitfall #4 Poor Communication or “did you hear what happened at the meeting last night?  I saw on Facebook that….”


People have their own perceptions, hidden agendas, interpretations, self-image, values, priorities, experience which can determine both what they say and what they hear.  Make it part of your plan to clearly communicate about decisions that are made.  Determine who needs to know what, in what sequence and time frame.  Include clear rationale for why certain actions will be taken. Nothing erodes trust and confidence quicker than hearing about the new policy that directly affects you from the kids or reading it on social media.

Plan for success

The key to meetings that matter is planning every step from determining the purpose of the meeting to communicating the results using a clear and transparent process that allows you to get the best thinking from all involved.  Taking the time to think through the entire meeting process will help you gain the trust and understanding that you need to get the commitment for success.


3 Tips for Leading Difficult Conversations

Gun violence, Student safety, CRT…oh my!  Issues that bring out resistance, reactions, strong emotions, frustration can make for difficult decisions and daunting conversations. Using a well-thought-out approach can help you lead/facilitate those conversations resulting in collaborative solutions.

In The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki explores the intriguing and well‐substantiated idea that the collective judgment of many people is almost always better than the opinions of just a few even the experts.  People have their own perceptions, interpretations, values, and experiences which can help us get a more well-rounded understanding of the problem at hand.  Collaboration improves quality, increases commitment, and sends powerful messages about value for others (Creating and Sustaining Decision-Making Excellence).  When anticipating difficult conversations, plan your approach with these 3 steps in mind:

  1. Listen and learn. “Listening is more than being quiet while the other person speaks until you can say what you have to say.” (Krista Tippett on Listening) The need to be heard is one of the most powerful motive forces in human nature…” (Why Listening is So Important).   Listening gives you the opportunity to learn perspectives, goals, content, intentions, and plans.  Acknowledging other perspectives without judgement gives rise to respect and appreciation.  That respect and appreciation go a long way in helping improve staff and community relationships essential to successful implementation of action plans.


  1. Gain clarity. Asking the right questions, for example, from the Situation Appraisal Process, can help you develop a comprehensive, shared understanding of the issues at hand. Probing questions like:  What seems to be important? What threats and opportunities do we face? What do you mean by? What else is of concern to you?  What is the seriousness?  What is the urgency?  What is the potential growth?  can help you delve deeper into understanding the issue or problem at hand.


  1. Stay focused and centered. When you have a clear road map or process to follow up front, you can steer the conversation back to the main objectives to avoid getting stuck or lose focus to those who are trying to drive the conversation elsewhere.  Keeping the conversation focused on the issues at hand helps you continue to move forward efficiently, removing high emotions from the table.

The benefits of different perspectives and experiences can bring greater understanding of the issues at hand and more successful actions taken.  The risks inherent in divisive topic discussions – wasted time, outburst of emotion, and conflict- can be avoided by being prepared for difficult discussions with a pre-determined process.

Investing in Building Capacity Pays Off in Good Times and Bad

The pandemic has laid bare many faults and inequities in education systems, but it has also highlighted essential skills and successful leadership practices that have proven successful in addressing pandemic-related problems.  We have seen firsthand how proven decision-making and problem-solving processes have been the linchpin of success for leaders during times of crisis or stability.

Hallmarks of Good Leadership

  1. Crisis and change management – Superintendents with crisis decision making experience like Vic Shandor in York County Schools (VA) had systems, skills, and processes already in place giving them an advantage when the pandemic rolled in. Other districts called upon expert consultants to help them as serious issues came to light. Either way, those districts that invested in building the capacity of staff (before, during, or after) gave them the benefits of confidence that things were being taken care of in a meaningful systematic way – and better prepared them for anything they face in the future.


  1. Two-way communication – Leaders need to find ways to take on tough issues (CRT, equity, gender, race and sexuality issues, health and safety protocols, staff retention, and academic recovery) and provide ways to get meaningful input from stakeholders. Having transparent processes (like Situation Appraisal) for dealing with complex issues or hiring an outside facilitator can help you remove some of the emotional heat from the conversation, helping you gain trust and transparency and better solutions to the issues at hand.


  1. Effective collaboration – Going it alone is no longer a viable option as leaders take on increasing responsibilities as a conduit between government health and safety rules and recommendations, staff, students, parents and community members. With fluid staffing situations, all staff members have had to step up to keep students safe and learning. Having a system that helps leaders connect, share, learn and network their way through issues is a matter of necessity.


Throughout this crisis period, the demands on school personnel have changed.  Leaders that rely on proven processes of problem solving and decision making will continue to make rational decisions, find enduring and practical solutions, gain trust and confidence, and save time and money by avoiding mistakes and using the best thinking of their surrounding community. Finding the best solutions, the best actions, and preparing for the implications of any actions demands careful and systematic thinking.  Having a ready process with that good thinking built in saves time, money and upheaval and will serve leadership and staff well in good times and bad.






Future-proof your workforce

Anyone familiar with theater recognizes the concept of the understudy – the person who learns another’s role to be able to step in on short notice and play the part.  Preparing for sudden departures, turnovers, and the Silver Tsunami in education, means building the leadership capacity for succession.  Succession planning in education is an essential investment to avoid the costs of having an “empty chair.” After all, life happens, and the schools must go on!

Why prepare for succession?

There are dozens of reasons that chair will someday be empty.  The roller coaster ride caused by the pandemic made many rethink their career choice. Some leaders who, preparing to retire before the pandemic, stayed to help their districts weather the storm.  Now that pandemic life has become the norm, they may feel more comfortable leaving.  Certainly the “silver tsunami”– the tidal wave of retirements coming our way will intensify as every single day, 10,000 baby boomers reach retirement age.  Whatever the reason for turnover, it is disruptive and costly –organizational costs are estimated to be 100%-300% of the employee’s salary (source).  Furthermore, as baby boomers retire, younger and often less (or under-)-experienced worker are moving into decision-making roles, increasing the risk of costly mistakes.  Disconcertingly, a recent survey of organizations found that 93% are not building the next generation of leaders in an adequate or robust way (source).  This becomes all the more critical when you consider that it typically takes eight months for a new hire to reach full productivity (source).

How do you prepare?

So, who is your understudy? Who is it that is waiting in the wings in case you are unable to do your job – or if you move to a different job or retire?  What are you doing today to help others prepare for tomorrow? Planning for succession of any position in your organization should be an integral part of preparing for the future.

What are you or your district or organization doing today to be sure that whoever fills that chair – or takes center stage – on your behalf, is ready to seamlessly make that transition – ready to effectively make the decisions and address the issues that they face?

Start here:

Here are 3 things you can do today to prepare for the empty chair:

1 – Identify possible successors

2 – Consider their strengths and skills gaps

3– Involve them in work and professional development that will build their capabilities and knowledge

I once worked for a manager who enthusiastically and convincingly claimed that his goal with each job was to work himself out of a job – to develop others enough to move up or over and take over his responsibilities.  Part of how he assessed his effectiveness as a leader was based on the quality and caliber of those waiting in the wings.  Yet his goal was to help them gain the leadership capabilities to get them out of the wings and onto center stage.  Far from being threatened by others’ growing capabilities, it is how he assessed not only his own effectiveness but when it was time for him to move on.  Making succession planning your goal will future-proof your district from the cost of staff turnover.

Protecting your Decisions with 4 Key Questions

Red UmbrellaHave you decided where your ESSER money investments will be most beneficial?  If so, how do you ensure these decisions actually reach your goals?  How can you prevent outside factors from “raining on your parade”? The success of a decision depends on the success of its implementation and the active management of the risks.  An ideal decision poorly executed will ultimately look like a poor decision.

Preparing for Rain

Once decisions are made, we look forward to reaping the rewards, but like the potential rain on the celebratory parade, smart leaders prepare for all possible eventualities.  We have recently worked with several districts that are using Potential Problem Analysis to ensure successful implementation of ESSER-funded projects/products/programs. As an example, Special Education Leaders in Cumberland County (NC) recently used Decision Analysis to determine which technology products would give them the best possible results with the Exceptional Children in their district.  A good decision-making process gave them confidence in their choices.  But they wanted to go one step further to ensure the successful deployment and implementation of their purchases. They used “potential problem analysis” questions to consider the risks and mitigate possible roadblocks.

Ask first…

The decisions you make about ESSER funds have an impact on instruction, personnel, programs, students, etc.  How can you help support the staff who are essential for this implementation?  Here are 4 key questions to ask before planning for implementation:

  1. If we choose to spend ESSER funds in this way, what are the potential problems that may arise?  What could get in the way of success? What could possible rain on your parade?  Think in terms of the risks to various stakeholders, the schools and district. Of these risks, which pose the highest threat?
  2. What could cause the highest threat potential problems to become reality?
  3. What actions can we take to prevent the likely causes of our potential problems? By when and who will be responsible?
  4. And finally, If the potential problem does occur, what actions can we take to minimize the damage?  Ah, yes – “plan B.”

Spending a little bit of time upfront preventing potential problems can ensure that you have an umbrella of protection once the decision is executed.  Most importantly, it will ensure your decisions on how to spend your ESSER funding will realize their full potential.  Kudos to those leaders who recognize the need to protect important decisions and think through how best to mitigate the risks that could prevent their success.