Fran McGreevy has over 45 years of experience in education. He has served as a high school teacher and building administrator for 30 years and as a middle school principal for 13 years. He is currently President of “Root-Ed – Leadership and Learning”. Fran has led numerous staff development classes at the building, district and college levels. He has received several awards/recognitions for his service as delineated in the attached Curriculum Vitae. He is passionate about the value of the person and how that plays out in organizations and schools.

Show Highlights

  • A bold statement from a principal “I’m done checking on you” 
  • One question to ask your staff to create a snowball effect of risk takers on a shared mission
  • Recognition tips that take the pressure of time way  
  • How to push through turmoil and fires when you have something really worthwhile to offer 
  • Fran shares 2 stories on how to listen and what to listen to and maximizing opportunity 
  • Fran teaches what fascinates everyone in the educational system 
  • How to create a bold atmosphere of engagement
Fran McGreevy: Can a Principal pull back control?

“Ideas are life changing. Thoughts can be life changing. The change usually is from the inside the outside. You don’t change people from the outside. It is from the inside.”

Fran McGreevy

Full Transcript Available Here

Daniel (00:02):

Are expectations or agreements, more powerful. I believe it’s an agreement. And that’s because expectations are toxic. They ruin chances at a good relationship. They see everything as a problem, your job performance, the quality standards, et cetera. They’re stressful ridden with anxiety, reactive fear-based cowardly. And the contrary agreements are co authored, creative, courageous, motivating. They look for win-win scenarios. They’re generous. Momentous in culture. Building in short agreements are about an idea called enrollment. This means that people choose to follow. They opt in. They engage today. My guest, Fran McGreevy, figured it out and when he did, he told his staff I’m done checking on you. Imagine the leader of a building saying I’m done checking on you. And that’s where we start with today’s conversation.

Daniel (01:17):

Hey, it’s Daniel. And welcome to the better leaders, better schools, podcasts, a show for Ruckus Makers, those out of the box leaders making change happen in education. We’ll be right back after these messages from our show sponsors.

Daniel (01:21):

Better leaders, better schools. Podcast is brought to you by organized binder, which increases student active engagement and participation and reduces classroom management issues. Learn more@organizedbinder.com. Today’s podcast is brought to you by Teach FX. It’s basically like a Fitbit for teachers helping them be mindful of teacher talk versus student talk. Get a special 20% discount for your school or district by visiting TeachFX.com/BLBS. Have you ever wondered what kind of leader makes a good Mastermind member? Well, recently I asked the leaders I serve and here’s what they said about their peers. Arlene, a deputy head in Qingdao, China said Mastermind members are supportive, wise and not afraid to kick your butt. Chris, a vice principal in Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada, courageous risk takers and learners are how I describe my Mastermind peers. And finally, melody, a principal in Kentucky said, Mastermind members are generous, driven, and never satisfied with the status quo. If that sounds like you or peers that you’d like to surround yourself with apply to the Mastermind today at better leaders, better schools.com forward slash Mastermind.

Daniel (02:47):

Right. Ruckus Maker. I’m here with somebody I admire so much. And in fact Fran McGreevy was my guest way back in episode 69, November 30th, 2016 and here we are again just picking his brain. He’s a wealth of wisdom and he has incredible stories. I just can’t wait to bring you this show. Fran has over 45 years of experience in education, he has served as a high school teacher and building administrator for 30 years. As a middle school principal for 13 years. He is currently president of Root Ed Leadership in learning. Fran, has led numerous staff development classes at the building district and college levels. He has received several awards and recognitions for his service as delineated in the attached curriculum vitae which all have in the show notes for you. He is passionate about the value of the person and how that plays out in organizations and schools. Fran, welcome back,

Fran (03:53):

Danny. Great to be with you. Thanks for having me on. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Daniel (03:57):

There was a time when you pulled back on control as a principal, and you literally told your staff I’m done checking on you. I’m done Fran, can you tell us what caused that shift?

Fran (04:09):

Well, what caused that shift? Well, first of all I’d seen some of the negative effects that control can have on people. , Being an educator. I felt that myself as a teacher, from administration above me and as an assistant principal and a principal, I had been a perpetrator controlling, certainly had used it at times, myself. I was doing a lot of reading and research and this one guy in DC for the University of Rochester, he talks about what the basic needs of every human being are. One of those basic needs is the need for autonomy, and need to make decisions that flow from who you are as a person. I also do some presenting on burnout and one of the biggest causes of burnout is control. You sort of steal the life out of people when you control that.

Fran (05:00):

And then they’re less genuine. They’re less authentic. Their less real. It comes out of a respect for people that they really have amazing stuff within them, teachers and administrators do. And often our own control tends to stifle that and take the heart out of them. I remember when I decided that I was no longer going to take attendance at faculty meetings. Now I had been an assistant principal in a big high school of 1400 kids. And the principal had me at the door checking in each person as they came in and I had a market down. They like snarled at me a little bit, like I’m trying to control them. So he has a principal of myself, I came to the conclusion that I’m not checking in and I’m not taking attendance anymore. At the next faculty meeting, I announced it.

Fran (05:46):

I said, listen, I’m going to do my investigation. I have a wonderful faculty meeting. There’s going to be fresh bread here. Every time you come, it’s exciting. We got refreshments and we got good stuff to deal with, but I’m done checking in and I hope you’ll be here. It’s going to be worthwhile. In doing that, I just felt in a new light among the staff. Like they were coming to the moon because they chose to be there and they look forward to being there. It was empowering for them and we, we had 99% attendance from there on, and it never became an issue. So I thought, well, if it works in that little area, I think it works in a lot of others. People are controlled to say, this is what you have to teach, when you’re going to teach it, how you’re going to teach it. All of that kind of control prevents their own goodness and vision and vitality they have within them. It prevents them from opening up and flowing when there is control. Control can have some negative effects. So that’s a little bit of my own history. And then of course I saw teachers taking a lot more risks, trying new things stepping out now they had freedom. I don’t know. It helps to bring out the very best in people.

Daniel (07:04):

Well, what I’m hearing that’s the difference between enrollment, right? That I choose to follow you. That I want to be a part of this and compliance that I have to be here because I’m afraid if I’m not that I’m going to lose my job or get a poor evaluation or whatever. And those perspectives in leadership well, it really, I would suggest that one is leadership. One is management, right? One, I’m forcing you to do it. And one I’m inviting you to do it. And what kind of culture, what kind of organization are you trying to create? So I want to go back to something you said, talk about the amazing stuff that people have in them. And so that was another question. You asked your faculty, what is stirring in you? So why was that question? What is stirring in you? Why was that important to ask and what did it lead to?

Fran (08:01):

Well, what is stirring in you? That question is grounded in a profound belief that people have amazing stuff in them. They really do. Often because of all the external noise and the control and all kinds of things going on in school, they never really had that opportunity to look within themselves to find out what. For me, I gave quite a bit of attention to helping them, to building them up and saying, you’ve got good stuff in there and guess what? We need it, but you’re going to need some courage. You’re going to need to be vulnerable to do it. It’s not easy to put yourself out there. It is not easy, but if the foundation of all connection and vitality and innovation and everything. That freedom and that step to be vulnerable. That idea that I reward you for raising your hand here and your answer was horrible.

Fran (08:56):

You were wrong, but you raised your hand and you put yourself out there. That was gold. That was gold. As I began to look at people a little bit more and value them, I could see man, look at that teacher, look at what she has. Look at the way she worked for those students in that culture that’s in that classroom. It is amazing. So you should market that. If there are after school classes in our district, we are in a gigantic district, you’ll have to apply and teach a class and culture in the classroom. Begin to call for them to recognize that and call it out. I’m not doing everything, they’re doing, I used to tell them, Hey, maybe when you teach class at eight, jump on top of, on top of the desk will you, like let it out.

Fran (09:52):

I mean, I give you permission, I’m calling out to you and then they’re going to give their students permission, call it out of them. And it gets a snowball effect. It begins to build a culture in a place and then school gets exciting. It’s a place you want to be. Oh my gosh, I could go on forever about that topic. But that recognition of what is within people. Thoreau says, most men live lives of quiet desperation and they go to the grave with their song still in them. Like they never, what was in there never came out like, Oh, that is just sad. Now that is sad. We do have a limited amount of time and when time passes the opportunities pass and there’s wild opportunity before us yet. But there are going to be times when it’s over and you have regret. Regret is tough to deal with, but we got time before us yet. So let’s move, let’s get it out.

Daniel (10:45):

Yeah. It makes me well back to the type of cultural organization you’re kind of wanting to create. Now that we’re talking about the finite amount of time we have in regret, the opposite side is all the opportunity you have right now. And what is most important to you? What is the ripple effect that you want to start right. By throwing that pebble into the water and seizing the opportunity and it comes to just what’s within your control. You could get so bogged down. So like all these things that are frustrating and the ills of the world and society, and just throw up your hands and say, I’ve had it right. Or you could say, that may be true, but right here, right now I have the opportunity to do something special and I’m going to give it my best.

Daniel (11:33):

I think that’s part of the message you put out there. That’s something that you inspire me all the time. I know the Ruckus Maker that’s listening to this podcast is getting fired up. You said school could be an exciting place. Right? We don’t hear that enough. There’s there’s too many educators that go to school and the soul has been sucked out of them. Right. But school can be an exciting place. So let’s change gears a little bit because it’s building on the topic of calling forth the greatness in others, but then you took it from just your local school to district-wide right. And you were inspiring and empowering educators across the district. Tell us that story.

Fran (12:20):

One thing that happened is my teachers. I remember the teachers. I’m trying to call forth the best in them and give them opportunity to have them take risks, which they, apart from me, many of them were doing anyways, of course. So they used to sort of challenge me to step out, come on, you want to do this or that. One example, one of them said, well, let’s make a video. We want to make a video of you and Pete, who was my assistant principal. Who’s now the principal, great guy. And I was a little nervous because I’m not like a thespian or very comfortable on the camera. They sorta pushed it a little bit and ended up making some videos and they went viral and they were on the local news stations and stuff and out on YouTube.

Fran (13:06):

And it was sort of pushing me a little bit. One of the thoughts I had is I wanted to provide some professional development in our district. I’m with my partner, Pete, I went to the assistant superintendent. They said, well, no principal has ever really done that. So we decided that we wanted to try to do it. We had to get all our goals and objectives together. And it’s an afterschool class that went from like four o’clock or six o’clock. So we got our goals and objectives together and we were ready to take that step and provide this professional development. We didn’t know if anyone could come, it was all voluntary. And just about a week before we had to hand everything in I was in the union and we had some difficulty. The district that I was very much in as a vice president of the union was very much involved and it was, it was difficult.

Fran (13:58):

It was on local news and everything else and I thought to myself, I can’t, I can’t put this stuff out there. It was just too much pressure, all this other stuff going on. We decided not to do it. So then my one son was a life coach. He goes, Hey Pa, how’s your professional development class going? I said, well, we decided not to do it. I explained why he goes, boy, did you get ripped off? What do you mean? I didn’t get ripped up. He goes, yes, you did. Here. You are ready to do something really good and worthwhile and something comes along and knocks you off. I went back to Pete and we talked about it and we gotta do this. We’ll do it in January for the second semester.

Fran (14:39):

And then we got it together and he couldn’t believe a week before another major trauma happened. And we were, Oh, we got to pull out again. And then we said, no, this time we’re not going to pull out. We are going to go for it. So we got the class together and we had 50 teachers come, which I think was the most that had ever come to a class that year or maybe ever. It really was well received. The following fall, we can do it twice. And we got up to over a hundred teachers coming for the two hour class. I began to get the idea that I would really like to be able to inspire educators, to be the very best they can do these professional development classes that I had and the value of people on burnout and all, all different topics.

Fran (15:25):

Pete and I started Root Education and applied in New York State, went through this long process of being CTLE approved. We got approved by New York state. So now any teachers can attend any conferences or know any professional development we provide and it counts as hours, so many hours a day with a certification. We started having some conferences outside of school and then I retired and Pete took over as principal and we’ve had several conferences that we’ve provided. I do a lot of training at other schools in the district or privately some in the district and around Western New York and actually over Rochester way. So I do a lot of professional development for faculty and for administrators. Things continue to grow when you start putting stuff out there and then it grows.

Fran (16:19):

Now I’ve sort of entered more into the coaching world where I can coach administrators, principals, and assistant principals. And so things are sort of growing and I’m learning. I feel like, Oh my gosh, I wish I knew everything I know now, way back when, but things are growing and I’m learning. I’m 67 years old and I figure I have so much yet to learn, but my best years are in front. So I’m looking forward to what’s going on next.

Daniel (16:53):

Looking forward to continuing that conversation, I want to hear some of those things that you wish you knew, but we’re gonna take just a moment here to pause and get a message in from our sponsor. And when we come back with Fran, we’re going to hear what are those things he wished he knew that he now knows.

Daniel (17:11):

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Fran (18:42):

Well, Oh my gosh. There’s so much, I’m thinking a little bit about listening right now about being a, really a better listener and not just hearing the words that come out of people’s mouth, but where their hearts are at the feeling that’s behind it. We have this little quote that my children, we pass around. It’s from this movie we saw years ago, but it’s basically how much you miss, how much you miss. And I see that in my life. That was true and usually what I missed was great opportunities and amazing stuff that was in people that maybe in my business or maybe because I was too self focused.

Fran (19:34):

I really didn’t see. I had one. Well, I’ll just tell one quick story. As an example of that, there was a teacher who was getting ready to retire and he was a good guy, sort of quiet,he had his struggles as a teacher and as part of retire and every year we had a big assembly and whoever was retiring, that teacher would get up and give a short little talk. And I thought, I don’t know if this teacher could do that. I’ve never seen him talk before a crowd. The teacher came and saw me and said, Fran, I’m retiring. I’ll be able to get up there and talk. And I said, well, yeah, sure. ? And I was a little nervous about it, ,I just didn’t know if he would garner the respect from the audience. All, all.

Fran (20:19):

I mean, there were all the students, 800 students and all the teachers and everybody’s pacting in for this big assembly. He got a few ideas together. He goes, I’m ready, I’m ready. I said, okay. He came in, it’s just a two minute talk and he got up to the microphone and a few chuckles when he got up here. But then he began to tell his story about how he came over here from another country and how he had learned the language. And there were no ESL classes at the time and how he fought in the war, joined the service to defend his country he loved and fought in the war. He just began to tell this story about how grateful he was for this amazing educational system he was able to be a part of as a student and then as a teacher.

Fran (21:00):

I began to find out he had done all these amazing things as an architect on the side. I never knew it. He had designed a layout for like, TJ Maxx, traveled to another state and worked for the state government checking on the structure of all their bridges. All this stuff came out and I have to tell you, there were a few tears. There were a few tears when he was giving us the talk and you could hear a pin drop. It was just such an amazing, amazing assembly. For the rest of the year, he just was walking on clouds. I Walked by his class, all the students up around his desk, asking him about stuff he did. It just began to rise up and I had known this teacher for several years and I was angry with myself.

Fran (21:52):

This teacher’s right down the hall and you never knew. That you miss that. You miss all that teacher had to give talented and gifted everything. And then I thought, gee, I wonder if I’m missing it in other people for whatever reason, business, bad attitudes and there could be a lot of them. But the human person is amazingly gifted amazingly and sometimes we have our preconceived notions of how that works and who has it, who doesn’t, but man, even a teacher who’s struggling. If you can listen to them and help them recognize, and you recognize what they have within them. What their students desperately need. We need what you got. The world needs what you got. So that was a big lesson I learned, there’s a lot more going on in people and in life then we realized, and so I think being a listener is just so, so important. So that was one big lesson.

Daniel (22:54):

Definitely. I’m going prod you on another cause I know some of your lessons, I’ve taken notes when you speak. I listen to one of those other ideas that I know you’re thinking about a lot too, is the idea of aha experiences. So can you tell us a little bit about that?

Fran (23:14):

Yeah. That fascinates me. It fascinates me in my life as a teacher and a student, which I’m sure you have Daniel and anyone, the educational system, every once in a while there’d be an aha experience. Like let’s say I have a class and the topic we are just hitting home on this topic. The kids are on the edge of their seat now and it’s just so rich and alive and you don’t want the time to end and the bell rings, we got to go. Right. And so How does that happen? I mean, a lot of times things are boring, empty, and not a lot going on, but every once in a while, if you’re struck by something and it just like seems your heart wells up within you and often that I’m grabbing a pen or a pencil and writing down what’s going on.

Fran (24:06):

So I want to understand what can we do to promote those or help those kinds of aha experiences, Eureka moments where we have come to happen? Like what are the conditions under which they happen? So I’ve read a little bit of the research on it and I really I’m just beginning to understand it. But there’s one research that says the aha experience is when time seems to slow way down. And then the time in front of you becomes very slow. And then that piece of time expands, it expands. And it’s like, if you’re present before you, and then you become much more present in the circle. I said before, how much I miss? Right. Maybe I wasn’t present, but people aren’t always very present . What do I mean? But in this kind of situation, they really are.

Fran (25:02):

So what are the conditions under which that, how do we do that? I think that one thing is who’s ever speaking or presenting needs to have some sort of aha about what it is. They have some understanding of how profound or how important, or how fast and needing this word or topic or whatever it is if they’re presenting. So they need to have, and I think you can help people in those kinds of situations, like you first kind of believed that what you’re talking about is so profoundly important. Like one thing I’ll often do is I say, Hey, what we’re going to have a little bit of time to be together and I need all of you here. So if you could put your phone away, maybe turn it off. You’ve got some important calls. Okay.

Fran (25:55):

I understand. But put your phone away. Let’s take a few deep breaths and let’s open our hearts. My answer to what’s going on because I want to tell you, it is only important. Ideas are life changing. Thoughts can be life changing and the change usually is from the inside the outside. You don’t change people from the outside. It is from the inside. So trying to set an atmosphere, a culture for that to occur, I think is important. You’ve gotta be a little bit bold and you have to really believe what you’re talking about. Those are a few of my thoughts on the aha experience. They say that time is a crazy thing. The aha experience of course affects how you proceed because usually time passes and we can’t see to hang on to it, but in the midst of the aha time slows way down and you feel like I could just be here in this small. People might think I’m off in the clouds when I’m talking about this, but having the kind of realizations is important. I mean the meaning of wonder that there is in people and in life is just, it is justice to be aware of what happened to them.

Daniel (27:17):

Those are the right questions to ask. And I think the Ruckus Maker that listens to this show. That’s the type of stuff that they’re interested in, what we do here apart isn’t necessarily about the, the systems. And although I care about productivity, I’ll talk about that too. But it’s these, these bigger, deeper questions that really inspire the Ruckus Maker, listening couldn’t see you, but you really came alive telling that story, too. What is it in everybody that makes them come alive during those moments and let’s do more of that within our schools. So Fran, you’ve been on the show before,episode 69. So people can go back way back years ago to hear how you build your dream school. And I do highly encourage folks to follow up with you to go to the website. It’ll be in the show notes,Root Leadership and Learning. Check out Fran to connect with him. Ubut I want to close out this episode a bit differently. I want to close just with a story. I’ve heard the dad’s story at this point, three, four times. I just love hearing it and this is gonna really be a gift for the Ruckus Maker listening. So I want to end with that. Can you tell your dad’s story?

Fran (28:44):

Very quickly. My dad was a great dad. I love him. I miss him now that he’s left this world, but he had a pretty rough life when he was four years old. His dad died when he was nine years old or 10 maybe his mom died and him and most of his brothers and sisters went off to an orphanage where he was there till he was 13 left the orphanage. He was 13- 14 live with his sister who was 16-17. He quit high school. He was a little bit of a fighter and drinker and that from an old Irish Catholic neighborhood. To move along quickly here. He joined the service during WWII and he was stationed in North Africa where he was an airplane mechanic and he went to a USO dance and they pulled his name out of a big barrel.

Fran (29:30):

And he won a free trip home for Christmas. And he was excited to go home for Christmas. So he’s at the little airport and the officer said, listen to the you’re a special case. So we’re going to have to fit you on when there’s row. Okay. So he’s, he’s waiting all day. There’s no room on planes. You’ve got a little bit of a temper scampered around and finally they get a plane in which was an 18 passenger plane. He told me that he had a magnesium engine, lightweight metal. He told me about that. He got on the plane, the plane started up and the officer superior came out of the planes. You got to get off a plane. I got another officer to get on the more important, but he has to get off a plane. He’s upset.

Fran (30:09):

Anyways, the plane went down the runway and then exploded. And everyone was killed. So that profoundly effect, like you thought, my God, I’m alive.maybe there’s a reason I’m alive. What am I gonna do with my life? He came back after the war. He went back to high school. I don’t know. He was 20 some years old, sat in classes with the high school kids, finished high school, met my mom, got married, went to college, graduated college with four kids, and did really well for himself. He got a pretty high level job with General Motors and really had a great life, really great life. He was filled with enthusiasm for life and he deeply affected me all my, all of his nine, eight children. He died in 1992. So last summer or two summers ago, we had a big party for my mom. So my mom’s still alive with her 95th birthday. We have her sit in at the old homestead and the front porch and 29 of her great grandchildren crowded all around. We got the cameras out while taking pictures of the camp and I’m standing there with three of my brothers. And so my one brother says hey Fran, what if Dad had been on the plan? What if he hadn’t gotten off?

Fran (31:36):

And I have a little aha experience right there with my brother. Like none of those 29, great grandchildren would be there. Oh, he wouldn’t, we wouldn’t be here either. ? And then we thought of the effect that my dad’s life had from being an orphan, wild hellion as a teenager to be going on to college, which then wasn’t always that common and all the effect he had on all of us and the success of my brothers and sisters so much, we attributed to him and it made us think, well, what about all of us. We are here and most people have had near death experiences. They don’t even know about it, but they have life. And so what are you going to do with you? And what would this world be like if you weren’t, but you are in it.

Fran (32:32):

So let’s get after it let’s make the most of the time we have. So that was very inspiring for me. The time does pass. I really do appreciate life. You appreciate it, it’s a gift and the state will be gone and you’ll never be able to get it back. So if you got stuff in your heart that stern, make sure you go after it. No, you’re meant to make a difference in this world. Lot of people who want to meet you and what you need, what you have make the most of your life, I guess. Huh.

Daniel (33:10):

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

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