Manuel Colon is the Chief Academic Officer in the Anaheim Union HIgh School District.  He has been instrumental in the implementation of the Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP), which has been highlighted as a model in California. In addition, his work with building partnerships has created one of the most comprehensive promise initiatives in the state.  Moreover, Mr. Colon has presented at local, state, and national conferences.  He received his bachelor’s degree from U.C.Santa Cruz in Language and Culture, a master’s degree in Education from Stanford University, and a master’s degree Administration from UCLA.

Daniel (00:04): Your words matter a lot. As a leader, I learned to be much more patient before speaking and choose my words carefully because words matter a lot. You can tear down in a second with just a few words. The trust you built over years with an individual. Think about your position as an educator and leader reflect back on your experience in school. What were some of the nicest things an adult ever said about you? What were some of the worst things they said? Now flip it. What was the best thing you ever said about a student or staff member? What was the worst thing you said about a student or staff member? Words matter a lot. We'll start there with my guest today, Manuel Colon and a terrible message he received from his high school counselor. Hey, it's Daniel. And welcome to the better leaders, better schools, podcast, 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. All students have an opportunity to succeed with organized binder who equips educators with a resource to provide stable and consistent learning. Whether that's in a distance hybrid or traditional educational setting, learn Better leaders, better schools is brought to you by teachers using Teach Fx to increase student engagement online and in the classroom during an ongoing pandemic.

Sponsor (01:39): Hi, we're the third grade team from general Stanford elementary. And we're here to tell you about our experience with teach FX. It has been a really eyeopening experience for us this year. We know that students who are highly engaged in the classroom achieve a higher level of success. So we use teacher effects to help us monitor and collect data. Teach Fx has really helped us reach our professional goals to pinpoint students that maybe aren't used to talking as much as well as seeing our balance of wait time group talk time, student talk time, and then teacher talk time across the grade level and kind of discuss with each other, what's working in your classroom versus what might be working in mine. To learn more about using Teach FX, to support your teachers with feedback during COVID visit That's

Daniel (02:17): Well, hello, Ruckus Makers today, I'm joined by Manuel Colon, the chief academic officer for the Anaheim Union High School District. In his 28 years in education he has held many positions, including junior and high school principal, as well as assistant superintendent. He has degrees from UC Santa Cruz, Stanford University, and UCLA. He has received multiple awards and presented at many state and national conferences. Welcome. Well, thank you. Appreciate it. I want to start with something your counselor said. If I remember correctly, when I was taking notes on your story, I think you said you were one of six kids from your high school that enrolled and was able to go to a four year college, but the counselor actually discouraged you to go, right. He said that you weren't prepared. That you'd fail. Can you just elaborate on that story? That's where I want to start.

Manuel (03:30): Yeah, absolutely. I'm just going back to high school. I grew up in Southern California and just like anybody else back in the early to mid eighties, it was challenging, I think for all of us, but for some of us. I didn't know any better, but at the high school where I was at we had very few AP classes, very few honor classes. When I got to the senior year and applied to go to a four year college, I got accepted to UC Santa Cruz. Upon getting accepted, got a call slip to come up to see the counselor. When I got to see him, he was very encouraging, very supportive. But the reason why he called me in was to encourage me to enroll at the local community college.

Manuel (04:26): I was takin back but, in his mind, he felt that that that's where the next step should be that I wasn't prepared to go to a four year college and he was trying to help me be successful. For him, that should be my next step and I should really reconsider going to a four year college. Later on, I found out that only six of our students from the high school had gotten accepted to a four year college out of the entire graduating class. Fortunately for me, I had supportive parents. I had a supportive brother who had already gone to a four year college and I went on, took a chance and went to UC Santa Cruz.

Daniel (05:11): Yeah. I appreciate you talking about the support you had. I can only think, what about that kid? Who'd be the first generation college student and the counselor says, you're not going to make it and they don't have the support system at home. They close doors without even giving themselves an option. I know you said you were taking back, but can you tell us anything else, like what you might've been feeling in that moment or hearing that only six of your peers were also enrolling in four year colleges? How do you process that as a youngster?

Manuel (05:47): No, I think you, you get angry. I think more than anything you get angry because you're wondering what it is that they're trying to tell you. It's taken me a while to really understand the impact that those comments had on me personally and professionally. I think I did get angry because I felt that they had low expectations for me. They had low expectations for me. They had low expectations for my fellow classmates. And to me that was a huge problem. They had my future in their hands and I was scared. I was afraid to go on to a four year college. I was afraid to fail and he really fed into that fear of Hey, maybe I should reconsider this.

Manuel (06:36): Maybe I should take my time and go to community college. Knowing what I know now, I know that if I had gone to a community college, I don't know if I would have transferred with such low numbers of kids transferring from a community college to four year college. I'm sure I could have found other things to get involved with, work for example. I was one of seven kids and my mom didn't work. My dad was the only person who worked in our family. Being one of the oldest or eldest of the seven kids, I did have pressure to work. It could have been that I could have just started to work and help help the family. That simple question about me reconsidering going to a four year college could have changed the trajectory of my life.

Daniel (07:25): How does that impact and inform your work?

Manuel (07:29): I think that's why I'm doing what I'm doing. I've always wanted to be a teacher. I've always wanted to be in education. I believe that we do have a huge responsibility. And going through school and going through, um, getting my credential, it was super important for me to be well prepared so that when I had these opportunities to not only inspire kids, but to make and help them really be self advocates for themselves, for me, that decision changed what I do now. I know how important it is to provide the right training for our staff to make sure that those decisions are made to understand where our kids are coming from. So our staff can better assist them, better prepare. So for me, it has changed everything that I do every single day of my career, going through as a teacher, going through as a principal.

Manuel (08:32): And now as an assistant superintendent we do have a lot of power, especially because in education, you have the future at your hands. So everything you do, everything you say matters everything. I think about myself in that moment, uh, in that counselor's classroom, I mean that counselor's office listening to them, talk about how I wasn't prepared and how I felt crushed and defeated. I want to make sure that we change that mindset of those of us that are in education and we ensure that what we are saying and what we are doing is in the best interest of our kids always,

Daniel (09:17): We all come to work with baggage. We have biases that we might not be aware of. They're not uncovered yet. Who knows, this counselor was doing that intentionally or not. I mean, it's still is going to cause harm. I'm curious, you've had a wonderful career, been in the classroom, thrived there, led local schools and now leading from the district level. Is there a moment or two that you can think of that would be helpful for the Ruckus Maker listening, where you had a challenge, a peer or a staff member and potentially what came out of their mouth and how they talked about kids because of this same type of challenge and issue?

Manuel (10:02): Yeah, it's unfortunate because I think it happens quite a bit. It happens every day. In my 20 plus years in education I hear colleagues, I hear teachers, I hear counselors, continue to say the same things and again, these are biases that people have. Like you said, many times people have the best intentions in the kid, the best intentions and what they're saying and how they want to support, but they don't understand that what they say does matter. The question I always say, would you say that to your own child, would you say that to your nieces and nephews, but I think going back to your question throughout my career, I feel that I have been challenged constantly because of who I am as a Latino, who is an immigrant, whose first language isn't English and all of those things and all of those experiences, which I'm very proud of because they make me who I am, also has caused me to be challenged, constantly to be questioned.

Manuel (11:12): I see it much more often than I think most people would expect to. I remember being a teacher and at a very affluent school and constantly being the only Latino teacher, constantly being challenged. For me, it was important to be there. It was important for kids who normally do not see Latino teachers in their history. They see that Latino are usually people who are mowing their lawn or cleaning their house. So to see a Latino teacher, who's educating them and the parents to see that was extremely important for me and for them. And I feel that I contributed to their understanding of life in general, so that I think that's one of the biggest things. The other thing in terms of just going through and the decisions that we're having to make both as a principal and as a superintendent, you have to keep equity at the forefront of those decisions.

Manuel (12:17): You have to keep those most disenfranchised kids at the forefront, because many times they don't have a voice many times they're the ones that are forgotten. You have to constantly be thinking about who are we missing, who is not being successful and so those are the things that I think about every day. I would hope that many of you think about that as well, the only way we're going to change and improve and all be successful is if we have that at the forefront of all of our decisions,

Daniel (12:51): I love that idea because you have to keep it in everybody's per view . Right? So they don't miss the target. It's really easy to relax into things that are very comfortable and usually when we're talking about reaching students that are underserved or not experiencing the success that many students are experiencing in a school that requires a shift and a change from faculty members. That could require a hard work, too. Sometimes it's just a shift in expectations and thinking in their approach, but that's my way of saying you have to keep it in front of them. So besides asking, who are we missing, who's not being successful right now. Is there a posture, an approach, a framework, or anything that's worked for you in the past to help keep people focused on that equity piece?

Manuel (13:46): One of the things that I always use it because it is a challenge. And I think, going to my principalships, that's been a big task that I've taken on is how do I shift the culture of the campus because it has been a struggle. You go onto a campus that's adult focus and it's about their feeling. It's about how they want things done and the students sometimes come second. How do you change the culture from there? In their mind, they're helping the kids. But what you see is that they help the kids that are being successful, or they help the kids that are very similar to them in terms of demographic or socioeconomic, because that's who they connect with. How do you shift that culture? How do you help people look themselves in the mirror to say, what, I really have to stop and think about if what I'm doing is hurting or helping the kids.

Manuel (14:42): And so one of the things that I've always done at all the schools that I've been at, and especially the ones that I've been a principal at is using student voice. Every teacher wants to do the right thing. Every teacher wants to help kids. They wouldn't be in education if they didn't feel that way. Even the teachers that have had 30 years in the classroom and kind of have disengaged, you talked to them and they all want to help kids. When they hear the voice of the kids, they hear their struggle, they hear what they're going through on a day to day basis, it hits them they react. You cannot deny a kid, a student who is struggling, who doesn't connect or struggling just for the basic needs that he has, or she has.

Manuel (15:37): It's how do I utilize the voice of the student to change that mindset? I will say that I can put everything in front of of a staff. I can put data, I can put stories, I can bring in the most current research on just about any topic and they listen and they read, and they create questions that they process and they can discuss, but when they hear the voice of the child talk about their experience and how they feel changes their mindset completely, softens them up. So then we can have real conversations and really it's just factual. You can't deny how a child is feeling. And so through that voice, that person then understands. Through that voice, that person feels compassion. And once you get them to shift, then you can have a meaningful conversation about what does this mean? What does this mean for us in education? What does this mean for our school? And how can we ensure that that child that's suffering is helped? That voice of the child has really made a huge difference above and beyond anything else that I can put in front of us.

Daniel (16:51): Yeah. There's student voice reminders, so helpful. Like you said, it softens the staff, it connects with their heart, right. I think it increases their compassion and empathy, and then they're more willing to change. That's a really valuable piece that you shared there. Thank you, Manuel, I'm enjoying our conversation, but we're gonna pause here just for a moment for a message from our sponsors. And when we get back, I love to ask you about how you learned to trust yourself and your experiences.

Sponsor (17:22): Today's show is brought to you by organized binder, organized binder, develops the skills and habits. All students need for success. During these uncertain times of distance learning and hybrid education settings, organized binder, equips educators with a resource to provide stable and consistent learning routines so that all students have an opportunity to succeed. Whether at home or in the classroom, learn,

Sponsor (17:50): Better leaders, better schools is brought to you by teachers using teach FX to increase student engagement online and in the classroom during an ongoing pandemic.

Sponsor (18:01): Hi, we're the third grade team from general Stanford elementary. We're going to tell you about our experience with Teach Fx. It has been a really eyeopening experience for us this year. We know that students who are highly engaged in the classroom achieve a higher level of success. So we use Teach FX to help us monitor and collect data. Teach fx has really helped us reach our professional goals to pinpoint students that maybe aren't used to talking as much as well as seeing our balance of wait time group, talk time, student, talk time, and then teacher talk time across the grade level and kind of discuss with each other, what's working in your classroom versus what might be working in mine.

Daniel (18:39): To learn more about using Teach Fx to support your teachers with feedback during COVID visit That's Alright, and we're back with Manuel Colon, the chief academic officer for the Anaheim Union High School District. Something you told me is that you had to learn to trust yourself in your experiences and your ability. Tell me more about that, because I think the Ruckus Maker listening, maybe their a confident leader and I hope they are, but we all have that imposter syndrome, right. That says maybe we're not good enough or whatever. I think this, this will help. What do you have for us?

Manuel (19:34): Yeah, absolutely. Going back to the story of my high school and my counselor I shared with you guys that I always wanted to be a teacher. The reason why I was wanting to be a teacher was because I didn't have a good experience growing up in school, but I've always wanted to be a teacher. Since since day one, I played the role of a teacher going into college. I said, I want to be a teacher, but really it's it's because of those experiences, those negative experiences that I really wanted to go into education. I wanted to change that mindset. I wanted to make education work for all and be effective. And so I'm going into education. I felt that in order to do that, I had to have the best education possible. I had to have the best preparation. I had to have the best experiences to be able to confidently go into a classroom and be effective. For me, it has been that feeling or that mindset in terms of trusting myself that I was ready and that I was prepared to be who I needed to be, to be successful.

Manuel (20:35): I always have questioned myself, thats just natural human nature. But I think that being ready and having those experiences mattered for me to feel confident in every position that I had, because I knew that I was walking in I was going to be challenged. I had to be ready to be challenged and to not feel inferior and to not feel like I couldn't or shouldn't, or was not in the right place. Every experience was important and reeducation, every degree, every position that I had was really about being who I am and being confident in who I am because, like I said, from the beginning, I was the first Latino teacher in a very affluent area, I was the first Latino principal at the junior high, I was at first Latino principal at the high school, I was principalship and then on and on. Knowing that that's a huge undertaking was super important for me in terms of knowing that I was ready and trusting myself in every decision I made, trusting my experience, trusting my education. I feel like that has gotten me to where I'm at today, because I have to do that. I have to trust myself for the benefit of the kids that we serve.

Daniel (22:08): You've helped a lot of other people to level up, so to speak. That's what I call it when you develop. You're the principal of the largest middle school in orange County, and experienced some great success there. You were wonderful at building the capacity of your staff. So tell us how you did that.

Manuel (22:28): Again, going back to my experience. I don't, I feel like, like what I have learned has gotten me to those successes. I don't think I went in saying I want to be successful. I think when I went into the junior high, which at the time was the largest junior high in orange County, over 2300 kids, I had no idea what I was doing, but going in and knowing that I took a school that was probably the lowest performing school in the County, and one of the lowest performing schools in the state to really transform it and change it. It wasn't about me thinking that I was going to do that. It was about me changing and shifting the culture of the campus. It's about me shifting and changing the culture of the staff. And I think that it was relationships that I built.

Manuel (23:16): It was trust that I built, it was challenges, that I took on and you have to be courageous in these kinds of situations, but it was about the shifting of the culture of the campus that made the difference. Everything came back, came again, fell into place. Once you shift the culture of the campus, everything starts to fall into place. Achievement falls into place, discipline falls into place. All of these other pieces fall into place. You build a really strong system of shared systemness with your staff. You help them and you build them up in terms of their shared leadership and you trust them. And you trust that their decision making all of these pieces really help to again, build leadership. Many of them are now assistant principals and principals that I worked with as a teacher and then in the now and through administration. The same thing when I got to the high school, the high school, it's amazing that when I walked in, this was a staff that was very frustrated. They had had a principal that that was not effective and so they were struggling as a staff. They were struggling as a school. When I came to the high school they were ready for leadership.

Manuel (24:36): They were ready for somebody that can bring them together. So it was much easier for me to do it at the high school. The junior high was much tougher because it was a whole different culture. At the high school, what we did, now was there was a lot of amazing teachers that just nobody ever gave them a chance. Nobody ever tapped them on the shoulder and said, what you are doing and what you are able to do is amazing. We want you to do more of that. So when you bring that confidence to them and you give them leadership roles, all of a sudden, it just changes their perspective. They believe they believe in themselves. They believe in the kids, and it really does transform the school. We went from being a school that was struggling just in terms of the identity to a school that was nationally recognized as a P 21 exemplary school. And it was the same staff. It was the same money. We didn't get additional money to do it. We didn't get, I wasn't able to get rid of all the bad teachers and bring in new good teachers.

Manuel (25:37): It was the same staff, the same staff that was struggling before is the same staff that outperformed with the right supports and the right system. I think it's just trusting people and trusting that they, and finding the spark in them, finding the value in each of them. It doesn't matter whether they're a superstar. It doesn't matter if they're just getting by, they all want to be successful. When they all want to be success successful, you tap into that success and that success grows more success. Now being at the district level it's the same concept with working with our principals. I want them to be successful. I trust them and they are being success for, and they feel confident. They feel that they have our support and we're learning together. It's not about me telling them what to do. It's about us working together to find out and figure out what's in the best interest of our district.

Daniel (26:39): I love that you transformed a school with the same people and without any extra money. That's the first thing. Give me more money. Give me more time. Give me better staff. What if you decided to see your staff has the right staff, right. It was your job as the leader to acknowledge the gifts that they had to identify them to say, Manuel, I see what you're doing, do more of that. We need you here. If you took that approach as a leader, which you did, the success follows. That was beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing it. Before we get to the two questions, I love to ask all my guests. I just want to be able to explore with you real quick, what your experience with Teach FX has been like.

Manuel (27:24): That's great. Well, Teach Fx for those of you that might know is a tool, a learning tool that helps teachers reflect on their learning. It truly is a gift, as administrators, we go into the classroom and we do observations and we do evaluations, but that doesn't happen very often. Anybody will tell you that in our roles, whether it be as a principal or whether it be a district HR or education, the most important role that we have, one is to hire the right people, but two is to grow people's capacity. We go into the classroom, do observation in a way to grow people's abilities and capacity. As a teacher, giving them the feedback, they need to get better, but it happens way too infrequent.

Manuel (28:20): We only go in there maybe every other year. In some cases, every five years to do those types of conversations, what Teach FX does is it does this every single day, a teacher can be teaching their class and teach Fx. What they do is it records the instruction. The teacher's voice is recorded. The student's voices are recorded. And then it transcribes that that recording that class period. So a teacher can prepare the lesson, can think about what they want to accomplish in their outcomes, through the lesson. They're engaging, they're talking, they're developing and implementing their lesson at the end of the lesson, they go back and they review that lesson to see if they accomplished what they wanted to accomplish in that transcription they're able to see data. I asked the question that engaged the students in the right way.

Manuel (29:11): For them, it's that gift of self reflection and analysis that then tomorrow I can go back and make those shifts, how Teach FX has transformed. Our teacher is in regards to our English learners and students with disability. The teachers can say one of our biggest initiatives is to get students to speak more. How do we ensure that students speak more often, especially our English learners to build their language capacity and language acquisition. This has allowed the teachers to figure out, well, how much student talk is there? Is it all teacher talk or is it all student? It is a balance between teacher talk and student talk and for the most part, it's teacher talk. It was important that students spoke more than 30% of the class period, but we had no way of measuring that.

Manuel (29:57): So Teacher FX allowed us to measure that measure that we, that students had at minimum 30% speaking time in the class. And so what the teachers did is they started to analyze what types of questions they were asking. Were they a level, one question level, two level three, did it engage the students in a way that was very natural and organic? And so teachers then begin to adjust their instruction to ensure that they're, that they're asking the right questions, that they're engaging the right students, that they are, um, developing the processes. They need to have an effective lesson. Teach Fx has been a tool of learning of instructional practices for our teachers. So it, it, it has been transformative in terms of how we've utilized that tool. How much of the class period is spent inviting students to the dialogue so that they're doing the thinking, not, not the teacher.

Daniel (30:42): So awesome, Manuel. Well, if you could put a message on all school marquees across the globe for just today, what would be on the marquee?

Manuel (30:59): I've been thinking about it because it's to have that opportunity would be amazing. And to see this message all over the world, how would I feel reading that and seeing that? So the message I would put is love what you learn, live, what you love, love, what you learn, live, what you love.

Daniel (31:23): You're building a school from the ground up. You're not limited by any resources. Your only limitation is your imagination. How would you build your dream school and what would be your top three priorities?

Manuel (31:35): The first thing is hire the right people. I know that I mentioned transforming the people you already have, but if I'm getting to pick and build the school from the ground up, I would make sure that the hiring process was effective to hire the people, the right people. The power of three priorities. I think the first one would be to ensure that the curriculum that we are implementing is innovative, engaging and relevant for our students. Education is going to look differently past COVID-19 and it's a whole new world. How do you take advantage of that opportunity and broaden how we instruct and how we learn? Develop that type of curriculum. I think the second thing for me is how do you create an environment that is inclusive, that builds on the strengths of the people that is compassionate. , that environment is huge, not only for our students, but for our staff. You want to be a place and have a place where everybody wants to be there, where the teachers to be there, whether it's students want to be there with the families, want to be there. So how do you create that environment and ensure that it's inclusive and it's building on the strengths, not only of the students, but of the community and is compassionate. The third thing is, is really how do you build community around your school, build community in terms of bringing in those business partners who are essential to your success, and that it's a two way street, , they're essential to you and you're building their future workforce. So how do you ensure that they are part of building their future workforce higher education?

Manuel (33:17): How do you bring in higher education in terms of building that future, that pathway for students, and also how do you bring in those agencies and local nonprofits that can be utilized as resources? Money is always going to be up and down and we're always going to struggle in schools financially, but how do you realize you utilize resources that are, that are at your hands at your fingertips, that that don't require money, but there are other kinds of resources you can definitely bring in to support your school. Those are the three things that I would do.

Daniel (33:59): Manuel, thank you so much for being a part of the better leaders, better schools, podcast of all the things we talked about today, what's the one thing you want a Ruckus Maker to remember

Manuel (34:10): Be yourself and be competitive with what you do

Daniel (34:17): Thank you for listening to the better leaders, better schools, podcasts for Ruckus Maker. If you have a question or would like to connect my email, or hit me up on Twitter @alienearbud. If the better leaders better schools, podcast is helping you grow as a school leader, then please help us serve more Ruckus Makers like you. You can subscribe, leave an honest rating and review or share on social media with your biggest takeaway from the episode, extra credit for tagging me on Twitter at alien earbud and using the hashtag #BLBS level up your leadership at better leaders, better and talk to you next time until then

Speaker 4 (35:01): Class dismissed.

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Mr. Colon has been in education twenty-eight years as a teacher, program specialist, assistant principal, junior high school principal, high school principal and Assistant Superintendent. Mr. colon has received multiple individual awards including the Apple of Gold Award in Excellence in Teaching from the HIspanic Education Endowment Fund, California State Administrator of the Year for Valuing Diversity from the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA), Campbell UHSC Teacher of the Year, and the LaBoskey Award in Teacher Education from Stanford University. Mr. Colon has also published the following:L Nichols, Patricia. C and Colon, Manuel 2000. “Spanish literacy and the academic success of Latino high school students: Code Switching as a classroom resource. “ Foreign Language Annals 33: 498-511.  Garcia, Eugene and Colon, Manuel.  1995. Interactive journals in bilingual classrooms: An analysis of language transition. Discourse Process 19, 39-56.  Poem published in teaching tools video for Spanish textbook. !Dime! Pasaporte al mundo 21. D.C. Health, 1994.  Finally, Mr Colon has been married for twenty-six years and has a son and a daughter.

Manuel Colon: Crushing low expectations and Helping others do the same

Show Highlights

  • Change the mindset of those in education to ensure what we say is in the best interest of children
  • A simple question has the ability to change the trajectory of lives 
  • You fail the future with bias behavior that corrupts your best intentions  
  • Keep equity at the forefront of all decision
  • How to successfully build the capacity of your staff without a budget
  • Manuel shares how Teach Fx has been a transformative tool of learning for his teachers 

“Shift the culture of the campus, everything starts to fall into place. Achievement falls into place, discipline falls into place. All of these other pieces fall into place. You build a really strong system of shared systemness with your staff.”

Manuel Colon



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