EPISODE 15: Danny Bauer on The Fundamentals of a Winning School Culture

November 06, 2017

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Today, on the Education Leader Podcast, I’m talking with Danny Bauer, an educator, leadership coach, and the host of Better Leaders, Better Schools Podcast.  

Danny was a public school teacher and assistant principal in Chicago, where he learned that great leadership was crucial to student success. This inspired him to create his podcast where he talks with education leaders about how to pursue excellence for themselves and for their school.  

In our chat, we’ll cover what a winning school culture looks like, how superintendents can best support them, and what leadership skills will help improve the district.  

If you’re looking for some practical advice on new leadership strategies, then you’re on the right place.

Topics covered:

  • (00:53) – Background leading up to today
      • (01:00) – Danny discuses how he first got involved in education.
  • (02:04) – The Fundamentals of a Winning School Culture
      • (02:22) – Danny explains what a winning school culture is.
        • (02:33) – The general components for any school.
          • (02:54) – People are getting developed and celebrated
          • (02:54) – A high level of trust and respect within the organization.
        • (03:05) – Specifics depending on the context.
          • (03:13) – The importance of establishing core values.
      • (04:37) – How superintendents should understand their key role in creating a winning culture.
        • (04:46) – The absolute necessity of ‘walking your talk’.
        • (05:38) – What superintendents can do on a practical level.
          • (05:58) – Start conversations within the community.
          • (05:58) – Identify the common challenges.
          • (07:11) – Not having a pre-set plan and really listening to the people in your community.
      • (08:32) – The common problems Danny sees in many school cultures.
        • (08:43) – Trying to use a pre-set plan before knowing the community.
        • (08:59) – How tradition can impede progress.
        • (09:38) – A lack of passion and purpose.
          • (10:55) – Pat and Danny discuss the reality of utilizing ‘elite level training’ for educators.
  • (14:00) – Developing Leadership Skills
      • (14:05) – Danny discusses how he thinks superintendents should approach their leadership responsibilities.
        • (14:05) – First step is to understand your people.
        • (14:53) – Discovering your own foundational beliefs and mindsets.
        • (16:26) – Be very curious and ask a lot of questions.
        • (17:44) – Why it’s important to take things off your staff’s plates, not load more.
  • (19:21) – Commercial Break
  • (21:30) – Developing Leadership Skills (Continued)
      • (21:44) – Danny discusses how mastermind groups can benefit the professional development of superintendents and education leaders.
        • (23:24) – The importance of having a supportive and trusting community to discuss issues and receive advice and encouragement to succeed.
        • (25:37) –  Leveraging the collective genius level IQ of the group.
        • (26:25) – Enemies of excellence.
          • (26:25) – The problem with isolation.
  • (27:40) – Tying it Together
    • (27:48) – The number one lesson Danny learned from the small business world that he thinks educational leaders should learn.
      • (27:55) – The importance of agility.
      • (30:56) – The danger of overcommitment.
    • (31:28) – Discussing the AVID approach and how it is helpful to students.
    • (33:48) – Danny talks about an incident when his leadership was tested and how he came out of it.
    • (36:27) – The one takeaway Danny would want listeners to walk away from the interview with.
      • (36:48) – Have a supportive community around you.

Rapid-fire Questions:

  • (39:35) – What do you spend too much time doing these days?
  • (40:08) – What do you not spend enough time doing, wish you had time for?
  • (40:52) – What do you wish more people knew about your job?
  • (41:53) – What are the emerging trends in education you’re keeping an eye on?

Resources mentioned:

Voxer  (38:38) – Private chat resource that can be used to build a supportive community.

Where to learn more:

If you want to learn more about Danny’s work, you have plenty of options:


Pat: 0:00:00.8 Hi everyone, today I’m talking with Danny Bauer, an educator, leadership coach and the host of Better Leaders, Better Schools Podcast. Danny was a public school teacher and assistant principal in Chicago, where he learned that great leadership was crucial to student success.

This inspired him to create this podcast where he talks with education leaders about how to pursue excellence for themselves and for their school. In our chat, we’ll cover what a winning school culture is, how superintendents can best support them, and what leadership skills will help improve the district. If you’re looking for some practical advice on new leadership strategies, then you’re on the right place.

0:00:41.8 Welcome to the show Danny.

Danny: 0:00:43.8 Thank you so much for inviting me to be on the show. It’s an absolute honour to talk with your listeners and with you and I’m just really looking forward to this conversation.

Pat: 0:00:53.0 Absolutely. Thank you. And first off, before we get started, how did you first get involved in education?

Danny: 0:01:00.8 You know, in high school, working with my peers, I just really enjoyed connecting with them and seeing that metaphor cold light bulb go off.

And I was one of the lucky ones, where I left high school and I went to college and I knew that I wanted to be in education.

0:01:18.3 At the time, math was my best subject in high school. It was not my best subject in college, so I switched to english very quickly. But I knew that I wanted a position where it was absolutely about other people and making them better.

0:01:34.8 Now I’ve grown to understand that you can do that so much more in a variety of ways, but at that time I thought education would be a great fit. I love school. I love going to school. A lot of the people that had a huge influence and impact in my life were teachers that even in adolescence and teen years, when things were tough at home, school was a very safe and fun place.

0:01:57.7 And so I wanted to give back that gift to kids and I got into education.

Pat: 0:02:04.3 Awesome. I know you’ve come a long way from there, being a principal in multiple schools and now with your podcast, you’re making a real difference.

So before I get into all that, ‘school culture’ is a buzzword we hear a lot these days. Let’s just start by breaking it down. What exactly is winning school culture, and what goes into one?

Danny: 0:02:22.7 It’s kind of hard to define you know, and I think it depends on the context of where the school leader finds themselves. You know, it’s tough for me to define it for the listener.

0:02:33.8 I think there’s some general components that should be a part of every winning school culture and that’s a place where people are excited to go to work, that they’re at the heart of what the organization does, that they’re getting developed right? All the staff members, from district level leaders down to folks that serve food in the cafeteria.

0:02:54.0 So people are getting developed, they’re getting celebrated, they’re treated well, and that there’s a high level of trust and respect within the organization.

0:03:05.0 From there, I think that’s when it becomes very specific to the school leader where he or she finds themselves and in the context.

0:03:13.1 So, that’s when core values become incredibly important, and it’s important for that school leader to dig in and do the work to establish those three to five core values that absolutely set you apart from other districts that Pat Lencioni would say, “You are willing to get punished for” right? 0:03:32.5 That you would get in trouble for living these values out.

And once you identify those, equip people to live them out, celebrate them – for demonstrating those values in a consistent way, I think that’s a winning school culture. I’m not sure what that is for every listener.

0:03:48.4 For me, and what I do with Better Leaders Better Schools, my core values is having a honey-badger like spirit, the big domino impact, and rule number six. So everything that I do within the podcast, and when I coach school leaders and how I run my organization, I do have a few staff members myself, it all lines up to that.

0:04:13.8 And if we’re living those values out on a day-to-day basis, my people know what it’s about, then that’s a winning school culture to me. 0:04:19.8

Pat: 0:04:20.5 That is awesome. That is so well put. So it is clear that a great school or a district – a great district needs a winning culture, and great leaders strive to creating that culture of innovation. Creating a culture of winning, so to speak.

0:04:37.4 So how, in your mind, should superintendents understand their key role in creating that culture?

Danny: 0:04:46.3 Yeah, it starts at the top right. So do they do the work that they identify very clearly? The mission vision values of the culture and of the organization. I think, you know at times we kid ourselves that we do that work.

We come up with ideas that we think people want to hear, like all kids and that kind of thing, but my challenge to school leaders is, “Are you really living these out? Are these things that actually excite you to jump out of bed and run to work? Do they excite your people or are they just statements that we put on our stationary, on posters that push our school leaders to put up.”

0:05:31.5 You know, I’m just curious if they’re living or if they’re just more, I don’t know, something for decoration, I guess.

Pat: 0:05:38.9 So break it down for us a little bit. How does it look in practice? You know? First, of course, they’ve got to conceive a culture or core values, like mission, vision and values. How does it pan out? Say I’m a superintendent and I like what you’re saying and I want to start. Where do I start?

Danny: 0:05:58.1 You start with your community. You know. And I think a lot of times common challenges or a pitfall that school leaders need to avoid is thinking that you have it all figured out prior to talking to your people.

0:06:14.5 And as I’ve transitioned from being a principal to now coaching school leaders, producing the podcast and some of my other endeavours, I understand from a marketing point of view, as a business owner and entrepreneur point of view.

0:06:31.7 Sure I have some ideas of what I think will help people, but people drive everything. And I think we often forget that. So it’s by having listening tours, right? 0:06:42.7 By asking very simple questions. “What are the biggest challenges in this community?” Right?

0:06:47.1 And gathering all of that data, having a clear understanding of the narrative of the community. What are their dreams? What are their aspirations for their children, for themselves within the district?

0:06:59.0 And once you have a good sense of what that is, then putting it all together – really just reflecting back to your people, “This is what I’m hearing you say and what you want in a district and this is how we’re going to make it happen.”

0:07:11.1 So it starts, Pat, by asking questions and listening to the real answers. Not having a plan already mapped out prior to getting there and being very flexible and relational with your people.

Pat: 0:07:26.6 Great. And I think the key takeaways from what you told us: Don’t go there with a set template of a plan to put in place. But actually ask the questions, listen to your people, build the community and build your solution around your school’s requirements and your community. Is that?

Danny: 0:07:44.1 That’s absolutely correct Pat, because here’s the thing, you know some initiatives might work in all districts but a lot – they’re different. And so if you assume that this is a one-size-fits-all type of initiative or plan, “If we execute on it it’s going to work”, you might just fail because what your people say they need, what the biggest obstacles, challenges are, that might not be a part of what’s included in that initiative.

0:08:10.7 So you do, you have to – it’s hard, because if you’re like me, my top strength is an activator and I think folks that are leading at such an elite level got to where they’re at because they take action, they execute and they’re able to do that quickly. 0:08:25.5 What I’ve learned is to really go fast, I actually need to slow myself down and not be too far ahead of the crowd.

Pat: 0:08:32.9 Sure, sure. So what are some of the common problems you see in school cultures? What are the misconceptions? Can you walk us through that in your experience?

Danny: 0:08:43.5 Yeah, well part of it, the district leader puts on himself, herself – we talked about a second ago, you know moving too fast for your community. Already having a plan without knowing who you are actually serving. And leadership is all about service.

0:08:59.3 I think some other common challenges and pitfalls that superintendents, district level leaders, school leaders all face is just sometimes the idea of tradition.

0:09:08.3 If people say this is the way we’ve always done it, you know you’re in trouble because that’s just – it’s not leading to any type of innovation, it’s not leading to any type of change.

You know, you produce your best growth when you’re getting pushed. Physically, when I’m working out and breaking down my muscle it hurts Pat, it hurts so bad. 0:09:31.6 To work with my personal trainer to go to cross-fit, but guess what, I get stronger, I get bigger every time going through that thing.

0:09:38.8 And I think the last very common pitfall and challenge is a lack of passion. And again, don’t go to that district with a set plan but also don’t go and just expect people to be excited to go to work. Because they do have the best job in the world.

You know, don’t get me wrong, serving in a district I think is the best job. Working with kids, what an exciting opportunity every single day, but I don’t know that leaders necessarily do the hard work to make schools and school districts a thriving, enthusiastic, exciting place to work.

0:10:17.1 And I think that’s actually probably the biggest problem that our schools face these days. Is just a clear lack of passion and purpose.

Pat: 0:10:25.2 Absolutely. And if I can sum it up with that. So well put Danny. Putting yourself first is one of the biggest pitfalls, and then lack of passion. And finally, what really came out loud and clear, was using yesterday’s solutions for tomorrow’s problems. Or for today’s problems for that matter. Where you’re not adopting to the changing times we’re living in. 0:10:48.9 And like you said, “We’re doing this because we’ve always done it this way.” That’s not an answer. Right?

Danny: 0:10:55.6 Exactly. You’re absolutely right. And I’m fired up about this passion thing recently, you know and creating an organization that people are going to be excited about. They’re going to run to work they’re so excited to be a part of it. I think we overlook it, but it’s a mistake.

0:11:11.4 I was recently listening to a podcast and they had the Lakers’ coach Luke Walton on and you know, he was just breaking down the environment he creates for his elite level athletes.

So I was thinking, why can’t we do that for our staff within a school district? 0:11:26.3 You know, why can’t we – so obviously they’re not going to necessarily have a strength and conditioning coach, a dietician, a mindfulness coach and all these other coaches to help them improve holistically every part of their life.

But why not? Why can’t we help people get to that level. They’re dealing with our most precious resource in communities, the kids, and we just – it’s almost like, “Ok you’re a teacher, you’re a counsellor, you’re a principal, you should be thanking me that you have this job. You know what an awesome opportunity.”

But what are you doing to make it such an exciting environment that people run to work? 0:12:07.4 What kind of support, what kind of development are you really offering them?

0:12:10.8 I know I’m getting a little passionate here again, I’m on a little bit of a soapbox, but I reflect back on my experience as a principal, as an assistant principal, as a district level leaders, as a teacher, and when I got fed the most, when I got developed the most, as a teacher – it depended on the district and some of it was personalized based on what I said I needed and the feedback I got from the ministries, but most of it Pat, was one-size-fit-all.

0:12:40.1 It was a lazy way of developing people, it did not spark any passion in me, and a lot of times, Pat, to be quite honest, to be frank, I would look for other places to go.

0:12:50.9 And in some respects I’ve been doing that for awhile until I realized, “You know what, I need to be the solution.” And so that’s a lot of what drives my work now, but I think school leaders need to take this a lot more seriously, treat their people like the elite educators and leaders they are and start really developing them. 0:13:09.9

Pat: 0:13:13.4 I think we’ve got a common thread here, and your passion is something I totally believe in. I can’t come into work on Monday mornings if I don’t have the passion to drive me and that’s what I try and work with our team in my other job.

But to your point, you know, districts – why can’t we induce the same sportsman-like culture among teachers and school leaders, where they’re fired up to get back to the teaching. Because they’re shaping lives.

0:13:38.9 Tomorrow’s future depends on today’s teachers. And I passionately believe that. And even when you’re on the district level and superintendents, the responsibility just compounds. And to be prepared for that responsibility you need to have so many skill sets. And thanks for touching upon all of that.

0:14:00.3 So how do you think superintendents should approach their leadership responsibilities? In your opinion.

Danny: 0:14:05.4 One thing is to really understand their people. And I’m reading in the mastermind with my clients, this book, Leadership Step by Step. 0:14:14.3. Josh Spodek. He’s been on my podcast twice. He’s a former astrophysicist turned leadership coach at NYU. And leadership professor.

0:14:24.1 But Leadership Step by Step goes through a number of very practical tips and exercises that the school leader can do to prepare himself, herself for really creating this type of winning culture and leading it at a high level.

0:14:41.2 And I think I was taken a little aback when I read the book. I assumed I was going to get all of these strategies right away with what I do to people to influence them, to persuade them, excite them more.

0:14:53.5 And that wasn’t true, Pat. It was pretty wild. 0:14:53.9 So the first two-thirds of the book was all about me. And I had to explore my inner monologue. You know, what are these things I’m thinking. My foundational beliefs. What drives the actions I take every day.

0:15:04.6 And then the last third of the book is how to influence other people, but again I was a little surprised. It wasn’t like, you know, do X and get people to do Y because of some inspiring message. It was going back to, “Do you know your people?” “Can you connect why Pat creates this podcast. What drives him out of bed every day to do this great work.” Right?

0:15:27.6 Connect that passion to the actual task at hand. If you know your people, right? And can connect their passions to the tasks, then they’re going to be operating at a much higher level. You’re a superintendent, of course you don’t know all the passions of all your people, but at least on your district level leadership team, maybe your principals, and then they can know their people and you teach them that way. Right? 0:15:52.7 And multiply yourself.

But it’s important to connect the why, because your why for doing the podcast, this guy’s why for being a teacher, this woman’s why for being a teacher, it’s all different.

But we need to understand that and connect it. Because guess what? When you do that, people are seen. They feel heard. Right? 0:16:10.8 They’re not invisible. They’re not just a peg in this industrial machine. Right? That you’re just grinding on to get some type of outcome that you want. These great test scores or whatever. 0:16:25.4 Know your people. Know who they really are.

0:16:26.6 And then I think secondly, in terms of how to approach responsibilities, just be very curious. Ask a lot of questions. Again, this goes back to not having the plan. But be curious, be openminded, and just always, you know have that sense of almost like a toddler. Like, why is the sky blue? You know? Why does it rain? Where does that come from? And just be curious. Be interested in what’s going on and try to uncover the reality of your district.

Pat: 0:16:57.2 That is so – it is so – you mentioned that – a few years ago I happened to meet Jack Welch at an 0:17:04.9 [Inaudible – Cross talk]. So this man is so amazing. You know, the ten minutes I spent with him he gave me such words of wisdom it sticks with me even today when I talk to my team.

He told me one thing, “Be the dumbest person in the room”. It goes back to you asking questions, being inquisitive, not shy to you know, show your vulnerabilities and show yourself that hey, you don’t know what you don’t know. “Please tell me.” You know?

And I think that makes you a better leader. And he told me, “If you can be the dumbest person in your room – in the room in your company, I think you will have the smartest people around you. And you enable them everyday.”

Danny: 0:17:44.5 Exactly. Because it’s not about you as a leader, it’s about serving others. 0:17:48.7. And another thing too, in terms of approaching leadership responsibilities, remove the barriers. There’s so much on district staff members’ plates, it’s out of control. And it’s insane to expect what we expect of them.

0:18:05.2 So, I don’t know the answer for – it depends on the context. Right? But you got to look at what you’re doing and start taking things away.

You know, there’s a beautiful idea of addition by subtraction. Right? 0:18:17.5 So don’t come in there and add a bunch of stuff. No. I think the best leaders will go in there and be like, “Ok what can we chop off?”

Because again, this leads to new growth. Right? Plants. If you look at just any type of plant you have in your house or in your garden, when you prune it, what happens Pat? It grows. 0:18:33.1 Right? You’ve got to cut it back so that new growth can happen.

But we get in there and we’re like, “Ok, here’s ten new things you can do, figure it out.” It’s insane. 0:18:42.0 Because there’s still a finite number of hours in the day, and our expectations increase, increase, increase, so don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying don’t have high expectations. I’m saying be realistic when you have high expectations, and remove things so that those three, those three initiatives that really, really matter in your district, that according to the Pareto Principle, 0:19:01.3 are really driving the results.

Let people focus on that and go crazy and be brilliant. Right? Don’t clutter it all up with just a convoluted – it goes back, mission, vision, values. You know. Do you really know what you stand for, or, “Oh yeah, that sounds good. Ok, the research is kind of cool over here, yeah let’s do that.” What? 0:19:19.5 Who are you? You know?

Pat: 0:19:21.8 Yeah, yeah, that’s so true. So true. And before – I have a few questions and I want to dig in a little bit deeper, but before I get there, I want to take a minute to thank our sponsor today. Without which, this podcast would not have been possible. PikMyKid.

Well you know how there’s a lot going on in every school at the end of the day? You’ve been a principal, you would understand this. Kids getting into cars, busses, traffic jams, snaking around our school neighbourhood, pedestrians all over the place.

What’s on the hearts and minds of all of us? It’s safety of our children. But the tools we use today to manage that? Our walkie-talkies, clipboards, bull horns, paper car tags, and you know, it’s not the best use of our time, or our teachers’ time, or the best use of technology we already have in the system.

0:20:05.3 So, what PikMyKid does, it provides a comprehensive set of tools to manage all aspects of school safety. They have a real-time parent notification system, a panic button feature in case of school emergencies, visitor management and a complete school dismissal system.

Parents manage their daily pickup of their children, receive real time notifications, and in every school they go into, they have over 85% parent participation on that platform.

0:20:33.9 The biggest win for the school and the school district is that there’s more efficiency, surge in parent engagement in schools, and also, you know, it’s being leveraged for – same platform can be leveraged for better communication, and build a strong community.

So that is what PikMyKid is all about and with that – what do you think about that Danny?

Danny: 0:20:56.5 It sounds interesting. You know I can’t wait to dig into more about PikMyKid. But I think any technology tools that can make the job a bit more streamlined, and like you said at the end there, improve communication. I mean, that’s a win.

Pat: 0:21:08.7 Yeah, absolutely. And going back to you know, using today’s technology to solve today’s problem rather than yesterday’s problems.

Danny: 0:21:17.1 Exactly. And we talked about this in the pre-chat, but stuff is moving so fast. You know? And you got to be innovative as a school leader, especially as a superintendent, otherwise pretty soon I feel like you’re just going to be irrelevant. 0:21:29.6

Pat: 0:21:30.9 Absolutely, absolutely. 0:21:30.9 So getting back to how can superintendents better develop their leadership skills? Can you discuss – you have a mastermind in place, you talk about this all the time, so can you discuss how your masterminds fit into the picture?

Danny: 0:21:44.8 Yeah, thanks Pat. I mean, this is like absolutely my passion now. I am able to do this full-time, and it’s awesome because I have students, right? I’ll playfully calling my members students, but I have the best class, like they are so hungry right?

0:22:05.7 And they want to be the best version of themselves, so imagine having your class just filled with the most incredible, driven students you could ever have, and that’s what I have. 0:22:14.9 It’s just such an honour to work with them.

0:22:18.2 But for me, I know about masterminds, I have credibility because I’m actually in one. And I never would have known to do this for school leaders unless I’d joined one.

0:22:28.8 And so my story is I was listening to podcasts and you know, the threads here, the commonalities are so funny, I mean I started hearing this guy Aaron Walker 0:22:38.7 every where. All these podcasts I was listening to.

He just seemed like a really cool guy and I thought, “Hey, I would like to get to know him more.” 0:22:47.0 He had a private Facebook group, joined that, and then at some point he asked, “Hey Danny, you know I think you’d be a great fit for the mastermind.” “Ok, Aaron, tell me a little more about that.” I ended up joining.

0:22:56.1 And I invested in myself. So, there’s a little bit of a pain point, I had to invest my time and my resources into this, but then I joined this community of men that – and for him, he only coaches men. I coach both men and women, so we have a bit of a difference there.

But Pat, I experienced so much personal and professional growth in just a few months of working in the mastermind.

0:23:24.0 Again, that metaphorical lightbulb went off. I looked at our industry and Pat listen, you know the ideal listener here is a superintendent, but obviously, we’re talking to all school leaders.

As a principal, that was a lonely job. 0:23:38.0 That was a lonely job. It was isolating being at the top. I can only imagine at a district level too, how lonely that can be.

0:23:46.6 And so, I saw this personal/professional growth, I was in the current reality of being incredibly isolated as a school leader, and I thought, “Oh my gosh,” and again, reflecting on my experience, how was I getting developed?

You know, who was really teaching me how to lead? And who were peers that were pushing me and challenging me with whatever types of choices I was making within my school?

And I said, “Aha, I need to do this for the school leader industry.” Bring this to education, create a safe space where people can take off the mask, pull back the curtain, say, “I don’t have it all together.” You know what I mean?

You mentioned this earlier in the podcast. People respect and they are attracted to, I think, leaders that are vulnerable, they ask questions, they don’t pretend to have it all together. But on some level, too, right? When you really don’t know what’s going on, “What should I do facing this obstacle and challenge”, who do you have that you can pick up the phone and call?

0:24:51.3 And so, with the masterminds, that’s just a weekly, virtual party that I throw every single week, and the most amazing leaders that are driven and hungry and want to get better, participate. We have a time of check in, wins of the week, accountability.

0:25:08.5 We discuss at a high level, different leadership books from outside the education industry. And then the real magic is the hot seat. And so Pat would sit on the hot seat and say, “This is the biggest challenge that I face.”

The group would listen and they would just act as a mirror. They would ask questions back to you. They might provide some ideas and some plans. “Here’s what I’ve done in the past”.

And at the end of the day, you are much better resourced to attack whatever challenge or problem you’re facing. 0:25:37.9 Because of leveraging the collective genius level IQ of the group. You know?

0:25:44.8 And what I’ve seen time and time again, are school leaders running into some type of challenge they face and they need an answer soon, and they have one idea of how they should go about it, right? And maybe that would work.

A lot of times it’s clear that this is probably the worst way you could go about it, but they just – they have blind spots as a leader. But when you have ten other people that are able to poke holes and ask questions through what you’re thinking, you become a better leader. You know? And that’s the whole idea.

On my podcast, I interviewed Greg Salciccioli, and he wrote this book, The Enemies of Excellence, 0:26:25.2 and according to him there’s ten enemies of excellence, but the biggest enemy, Pat, the number one enemy of excellence is isolation.

And that’s because you do develop blind spots. You start thinking your own stuff doesn’t stink, and you are less creative when it’s just you.

0:26:42.7 So having a mastermind’s like having this personal board of directors that are rooting and cheering for you to be a success, but they’re also going to call you on your stuff and they’re going to help you form better perspectives, better solutions to whatever problems you’re going to face.

Pat: 0:26:59.8 That is awesome. And I think everyone should have a kind of peer or mentor group like what you’re saying to actually fall back on. I’m part of several of these and I can vouch for it. That being a part of such a group where you’re learning and growing together, kind of bonds you and also like you said, the hot seat concept.

We have it in our mastermind group as well, and it’s so powerful that you let yourself be vulnerable and open yourself up to peers and ideas come out like you’d never imagine. And you can go back and solve it the next day. So thank you for sharing that.

0:27:40.5 I also know that you coach. You have a unique distinction of coaching small business owners as well as educational leaders.

0:27:48.0 So if I may ask, what is one lesson that you learned from the small business world that you think the educational leaders should learn?

Danny: 0:27:55.2 Oh that’s so easy. Agility. We run these behemoth organizations and a lot of that’s out of our control, and the bureaucracy can get out of hand. But as a lean startup, as a small business owner, you just don’t have as much red tape to cut through.

0:28:16.4 So, going back to an idea I mentioned before in terms of developing your people. And again, you can hear it in my voice, I was passionate. Take stuff off people’s plate. Don’t let it get convoluted.

And again, this is going back to mission, vision, values like who are you? 0:28:30.2. Who are you really. And making it very clear. Let’s focus all our energy on these three to five things maybe.

When I coach people on productivity, and we come up with this template, we measure our goals over a twelve week period, and I tell my clients, hey you’re going to accomplish more in twelve weeks than most people do in twelve months. And it’s true.

0:28:49.9 And it’s worked for me. In the last twelve weeks over the summer, I wrote the first draft of a book, ok. I added 14 more mastermind clients. And then I lost 3.5% body fat. So those were my personal and professional goals. But that was quite a bit. And a lot of people, if they accomplish that in one year, right? Twelve months, not twelve weeks, they’d feel pretty good. So that’s a part of it as well.

0:29:21.0 So in terms of small business owners and what we can do in education, it’s all about agility. I’d look at what can we remove. 0:29:28.2 What’s slowing down ,you know, the district.

And again, we talked about curiosity, asking questions. And so if you want to know what needs to get cut, what just doesn’t make sense, just ask somebody.

0:29:41.7 And I think too, as a new superintendent, as a new school leader, a new principal, you have some credibility. People might share a little more than they would if you’re a bit more established, because they are hopeful. You know, when Obama, right? We were talking about change in the country. So that’s what it goes – and they hope with you as a leader, “Hopefully this guy’s going to listen. Hopefully he’s going to really make a difference.”

But far too often we come with our own plans, we’re not responsive to our people’s needs, we’re not agile and we just add more which slows down the organization, makes it more of a bureaucracy and a behemoth and it’s just counter-intuitive and I think that’s a lot of times while districts fail.

Pat: 0:30:27.3 I think I want to really – you know one thing which you stress over and over again, and for listeners sake, I want to put it out there. Don’t add more, see what you can take off. See what you can pare down. You know, peel back and focus on what’s really important. Right?

Because you’ve been really touching on that and that’s so valid and so important which people need to understand.

It’s not about giving more things to be done in a day, but see what you can get your team to focus more on. See what you can take off the table.

Danny: 0:30:56.2 ‘Cause we talked, Pat, about isolation being an enemy of excellence, but also over commitment. You know? So and again, back to mission, vision, values. Do you know who you are? That’s a filter.

So this opportunity comes, that’s a yes. It aligns. That’s not, but it looks really cool. It’s a shiny object, aw man that would look neat plastered all around the buildings of our schools. No. But it’s not a fit.

So yeah, I think it’s the over commitment thing and I – that’s a tragedy when you over commit your people and now they’re overburdened. 0:31:27.3 So yes.

Pat: 0:31:28.9 Absolutely. And taking off on a little bit of a tangent here. I know you were an AVID teacher in Chicago. What’s the AVID approach and how is it helpful to students? If you can touch upon that.

Danny: 0:31:40.5 Sure. Briefly. Advancement via individual determination. AVID. And I taught that as a teacher in Champagne, Urbana and then I worked as a teacher in Chicago with that program and as a district level leader where I supported about 30 something schools.

But I think the whole approach is – number one, kids are overlooked. And you know, I might make some listeners mad, but we have different expectations for our brown students. That’s just the way it is.

0:32:12.6 And it’s wrong. It’s absolutely wrong. 0:32:16.3 And those a lot of times, are unconscious biases that we don’t even know exist and people are scared to go there because it has to do with race and the US is just weird about race.

That’s my opinion, but I think – we could do a ten hour podcast about why that’s right. 0:32:32.5 Anyways, AVID traditionally looks at kids that are underserved and overlooked and are typically struggling.

0:32:39.1 Let’s say C’s, even D’s in classes, and it says, “You know what? I think with a little more focus, with some higher expectations, with a supportive environment, I bet these kids could be successful.” And what if we put them in our hardest classes? Our AP classes. Our IB classes. Our honour classes. Right? Instead of tracking them into the remedial classes. It’s a total flip.

And let’s resource them and let’s teach them how to take notes, how to be organized, how to ask questions and then really, how to be autonomous. How to have ownership over their own learning, and through that, through teaching them how to be organized, ask questions, take notes, and all of that. And there’s a community aspect too, with tutorials.

0:33:27.9 You see these kids that were getting C’s and D’s. My kids? Were valedictorians by the time I was done with them in high school. So it was awesome, because on paper, they had a rap sheet. These were not our best kids. And by the time we were done with them, because we believed in them, and we supported them, they became the best. Because they were.

Pat: 0:33:48.9 That’s awesome. And so now, I want to really dig in a little bit. A personal question here. You talk a lot about leadership and how it helps district level or a school level principals, you have had quite a bit of experience as a principal.

If you could dig in a little bit and talk to us, our listeners about an incident when your leadership was tested and how you came out of that?

Danny: 0:34:15.0 Oh man, there’s so many of those. 0:34:18.0 [Edit out] Give me a second so I can come up with the best one.

Pat: Yeah, yeah, yeah, take your time. Any one thing that comes to your mind so we can build on that.

Danny: 0:34:34.4 [Edit Out] 0:34:35.0 You know I mentioned the book, Leadership Step by Step, and at the end I thought it was going to be strategies I could do to other people, but the first two-thirds is all about me.

It gives you great strategies too, in terms of how to lead up as well. And one of the things I’ve realized about myself, I’m going to do better in an environment that is agile, that has less oversight, that isn’t very centralized. You know?

With people always checking the boxes that things are getting done, but that’s more free, that I think encourages risk taking. You know? And making mistakes and learning from them.

0:35:17.6 And so I found myself in a district that on paper looked to be that type of environment, but then in reality, when I got there, was very centralized, had a lot of people checking the boxes. And I was suffocating.

0:35:37.4 I wish I had Leadership Step by Step at that point, because I had that self realization. I knew what I needed to be successful, but I didn’t have a lot of great tools in order to communicate and to lead up and to negotiate and to influence a supervisor.

0:35:54.9 And that wasn’t good, because without those skills I just became, I became very frustrated. The supervisor became very frustrated, and the communication broke down. And it just wasn’t a great professional working relationship.

And I realized it wasn’t going to be a place for me and since I didn’t necessarily, at that time, have the tools to lead up and see if I could improve that relationship, you know, I knew that I had to go. 0:36:23.0 So I’m not sure if that helps you out or not.

Pat: 0:36:27.1 Absolutely. So let me segue a little bit here. You have a wealth of leadership tips from your time as an educator, as a leadership coach and a podcast host, so if our listeners could walk away from this interview with just one takeaway about how to be a better leader, what would you want that to be?

Danny: 0:36:48.3 I think – the only way I even just limped through that experience that I just explained, was that I had a community that put me on their shoulders. I think that that experience could have blown up in my face and had been completely detrimental to my career.

You know, we left on amiable terms and I would like to think that I could help that person out in the future and likewise, they could help me.

0:37:17.6 And the only reason that relationship didn’t become 100% toxic and really destructive is that I had people around me that could support me.

And so, just to be clear, I talked about investing in a mastermind myself, not the ones I lead. And so this was my hot seat topic for many months.

0:37:40.9 And they pushed and challenged me quite a bit because, Pat, like it or not one part of the component is the ego and what was I doing in the relationship.

Because at the end of the day, that’s what I really had the most control over. My own behaviour, my own mindset, the way I chose to perceive things, and then how I would then eventually react to them.

And so that was tough medicine to take, but it really helped me zoom out and look at that experience and at least survive it and not die within it.

So yeah, my one takeaway is, listen, I would love to work with your listeners in one of my school leader masterminds, I think it would be the smartest choice they could do for themselves personally or professionally this year. I guarantee it because that’s the feedback I get from current members.

But even if they didn’t work with me, just plug in somewhere. You know? And there’s a lot of stuff online. 0:38:38.2 There’s Twitter, there’s Voxer groups and all that kind of stuff but to me that’s surface level.

Find a community you can go deep. Find a community where you can say, I don’t have it figured out, I need help. Find a community where people are just as hungry and want to develop as much as you do.

There’s this great quote by Jim Rohn, “You’re an average of the five people you spend the most time with.” And so find those people that are going to push you and have you level up in experience and in your own development and not bring you down. 0:39:10.7 Fight isolation, get connected. 0:39:12.5

Pat: 0:39:12.7 That is so, so vital. Create a support group for you so you can grow from there. So that is great, thanks for sharing that.

0:39:22.1 Before we wrap up, we like to ask all our guests a few rapid-fire questions. The questions will not – the questions will be quick but your responses do not have to be. Are you ready?

Danny: I am ready Pat, let’s do this.

Pat: 0:39:35.5 The first one, what do you spend too much time doing these days?

Danny: 0:39:38.7 My own – leaders and small business owners can learn from this. There’s a difference between working in your business or in your school and on your business and on your school, making it grow. Right?

So I do too much of the backend that you don’t see that keeps Better Leaders Better Schools going, and I’ve gone through a process of what I need to delegate. 0:40:03.3 And so now I’m trying to identify the ideal candidates and get stuff off my plate.

Pat: 0:40:08.9 What do you not spend enough time doing, wish you had time for?

Danny: 0:40:14.2 I want to do even more learning. So I create something called an ‘ideal week’. And I want to compound most of my work Monday through Thursday, serving clients and creating content and Friday I want completely for family and self-development.

I’m almost there and I do get a bit of learning done, but I want hours. You know, crazy blocks of time to take online courses, to read books, to do anything for personal development and so I’d say I’m running at like 35% capacity there and I’m excited that each week gets a little bit better.

Pat: 0:40:52.6 Good. So what do you wish more people knew about your job?

Danny: 0:40:57.7 [Edit out] About my role?

Pat: 0:40:58.3 Yep.

Danny: 0:40:59.8 [Edit out] 0:41:00.0 That it’s awesome. I mean, I get to work with so – like I said, the best students ever, but there’s – I have members – 30 in the US, 6 in Canada, 1 in the Netherlands, 1 in Australia and 1 in China.

And so it’s so fun to see educators talk about schools and leadership from a global perspective. 0:41:24.6 I thought I’d be doing this, Pat, to be quite honest, in like ten years, but things move fast and we talked earlier where I’m located – I’m in Belgium right now.

My wife accepted a job, she’s working at this global health institute in Antwerp, Belgium. And the door was open, the interest was there, so I’m doing this now and it’s awesome. It is so much fun to work with leaders every single day.

Pat: 0:41:48.5 And it shows in your passion. The way you talk about everything you do, Danny. Keep that thing up. So final question. 0:41:53.5 What are the emerging trends in education you’re keeping an eye on?

Danny: 0:41:58.5 We talk a lot about personalization. And in project based learning and this kind of stuff. Was move more from a buzz word to now I think it’s really starting to gain some momentum. And people are really trying to attack this.

0:42:16.1 So I’m interested in how districts are really personalizing what they do for students. 0:42:22.5 But here’s where you district can have an advantage, because so many people are looking at their kids and that’s where you need to look.

I get it, we’re schools. I operate – and one of my foundational beliefs that is if you take care of your people at a very high level, they’re going to take care of your kids better than you ever would have anticipated or expected.

And so, going back again to why do Better Leaders Better Schools, and the lack of development opportunities and the lack of personalization that I experience, ask yourself as a school leader, whether you’re the superintendent or the principal – “I’m fired up, oh I love this idea of personalization and project based learning for my kids. How am I making that a reality for my adults?”

Pat: 0:43:13.7 That was great. If listeners want to learn more from you or hear more about what you do, what is the best way to reach out to you?

Danny: 0:43:21.8 Yeah, three quick links. BetterLeadersBetterSchools.com, blog and podcast is there. If you are interested in working with me in a mastermind, BetterLeadersBetterSchools.com/mm. That’s for mastermind.

And if you find yourself, you’re a superintendent, I would love to work with you as well, but that is an invite only, district level leader and ed consultant mastermind. That’s my inner circle.

And so that’s BetterLeadersBetterSchools.com/elite. So the mastermind I do have instructional coaches up to a superintendent. And I’d love to build an inner circle superintendent only, district level leader and ed consultant inner circle, that’s BetterLeadersBetterSchools.com/elite.

Pat: That is awesome. And I’ve listened to a few of your podcasts and listening to you about your mastermind. I think that’s a great resource. I think all listeners should really check out. And Danny, I just want to say thank you so much for your time today. It was great being able to pick your brain and I’m sure listeners will have gotten a lot out of it. Thanks again.

Danny: Pat it was such an honour, thanks for having me on as a guest and I hope your listeners got some value from today.

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