About admin

I am the Executive Director of Teaching, Learning and Assessment. Of course, in small districts we wear many, many hats. But I love hats! I am also involved in educational leadership in our region and state. At this website I share my passion, beliefs, work and resources around systems leadership, instructional leadership, quality instruction, and student learning. Although this is a professional site, we know that “we lead who we are.” In addition to being a proud educator, my husband and I have been married for 20 years. We like taking walks, going to the movies and “talking shop” since he is a teacher too. We have two boys who are 16 and 18. They make us laugh… a lot! Their activities keep us entertained. I also lead music at my church. I love our team!

Testing season: Our students are more than a score

IMG_4180For many teachers and leaders, we just had a change of seasons. I’m not talking about spring. Some would say it’s now “testing season.”

However, we need to maintain focus on learning, not testing. Let me illustrate…

Example one: Test Focus
The class is doing test vocabulary prep. The teacher tells the students this is an important skill for the Smarter Balaced Assessment (SBA) state test. The task involves students completing a worksheet on determining the meaning of vocabulary words because on the test they might see a word they don’t know or they’ll be asked to define a word.

Example one: Learning focus
This could have been a powerful learning opportunity in any season with a target like, “I can use a variety of strategies to infer the meaning of a word.” This target requires knowledge, selection, and application of strategies. It is transferable. Success criteria might include using word origins/parts to break the word apart and using context clues to see if it made sense. The task could involve reading a student-selected authentic text or a rigorous article, and when students encounter a word they don’t know (vs all students given the same word), students place a sticky note near that word and word solve, making their thinking visible on that sticky note so the teacher can see strategies used.

The misconception with making this word-work activity “test prep” is it conveys that this is a skill needed for the SBA then it can be forgotten. Using word origins and context clues are actually essential literacy skills. Note the transferability of the learning target above. Of course the teacher could ask kids, “When might you use these strategies?” Among student-generated ideas (including when reading informational or technical materials) could be on assessments. But the learning is for literacy, not for the SBA.

Our students are more than a score.

Example two: Test focus
The class is having a conversation about learning they want to engage in after the SBA. The kids shout out things like “creative writing,” “book projects,” “poetry”…

Example two: Learning focus
Think about the learning opportunities in those student-generated ideas for analyzing creative pieces; practicing powerful literary strategies like imagery and various organizational structures; analyzing literary elements such as theme, tone, and plot; delving into word choice, metaphors… All important literacy concepts for learning and life…and it just-so-happens – for the SBA.

Our students are more than a score.

Example three: Test focus
A school has a pep assembly to kick off testing. It gives special treats to students like Smarties candy, Smart Water, and special pencils with motivational messages. It sends communication home regarding the importance of attendance, sleep, and breakfast on testing days.

Example three: Learning focus
What if we elevated learning rather than testing? What if we had a pep assembly to celebrate growth? What if we handed out special treats to set up a new complex, project-based learning opportunity? What if we emphasized healthy habits needed to maximize thinking for our inquiry-based STEM projects?

Our students are more than a score.

My thoughts and an article:
The message in each of these examples is that we need to pause rich, rigorous, authentic learning for shallow, isolated skills test prep. Then once testing is over, real learning can resume. Also, learning up to this point is ultimately for the test. What a missed opportunity! Quality teaching and learning IS quality test prep.

McTigh states, “I contend that the best way to raise test scores over the long haul is to: 1) teach the key concepts and processes contained in standards (the content that is purportedly tested) in rich and engaging ways for deep learning; 2) collect evidence of student understanding of that content via more authentic local assessments; and 3) regularly review student work on authentic tasks in Professional Learning Communities.”

-Does your staff know what you believe about test prep?
-As leaders, what learning or testing culture are we setting with our own language and focus?
-How are we showing the kind of learning we value through what we celebrate and confront?
-How are we engaging in informal feedback conversations daily to steer toward our vision of quality learning?

Here’s a link to a GREAT article! It’s worth the read! https://blog.newsela.com/2017/03/13/jay-mctighe-beware-of-the-test-prep-trap/

There is a change of seasons! It’s now spring and it’s learning season in the Orting School District! Every classroom, every student, everyday.

Our students are more than a score.

#OrtingReady #RedefiningReady

From Independence to Interdependence

Happy Independence Day! I hope everyone had a great 4th of July commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, declaring that the United States of America were no longer part of the British Empire.

interdependence 1Once we became an independent country, it may have been the interdependence of Americans that made our country great. Independence means being able to do things for one’s self and not needing anyone else to survive. However the greatest American achievements (and human achievements, for that matter) came from people working together to achieve things that no single person could do alone.

DuFour, DuFour, Eaker and Many identify interdependence as a key component of a professional learning team. They contend that working toward a common goal does not qualify as interdependence. After all, marathon runners are all working towards the goal of finishing the race, but they are not an interdependent team. A true interdependent team must depend on one another to achieve the shared goal, thus no one person is responsible for the common goal. This means no one may work in isolation. We rely on each other, make collaborative decisions that impact each of our peers, and are mutually accountable so group data must be shared along the way.

We can learn a powerful lesson from America: united we stand.

  • Where does your team fall on a continuum of independence to interdependence?
  • What is valued in your organization? How do you know?

interdependence 2

Looking for Goodness/Speaking Kindness

kind 1I recently read an article by a mom who felt she was constantly correcting her kids throughout the day. So she tried a strategy. At the beginning of the day she placed three rubber bands on her left wrist. Each time she said kind and complementary words to her kids, she move one rubber band to her right wrist. This way she knew by the end of the day that she had said at least three positive messages to her children. Kind 2 rubberband

When she first started, she had to try hard to find three encouraging things to say throughout the day. But soon it became easy. Her whole perspective changed as she went through the day looking for goodness.

kind 3Let’s look for the goodness in our students and each other, and then let’s go one step further and SAY what we notice to others!

Let’s move some rubber bands!

Hiring the Right Team: It’s All About Fit

opp-careerIt’s one of the most exciting seasons of the year….hiring season!

Onboarding top talent is some of our most important work! A great person adds to our team and accelerates what we can collectively accomplish! Conversely, a weak employee drains the team, has little or negative impact on students, and pulls resources (including time and energy) from our core work of powerful teaching, growth and achievement.

Sony says, “No matter how good or successful you are, or how clever or crafty, your business and its future are in the hands of the people you hire.”

What does it all boil down to?


…who fits our organization, and who we fit.

Yes, we want to uncover what potential candidates know about things like quality instruction, Washington State Learning Standards, and Professional Learning Communities.

But maybe Southwest Airlines is onto something with their slogan: “Hire character. Train skill.”

To determine who fits us, we need to know what we value, then hire for a values match. We can teach the other stuff.

When talking with potential teachers and leaders, here’s what I listen for:

  • We are ALL learners – that means ALL student and ALL adults
  • Belief in and high expectations for ALL
  • Passion for equity so EVERYONE achieves at high levels
  • Growth mindset knowing that ALL can learn and continuously improve with quality instruction/support and hard work
  • Collaboration, knowing that we serve ALL better when we trust each other enough to honestly examine results and work together to improve them
  • Genuine caring disposition and servant-leader, the kind of person who’s class I want my child in, who I want to interact with as a parent, who I want to learn and team with, who I want to have lunch with

I don’t just listen for a candidate’s fit for us, but also for our fit for them. I want someone who is committed to our particular organization and to what we value. Our kids are worth someone’s whole heart and their best. Plus, we invest in people deeply!

What would you add to this list of listen-fors?

During this hiring season – in our postings, screenings, conversations, interviews, reference checks – what are ways we are intentionally eliciting and listening for what we value?

Well, now you know what is swirling in my head in this hiring season.


And Hope.

And excitement.

And Vision.

We have a worthy vision: Preparing ALL students for college, careers and life.

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, said “Great vision without great people is irrelevant.”

I’m grateful to be surrounded by great people, and I look forward to expanding that circle soon!

From “March Madness” to “March Gladness”

gladnessMarch Madness. Sometimes in education that term takes on a meaning of its own. But I’m determined to make March a slam dunk! How, you ask? I’m practicing gratitude! Gratitude shifts our perspective, strengthens relationships, improves health, reduces stress, and makes us happier.

Mark Twain said, “I can live two months on a good compliment.” While the person who receives the praise enjoys feeling valued, the giver also reaps benefits. With every compliment given, a bond is strengthened, trust is built, and conversation encouraged. That’s powerful stuff!

One thing I’m grateful for is others who notice good things and shine a light on them.

We have a vision for teaching, learning and leading in the 21st century. Technology is rapidly changing and impacting our work. While Facebook is sometimes used to share negative stories, it is also a powerful communication tool and is sometimes used to share positive stories. This week I’m broadcasting some of those that celebrate a welcoming culture and service. Today I wrote five thank you cards to some of our staff who shined and were recognized on social media – a bus driver, a substitute para educator, office staff… I don’t know how the cards will impact those getting them, but I do know that I was reminded about our most valuable resource – people.

How do we sustain during March Madness? We lean on each other, we celebrate each other, we acknowledge our work is hard yet worth it, and we shift to a perspective of gratitude.

I’m GLAD to do this work with the people I do!

Let’s turn “March Madness” into “March Gladness!”

WHY Core Values?

Values impact every aspect of our life and work. We need to develop and consistently anchor back to our shared values. I don’t know how we can lead – at least not influentially – any other way.

We often refer to our core values in general, but cannot readily put words to them. So here’s your challenge – should you choose to accept it. Name your core values. Put words to them. Cement it.


What are your 3-5 core values?

List them (just a word or short phrase) and email them to a friend or colleague. If you can readily name yours, the email will take just a minute. If it takes you some time to think of them, then it’s time best spent!

Here are some reasons why it matters that I can actually name my core values:

  1. I’m using and modeling them – whether I know it or not. Every decision, word and action communicates my core values.
  2. They engender trust. We build trust when we are honest and full of integrity. That means there is alignment between what we believe, say and do – consistently. Without trust we are doomed.
  3. They move our important work forward. What we celebrate, measure and confront communicates what we value – and that’s what gets done.
  4. They are WHY I do what I do. They are what drives me; they’re my moral imperative.
  5. Without them, I’m not actually leading (serving, influencing) at all. Leadership involves articulating values and developing a vision for the future.
  6. They inspire me to overcome obstacles. When we have a big enough WHY, we will always figure out the HOW.
  7. They bring unity. When we have consensus around core values we can endure all kinds of disagreement about strategy without falling apart as a team.
  8. They keep me from micromanaging. With an agreed upon destination, there’s room for empowerment, creativity and innovation in the journey.
  9. They make expectations clear. They define parameters.
  10. I hire for them. We can teach the other stuff.
  11. They give me courage. They compel me to take action even when it’s hard, and they show me where to draw a line in the sand.
  12. We institutionalize them. They inform policy, processes, systems, structures…
  13. They shape culture. HOW we do things is as important as WHAT we do.
  14. They are my moral compass. We make all kinds of moral and ethical decisions that policy, laws and regulations don’t touch.
  15. They determine and prioritize how I use resources – time, money and human capital.
  16. I live and work with more passion, energy, fulfillment and authenticity.

Are you stumped? Here are some ways to help you name your core values.

  •  Identify around 20 words from the list below that are particularly important to you. (You can add any that are not on the list.) To narrow your selection, cluster those together and identify a word/short phrase that captures the meaning of each cluster of words so that you have approximately 3-5 core values.


  • Identify 20 words from the list below that are particularly important to you. Narrow that list to 10. Narrow that list to 3-5.

(Selecting 3-5 core values is recommended. To be honest – since it is one of my core values – I have 7. Five out of my 7 are not listed here.)

Core Values List
Core Values List

















Technology Integration: It’s about Equity and Quality Learning, not the “Stuff”

Digital Inclusion and Information Equity

We want all students to develop knowledge, skills and dispositions they need to be life-long learners and successful, engaged citizens in a diverse society, global society. Developing digital citizenship and using technology in meaningful ways are essential to achieving our purpose and aspirations if we truly believe that all students must be prepared for and flourish in learning and life.

When we have high expectations and believe in all students, we create a culture of inclusivity, equity and accountability for learning. However a digital divide exists. Some students and families have access to information and technology while others do not, thus we advocate for digital inclusion and information equity.

Begin with a Vision

We know that simply adding technology does not change the quality of student learning experiences. We must begin by developing a shared vision for 21st century learning, teaching and leading. As we intentionally integrate technology we are engaging students, preparing students for our diverse global society, supporting standards, and building on creative and thinking processes. This puts our equity value into daily practice!

One-to-World Initiative

Equipping each student a device – whether it is a computer, iPad, Kindle or smart phone –  is often called a 1:1 initiative referring to one device for every student. These 1:1 initiatives often end up being about the “things” rather than the vision. We need to think of this as a 1:World initiative. This causes us to focus on why we are making the investment rather than on what we are purchasing. Using technology, we can fundamentally change the way we learn, teach and lead. We must enter with a purpose to increase the “4 C’s” of 21st century learning – critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity. In doing so, technology becomes integral to the curriculum rather than just another initiative.

Take an Instructional Approach

When we approach the 1:World initiative with the intent of improving learning  – inside and outside the classroom as we develop life-long learners and global citizens – our areas of focus for implementation shift. We move from technical training to understanding how to design authentic, meaningful learning opportunities. We rethink engagement to include others in our class, school, community and world! We engage with families in new ways and empower students to take responsibility for monitoring their progress. We broaden contexts beyond classroom walls to real-world situations that draw on 24/7 information, collaboration and support. We expand instruction from content to include digital citizenship and cultural competency.

Our ultimate question is not “What technology should we buy?” rather “How do we promote student learning and a culture of thinking through the use of devices and information that further prepare students to be active, constructive participants in the highly connected world in which they live, learn and will soon work?”

Culture at the Heart of Leadership and Core of Our Work

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

Mark Fields, president of Ford

No matter how compelling a leader’s vision is or how innovative a strategy may be, it will not be realized if it is not supported by the culture.

When I say culture, I am talking about the sum total of the beliefs and values of people in the district which shapes the norms and behavior thus determining how things get done. More simply put, it is “how we do things around here.”

It’s no surprise that a recent study out of Harvard found that school culture matters even more than class size, spending and other structural factors (Fryer and Dobbie, 2011). It’s also not surprising that culture is a leading factor in job satisfaction and productivity.

If innovation won’t “stick” without culture, then shaping culture is an essential function of leadership. Building culture is not frivolous rather it’s at the core, or heart, of our work!

Let’s think about how a culture of collaboration, trust and change are related.

We know:

  • A collaborative culture is needed if all students are going to learn at high levels
  • Trust is needed if we are to build a collaborative culture
  • Rate of change is dependent on levels of trust

Collaborative Culture

A collaborative culture allows us to share expertise, take collective responsibility and hold ourselves accountable for improved results. Isolation is the enemy of improvement! Powerful collaboration requires trust.


Let’s think about trust in leadership as an equation.

Rate of Change

As education leaders we simultaneously support building capacity of ourselves and staff over time while maintaining a sense of urgency to best meet the needs of students we are serving now. We must lead for deep, sustainable change yet we desire swift results. High levels of trust allow a faster rate of change while lower levels of trust slow the rate of change.


How can we use trust to build a culture of collaboration and increase the rate of change for our systems?

What might be the effects on student and adult learning if we shift the culture…

  • …from confusion to clarity?
  • …from fragmented initiatives to coherence/shared purpose and vision?
  • …from isolation to teamwork/unity?
  • …from superficial understanding to deep understanding?
  • …from compliance to commitment?
  • …from external accountability to internal shared accountability/responsibility to one another?
  • …from low trust to high trust?

By Dr. Marci Shepard – March 2013


Servant-Leadership for Educational Leaders

“The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”

Mitch Albom in Tuesdays with Morrie

Lately I’ve been thinking more deeply about servant-leadership as an overarching leadership disposition. To some, the term itself sounds like a contradiction. I believe it is in the correct order – servant then leadership. Serving the system first brings about trust and commitment versus compliance. High trust moves a system forward faster.

So let’s flip the org chart and take a deeper look at servant-leadership for educational leaders.

Organizations exist to serve; leaders live to serve. Servant-leaders are called to a purpose, not just a position. That purpose is to listen and respond, support, equip, empower and inspire each person to grow and realize their full potential and abilities in service of academic excellence and student success. To do so, we need to build relationships and teams that encourage open dialog, creativity and innovation. Together we are more than the sum of our individual parts.

Exceptional servant-leaders are able to build exceptional teams that can accomplish extraordinary things! 

Robert Greenleaf lists ten characteristics of a servant leader in this book The Servant as Leader. Here, I relate them to school leadership.

  1. Listening: Listen actively to staff and support them in decision-making
  2. Empathy: Consider staff as people who need respect and appreciation for their personal development
  3. Healing: Help staff solve their problems and conflicts in relationships to encourage and support the personal development of each individual
  4. Awareness: View situations from a more integrated, holistic position to gain a better understanding about ethics values
  5. Persuasion: Do not take advantage of power and status by coercing compliance, rather try to convince those they lead
  6. Conceptualization: Think beyond day-to-day realities to also focus on long term operating goals and strategy implementation
  7. Foresight: Learn about the past, achieve a better understanding about the current reality and identify consequences about the future
  8. Stewardship: Hold resources in trust and the district in trust for the greater good of society
  9. Commitment to the growth of people: Nurture the personal and professional growth of staff including investing in their personal and professional development, encouraging the ideas of everyone and involving staff in decision making
  10. Building community: Build a strong district community and develop collaboration among the district and community. I like to think of this as commUNITY.

In his book The Secret: What Great Leaders Know – And Do, Ken Blanchard captures five things effective leaders do to SERVE their organizations.

See the future: Envision and communicate a compelling picture of a preferred future

Engage and develop others: Recruit and align people for the right job. Create environments where people bring vision to life

Reinvent continuously: Continuously focus on improvement

Value results and relationships – Generate measurable results and cultivate great relationships

Embody values – Live fully aligned with stated values

Some guiding principles for servant-leadership are:

  • Identify barriers to performing our work and achieving our goals
  • Listen to suggestions for eliminating those barriers
  • Acknowledge and reward exceptional achievements
  • Provide all employees with frequent, constructive, actionable feedback as well as positive reinforcement and acknowledgment of work well done
  • Celebrate team and individual accomplishments
  • Encourage open dialog, creativity and innovation

Reflection questions: (From Advanced American Communications)

  • Who do you serve? And for what purpose?
  • As a servant-leader, how do you use power and authority differently from a “traditional” leader?
  • Robert Greenleaf refers to “going out ahead and showing the way.” What ways are actually open to you to go out ahead and show the way in your setting?
  • Are those you are serving growing as people – becoming wiser, freer, more autonomous and more likely to become servants themselves?


January was School Board Appreciation month. Here was my “thank you” to our school board for their SERVICE!




By Dr. Marci Shepard – February 2013

Welcome to my blog and site!

At this website I share my passion, beliefs, work and resources around systems leadership, instructional leadership, quality instruction, and student learning.

What motivates me to begin this endeavor? It’s my love for young people and building capacity on their behalf. My calling and purpose is student, adult and systems learning so that we serve our students, families and community well.

So, who am I to write of such noble things?

I am a learner. In our ever-changing landscape of education, I work to stay on the leading edge of research and best practices. One of my favorite ways to learn is through collaborating and reflecting with others. Now you are part of that! I also learn through reading, conferences, technology, diverse leadership roles and formal classes. My family would say that I’m always in school. Currently I’m studying policy in educational leadership at the University of Washington.

I am a teacher. I was a classroom teacher for 10 years and had the privilege of teaching at the elementary and secondary levels. Still, in my interactions with staff, teachers, principals, central office and communities, I approach everything I do as a learner (seeking to understand and collaborate) and as a teacher (through modeling and finding teaching, not telling, opportunities when possible).

I am a leader. Leading, to me, really means serving. I didn’t enter this work to be a leader – I entered it to make a difference. My formal titles are Assistant Superintendent for a school district and adjunct faculty at Western Washington University, but the title doesn’t make the leader – it’s about how you serve the system and community. I am also involved in educational leadership across our region, state and nation through serving on state boards, presenting at state and national conferences, and receiving honors as a teacher and leader.

I am a wife and mother. Sometimes in education it takes us too long to bring about change needed. Having my own kids brings a sense of urgency to my work. It also helps me be empathetic with students and parents we serve. Yes, this is a professional site, but since “we lead who we are,” here is more about my family. My husband and I have been married for 20 years. We like going to community and school events, taking walks, going to the movies and “talking shop” since he is a teacher too. We have two boys who are 16 and 18. They make us laugh…a lot! Their activities keep us entertained. I also lead music at my church.

So, let’s begin this journey together. Visit the other pages on this site by clicking on the titles in the black box at the top of this page. And stay tuned through adding this site to your RSS feed or checking back frequently.

I will also announce new posts through my Twitter account (@MarciShepard).