Rex Miller is a futurist by training. He began his career as a project manager in the architecture and construction department for Southwestern Bell now AT&T, in 1978. He has spent decades helping organizations leverage their environments as a catalyst to healthy cultures and clear missions.
Rex turns hopelessly stuck situations into transformation and growth.He is among a rare group of proven practitioners that also have a deep academic foundation. He is an award winning author and trained in Improv Comedy and uses these techniques to enhance workshop experiences.
This breadth of experience is why leaders chose Rex to move the needle.
Daniel: Early 2020 you had the rug pulled from under your feet in an instant. We had to reinvent schools and we launched them in a remote setting like that. The emotions you felt at that time, they were rough. They were tough. We're still dealing with the impact of what we experienced, but I want to encourage you. There's always hope. There's an opportunity embedded within every challenge. Top performers know this and are able to get their mindset there. Instead of being stuck in the stages of grief. My guest today, Rex Miller experienced a different moment when the.com bubble burst, when that happened, he had an executive level position that afforded racks and his family a very comfortable life, which dissolved in an instant. He was faced with a choice, give up or reinvent himself. And that's where we start today's conversation. One more note, Rex Miller's work is new to me, and this show is so much more about grit and resilience. He's a futurist in terms of his thinking. He's a great leader. Uh, I read both his books. They're awesome. They're linked up in the show notes and this is somebody I'm really excited to be bringing to you today. 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. And we'll be back right after these messages from our show's sponsors.
Daniel: 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. This 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. School leaders know that productive student talk drives student learning, but the average teacher talks 75% of class time! TeachFX is changing that with a "Fitbit for teachers" that automatically measures student engagement and gives teachers feedback about what they could do differently. Get a special 20% discount for your school or district by visiting teachfx.com/blbs.
Daniel: Isolation is the number one enemy of excellence in isolation is also a choice. There's a better way. In fact, here's what Michelle, a school leader in Maryland has to say about the mastermind. The best part of the mastermind is a supportive community. School leadership can be isolating, but knowing I have a team of other school leaders with whom to share ideas, struggles and wins gives me the courage and resolve to do what's best for my school community. Get connected and level up your leadership by applying to the Mastermind today at better leaders, better schools.com/mastermind. Today I'm joined by Rex Miller, a futurist by training. He began his career as a project manager in the architecture and construction department of Southwestern Bell. Now AT&T in 1978, he spent decades helping organizations leverage their environments as a catalyst to healthy cultures in clear missions. Rex, welcome to the show.
Rex: Daniel. It's great to be together, virtually as most of our conversations are these days.
Daniel: Absolutely. Well, this is a pleasure for sure to have you on the show. Your work is quite inspiring and I'm looking forward to amplifying your message through the podcast. I want to bring you back to the.com crash when you had to reinvent yourself. I want to start there because reinvention's an interesting topic, especially given how 2020 has started.
Rex: Well. So just some context, I've stayed in the architecture, engineering construction industry throughout my career. And as you said, I'm trained as a futurist. So I've been able to apply that primarily focusing on how do we help people become engaged, do their best work, come home happier and healthier. And there's an education component to that as well. In 2000, I was a newly minted vice president for an office furniture distributor in Dallas, Texas. I had moved my family from Virginia to Dallas, in November of 2000, we got hit with the very first signs that things weren't going to go so well, our largest client wanted to cancel the largest order we had ever received. And fortunately, I thought we can't do that. It's already shipping. So I thought we had dodged a bullet, but then in the next three months we lost 70% of our revenue and our account base.
Rex: So now I walk into the office one day, my email is not working. I'm wondering, "Oh, there must be some technical glitches." I go to the technical guy, he says, talk to the owner. I talked to the owner and he rips up my 10 year contract in front of me and said, we don't need a VP of sales. We need sales. So I had two choices, either walk out at that moment or to go back into sales and my income at the time was very comfortable. I had just moved to a nice home in a kind of what you'd call a mid level executive area with a good school district, just settle my family and now all of that's gone and I am converted to what's called a draw against commission. In other words, they were going to front me a little bit of money.
Rex: I go from a nice six figure income to a 30,000 draw, which is basically zero draw full commission. I have to figure out how to do this all over again. I had the opportunity to not only write a book during that time, I was traveling to Washington DC so part of what got me through it was a consulting gig in DC that the company let me continue because that's where I had come from. On the plane to and from, I wrote a book over a two year period of time, it was a book on leadership, a book using my future's training to look at why the transition between boomer leaders and gen X leaders and where that friction was, and it was novel and new and that came out in about 2002. I've got a little bit of a parallel track of writing and speaking a little bit of consulting, but then trying to rebuild my whole career in sales again, after not having been in sales for 20 years. So that was the 2000 hit that one really brought me to my knees that almost put us under, we were close to bankruptcy several times, but, my mom gave us grit. And that grit, my wife calls it a pit bull trait that I tend to have. Sometimes good. Sometimes bad got us through.
Daniel: Yeah. I want to talk about the pit bull trait a little bit. The leaders, the Ruckus Makers listening, they might not have had that contract ripped up in front of them and put on that path that you were, but the rug has definitely been pulled from underneath their feet and they might be feeling some of the same feelings that you had. So can you talk to us maybe a little bit about mom or the grit or that Pitbull that's inside you? I think you have a gift to offer the Ruckus Maker listening in terms of just how to get through challenging times.
Rex: Having been an athlete, having gone through challenging times, those things all help, but probably there's two things that really help. One is the philosophy that whatever is happening. I'm going to come out better at the other end. I may not look the same. I may have lost some things through the process, but my mom always had us focus on how are we getting better through this. Those challenges just prepare us. The second area is I'm never alone. I've got a network of close relationships that I've had for years. Some call it Mastermind networks. When I went through the first phase of this. So this wasn't my first rodeo at seeing us go through a depression in the mid eighties in Texas, we went through the same thing and I created a network of people that joined together that had a common purpose to all get through this together.
Rex: There was a banker, a contractor architect, foreign specialists, telecom. We just decided that we were going to be committed to each other. We were going to share all of our sales information, our prospects, and leads, and then help leverage each other that not only got me through it, but I thrive through that took that same model to other companies through the recession in Houston, through the recession in Washington, DC. But it created this network of relationships that also became the foundation of the research in my books. I simply turn to working together and doing more together as the kind of the go to strategy. It's very much a barn raising strategy. If you look in the United States at some of the religious traditions, like the Amish, when they want to raise a barn, they bring everybody together and you build much more quickly. So that's been my go to strategy. It's my strategy. Now in going to those close networks, whether it's a book on writing, getting through this pandemic reinvention period, I was just on the phone with a colleague, coaching me on how to do webinars. So if you don't have a network, if you don't have experienced elders speaking into your life, if you don't have a mindset that it doesn't matter, the circumstances, as long as what's happening for you, is that you're advancing forward character skills, all of that. Then you can get through just about anything.
Daniel: Yeah. The power of a network or a mastermind, is so valuable because leading in isolation doing this life or leadership alone is actually a choice, right? We may not feel that way all the time, but it is. There's people out there that are willing to lean in with you to roll up the sleeves, to raise the barns, so to speak and cheer you on as success is what I'm hearing as something that really helped you through those difficult times.
Rex: Well, and everybody goes through or everybody at one of the five stages of grief during this pandemic. Now you're either hoping it gets back to normal and waiting it out. Denial. You're either just frustrated and just constrained because of all of the disruption and inconvenience. You're like where a lot of my clients are trying to bargain a little bit of not take the hard decisions that they need to take and not fully committing to reinvention. That's kind of that bargaining. Some of them, we just had a client today. We had a conference call with one of my consultants. They're in the despair zone. They see the cliff coming and they have no solution. But then there are some who get to that stage where it becomes the adventure. They get through that. Now I've reconciled with what the worst can be.
Rex: Now I'm in this adventure zone and we call that the hero's journey. It's a common metaphor. That's where every leader, if you haven't gotten through those stages and quickly, then you can't get your organization into that adventure. What's new what's possible. Schools are in that. Schools are going through this, what do we do mode. Many didn't have a great experience in shutting down and their kids have a plan and now they're looking at, we don't know what the fall's going to be like. So they've got to get through and see this thing as a new adventure, if they hope to reinvent.
Daniel: Well, how do we do that? How do we move from grief, despair, hopelessness, and what you talked about, the stages of grief to the adventure. As you're talking about this Rex, it gets me excited. I want to go on the adventure, right? Despite it being a really big challenge, you might call it one of those wicked problems, but there is an opportunity. There is an adventure there. So how do we get there? Mindset wise.
Rex: Well mindset. So again, this is where it's hard to do it by yourself in isolation because we know that the science shows us that our minds tend to index towards the negative. If left by itself, the mind wandering, it just tends to go there. Dr. Amundsen at the Mayo clinic has done a lot of work. So there is something called peer to peer support and it's used in truth and reconciliation efforts like in South Africa, but it's a storytelling model that helps people get through processing. What did we experience? Describe it, how did it impact? Where are you now in the process? What did you take away? What did you lose and then processing for? What do you hope to go forward for people who have experienced, not just disappointment or loss, but even trauma. A lot of people have experienced trauma during this period of time.
Rex: There's a process. Again, part of my network includes an organization called journeymaning They work primarily with schools and with at risk kids and how do kids get through their trauma and get through their conditions? So we're borrowing what they're doing with kids, into helping us in this collective process of getting through those stages so that we can now own the story, not be ashamed, not be afraid of it and then go into, so what can we do next? What does that free us to do that we couldn't have otherwise considered doing in other times? So again there's a process to doing it
Daniel: Rex, you've talked about how schools it's surprising at times how they don't take as much care of their teachers as they should. Being that education is the foundation of society. I think you mentioned to me that close to 50% of teachers burnout for five years, one of the challenges that you see superintendents having is if they spend a dollar on teachers, the community might see that as taking a dollar away from the children, how can school systems and school leaders, principals take better care of their teachers?
Rex: Well, looking at the system, and this was part of the first book called Humanizing the Education Machine, and we see the test scores having been flat or declining for decades. Gallup says that 70% of teachers are disengaged and that by 12th grade, 60% of students have checked out. So there's a system there. And when we began to look at the nature of the system, when you look at the testing in the United States, that accountability system, and then the standard teachers are held to, and then the funding, if you don't get certain scores, when we traced all that back, what we found is that the system is designed to create insecurity and fear and silos. It's designed to do that. So now the next question is who has created a safe, secure, connected experience? And when we look at those places like Columbus, Indiana, for example, what we find is that instead of keeping the community at bay and holding information tight and seeing the community as a threat, they have a, what's called a stakeholder model.
Rex: And so they embrace the community in the journey together. Co-creating the future for the kids. What we find is communities that are in these tension points, unless you get everybody in the same room together. And that's what we did with the research. We brought everybody in the same room and of course, superintendent, teacher, parent, students, consultants, architects, contractors. When you ask them, what does the problem look like from your seat? Well, they point to testing or they point to community, or they point to funding, or they point to the teachers don't care or students aren't raised properly or the parents are the problem. So they're all right. We described that as playing whack-a-mole, which is a game where these little moles pop up and you try to hit them, but it's never ending and you can never do it until everybody sees that everybody's experiencing the same challenge together.
Rex: That is a collective challenge that we have. Then what happens is we do these short term fixes we give teachers a raise or we do a pay cut, or we cut this program or that, and it's this vicious cycle of a temporary bump, but then becoming worse afterwards, the only way to do it is everybody who owns the results or owns the outcomes has to be part of the conversation. Now that doesn't mean everybody collectively, but it means the voices, the different voices. So if you look in the book, um, the humanizing, the education machine, we talk about certain communities that did that, that wanted to take a radical departure from traditional learning in communities that excelled in learning. The bias was don't change. What if it's not broke? Why would you change it? Our kids are getting into college, we're getting high marks.
Rex: Why would you change go from this? They had to bring the community into the conversation and do a lot of the things that we do in our research in figure out. So why would you not want a 21st century education? Why do you want the best 19th century education? We're providing a great job at that, but let's look at where jobs are going to be in the future where your kids are going to be in the future. What's going to make them happy. And the only way to get to those deeper conversations is to invite them in and let them express their fears and then move beyond that.
Daniel: So what I'm hearing you say, if you rally the troops, if you bring all the voices to the table, not every single one, but representation of it. If you're able to have people share their fears, share their story, you can make that shift from the traditional, it's not broke. Why do we have to fix it? It worked for me. It will work for my kid preparing for the future. Right? What is going to be happening? Is that correct?
Rex: Absolutely. So that's a real mind shift for consultants, think of architects, designers, educational consultants, curriculum design, think of teachers who are experts at teaching. So typically the old way is what we call the push approach, where you bring the experts in, they do their research and they come up with the solution. And then it's kind of like, we did this for you. Gandhi's got a great quote and I won't get it completely. Right. But the essence is whatever you do for me, without me, you do against me. And that's what it feels like for the stakeholders. So new things are reacted to because they weren't part of the journey of discovery and getting there. So we described this as the pull form where you, where you pull people through collectively into discovery, no different than what we're doing, trying to promote in classrooms from teachers going from a different role from Sage on the stage to guide on the side, hard change. But that's the same shift that consultants
Daniel: And experts have to do instead of being the experts, telling people what they need to do, they become the facilitators or the guides in the journey and the heroes are the students and the heroes are the teachers. We become the guides in the process. That reminds me a lot of Ferries work, The banking model of education. That's exactly what you're talking about there too. So a ransom, I'm loving this conversation. We're going to pause here just for a moment for a message from our sponsors. But when we get back, I'd like to touch on mental health and SEL needs. 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 email@example.com.
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Daniel: We're back with Rex Miller and he has two books that I've been digging into that I love. There'll be hooked up for you in the show notes. Definitely want you to check them out whole what teachers need to help students thrive and humanizing the education machine. So Rex, the last question I have for you before get into some of the questions I always ask. Mental health and SEL needs are definitely something that leaders are always asking about.
Rex: This is an important part. We're seeing it more and more of a need within our schools. Maybe it was there before, and we just ignored it, but it's definitely there now and we can't. So how does schools prepare for these mental health and SEL needs? At least in the United States, more and more kids were coming to school and we heard this phrase over and over, not ready to learn. In other words, they couldn't self-regulate they'd have behavioral issues. What people started to discover is that there's the autonomic nervous system where they're in fight or flight mode. They come out of chaotic
Rex: Or abusive homes. They're so overloaded with that vigilance that you add additional load thinking of a math problem, and it pops. So the new training was how do we help kids calm down? How do we create safe connection that feel of safety so that they can think handle that cognitive load? When we started looking at what was happening, what we found is that what we were providing for kids, we were not providing for teachers. And so teachers were stressed and they're not trained in this caretaking side of education. This is new for them and so you add this additional stress and load. Well, what has been discovered is that unless the teacher is self regulated themselves, the skill and the training just creates more stress for them and higher burnout we interviewed, or I looked at probably close to 200 schools that were all talking about and doing SEL.
Rex: And I asked them, so what are you doing for your teachers? How, how are you taking care of them? One school out of 200 we are providing the teachers the same kind of support, help and training that we're providing our kids. And the aha for me was SEL is not something you learn. It's something you give. It's who you are. It's an impartation, it's not a learning cognitive thing. It's a quality of your state of being and so now you're getting into educating the heart. As we talk about in whole, how do we educate the body and the heart, as much as the mind? and there's new science called neuro cardiology, talking about that. There's a real nerve center and brain in the heart. That's a hundred times stronger than the prefrontal cortex. And so unless we can teach kids how to breathe and calm down and teachers how to breathe and how to have proper dialogue, like responsive education, responsive learning, restorative justice, those are kind of the new skills that we're bringing into the classroom, but the teachers aren't getting it. So you can't give what you don't have.
Daniel: Yeah. It's amazing. When you offer professional development to your staff and it's not personalized at all, it is a Sage on the stage. It's me talking over slides that has way too much text and standards for hours and hours until people literally fall asleep yet, we would be very frustrated with our teachers if they gave that type of instruction to their students. I don't know if that's a blind spot or what's going on that districts, miss it, but teachers need it, some of these things, and I don't want to call it common sense, but you mentioned breathing right as a way to regulate. I noticed in your books too, you talked about sleep. Like these are things that proper diet, right? Like this stuff matters probably so much more than we realize we don't treat it as a priority. And then we're frustrated, agitated burnt out, not our best selves at work, but we're not doing all the things, , that we should be doing
Rex: Right. Plus recess and exercise. I know, but all we actually do cover all those in the book Whole. We just walked through how we have walked away from these things that we used to know. It's interesting. John F. Kennedy he didn't start the program, but we had something in the United States called the president's council for physical fitness. I remember growing up doing the pushups and the sit ups and the running and all of that, and being tracked all of that. He said that a sound mind, a sound body is part of having a sound mind and a sound mind, and sound body were part of national defense. I mean, that's why it was an initial national initiative because being able to think, well, and then to be physically fit was just part of the resilience of a country.
Rex: And when you look at the sad statistics of obesity in the United States, that at the end of high school, 20% of kids are going to be overweight or obese at the end of college, 40% are going to be overweight or obese. And that leads to chronic disease. It's a direct path to chronic disease. Lots of causes. We write about it in the book, but you can't think, well, if you're tired, you can't function well if you're agitated on the inside and we don't take that into consideration, the sleep thing, if we just did that test scores would go up, discipline issues would go down. Accidents would decrease. The research and the statistics are all there to back it up.
Daniel: Yeah, I know you talked about, I think for you, you are one of the authors, it was 7 hours and 25 minutes. I don't know if I'm quoting it specifically, right. That they need of sleep. And that meant being in bed eight and a half hours. I know I'm a monster. If I don't get eight hours of sleep I'm a monster, seven hours, I can hide it, at six. I started, I'm not a good person to be around. I know that about myself. So actually one of my goals, because I have productivity goals or just things I'm trying to accomplish mental health and wellness is the fifth goal and part of that is making sure I'm thinking about breathing, that type of stuff and that I go to bed on time and that I get eight hours of sleep because otherwise I'm not my best version. Rex, let me ask you, if you could put a message on all school, around the world, what would that message be?
Rex: Well, the marquee would a couple maybe would be take care of your teachers and they'll take care of your kids. And that a happy and healthy teacher will produce an engagement.
Daniel: Love it. And if you were building a school from the ground up, Rex. You're not limited by any resources, you're only limitations your imagination. How would you build your dream school? What would be your top three priorities?
Rex: That's a great question. So first of all, it would be to tailor a school for the community, so the community would create it. So I look at Columbus, Indiana, and what they've done is such a model. So for people who want to look at that and I would create it, looking at what I would have futurists involved and look at what are the future skills kids are going to need when they graduate, not today, but when they graduate. So what's that learning context slide. I would turn the whole community into a school. So I wrote an imaginary section in the chapter in humanizing the education machine and imagining, so Uber exists, but I called this thing scooper. And my imagination was that scoober would pick up a child and maybe pick up another child. And they would begin at the library.
Rex: And when they were done there, they would go into the university and take a little bit of time there. And then they would have a project based lesson they were working on and go back to the school where the labs are, where they build and make things together. And then they may go to Starbucks or something like that. But it would be a day of just being immersed in the community. Or they might go to the firehouse and get mentored by the teachers would not be limited to just teachers. They would be the firemen, the elders, they go to the senior center and they get that. We have the ability to do that. We have that flexibility where the school becomes a learning hub, a learning center for the whole community, not just for certain grades. And that would be my vision.
Daniel: Love it. Well, Rex, thanks so much for being a part of the better leaders, better schools, podcast, everything we talked about today, what's the one thing you want a Ruckus Maker to remember?
Rex: If you don't speak up, nothing changes. The first part is just start the conversation, whether it's my books or other people's books, get that knowledge base going, and then begin to look at who's breaking the rules and getting better results and start looking at those positive outliers.
Daniel: Thanks for listening to The better leaders, better schools, podcast, Ruckus Maker. If you have a question would like to connect My email, DanielFbetterleadersbetterschools.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 @alienearbud 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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- “Tackling wicked problems”
- The pit bull trait that will hold you up when the world is upside down
- SEL is educating the brain in the heart. How schools prepare mental health and SEL needs.
- Pandemic reinvention is an adventure
- 50% teachers burnout
- Form a barn raising strategy for peer to peer support
- Co-create the future for the kids with a 21st century education, not a 19th century education
“It amazes me that we don’t take better care of our teachers and lay the foundation of our nation. Close to 50% of teachers burn out before 5 years.
“WICKED” problem if a superintendent spends $1 on teachers it is seen as taking $1 away from kids.”
– Rex Miller
- Organized Binder is an evidence-based RTI2 Tier 1 universal level solution
- Focuses on improving executive functioning and noncognitive skills
- Is in direct alignment with the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework
- Is an integral component for ensuring Least Restrictive Environments (LRE)
You can learn more and improve your student’s success at https://organizedbinder.com/
School leaders know that productive student talk drives student learning, but the average teacher talks 75% of class time! TeachFX is changing that with a “Fitbit for teachers” that automatically measures student engagement and gives teachers feedback about what they could do differently.
Learn more about the TeachFX app and get a special 20% discount for your school or district by visiting teachfx.com/blbs.
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