Dr. Amy Platt is delighted to be the Head of School at the Paul Penna Downtown Jewish Day School. Amy is passionate about excellent instruction and working with teachers to be the talented professionals they are destined to be. Amy holds a PhD and an MA from the University of Toronto. When Amy is not at work she can be found on long-distance bike rides, pondering the larger issues facing education.
Daniel (00:03): I believe that everybody has a dream, you don't get up and go to work without that dream in your head. Now, maybe it's been locked away. Maybe you've tucked it away somewhere and it's hard to access, but it's there. Today's guest. That dream is very apparent. It guides her work. It's not tucked away at all. It's inspiring. It's contagious in a good way. Every time she talks about it, it gets me excited. You probably even feel the smile on my face right now, as I just discussed this a little bit. We're just going to dig into my guest's dream, Dr. Amy Platt. She's had it for awhile and we've wrestled with that together for the last two and a half years and now it's coming to fruition. It's pretty cool because it's actually living out the last question I ask on every podcast conversation, which is how would you build your dream school, well Amy is doing that. Stick around because you're going to hear how she's approaching that very cool opportunity and project. Hey, it's Danny 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 back with the main conversation in just a second but before we jump into the episode let's take some time to thank our show sponsors.
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Daniel (02:43): Ruckus Makers I'm joined today by a friend and surely a Ruckus Maker. You'll see this guest was on the show before season 1, episode 245. You can go back and check that episode out too. This is a special bonus episode. Today I'm joined by Dr. Amy Platt. Who's delighted to be the head of school at the Paul Penna Downtown Jewish Day School. Amy is passionate about excellent instruction and working with teachers to be the talented professionals they are destined to be. Amy holds a PhD and a master's from the University of Toronto. When Amy's not at work, she can be found on long distance bike rides pondering the larger issues facing education. Welcome to the show, Amy,
Amy (03:28): Thank you, Danny. It's really nice to be here with you.
Daniel (03:31): Working on a massive, just absolutely massive idea. I'm really lucky because I've had a bit of a front row seat for a lot of this. Why don't you share what this huge idea is with the Ruckus Maker, listening?
Amy (03:46): Sure, Danny. I'm the head of school at the Paul Penn of downtown Jewish Day School, which is a small by choice, community parochial school at a large intersection in downtown Toronto. We serve our community. When I came to this school in September, 2017, we had 144 students and this year we have 167 SK-grade six. I'm actually serving the community that I grew up as a child in. I feel really familiar with this community and it's like coming into this building has been like coming home for me. When I interviewed for this job in September, 2016, I guess the 12 people on the committee asked me where I saw the school going. At that time I talked about how our school needed a grade seven and eight that really to make us whole within our community and to fit in with the educational scope of schools in Toronto, we needed to extend to grade eight and that there were lots of good developmental and identity building reasons to do that.
Amy (04:55): I got hired to do the job and I set out on this journey to extend our school. Along the way, we've had many, many bumps in the road and it seems natural. You're already a school just do more school, but it's been a really long journey to sort of bring to life this vision and bring our community on board and get everybody set up and ready to launch the middle school. It was so exciting when on February 9th, our board of directors unanimously approved the opening of a Paul Penn and downtown Jewish day school, middle school with our school beginning this September. We'll be launching our grade seven class in September, 2021 and our first grade eight class in September, 2022 and our sixth and seventh graders will move out of our current site and into what I'm calling a satellite site about a block and a half away in September. It's been amazing and bringing the idea to the Mastermind over and over and over and over again. I'm sure maybe my colleagues see it has been a really safe space for me to iterate and incubate and sometimes just vent about the process of creating something huge.
Daniel (06:18): Well, I wonder what you would say has been the most energizing part of that process and what has been the most challenging.
Amy (06:24): I think the most energizing part of the process has been the dreaming and the visioning. I'm a long time listener of the podcast and I remember, I feel like Danny, you spent a summer packing up my house with me in the summer of 2016, I had found your podcast and it was like 150 episodes I could listen to. I listened to them as we packed up our house to move. I have listened probably to 400 people answer the question, you're building a school from the ground up. I get to really live that and think about all of the different ideas that I've heard people bring and think about the ideas that I see within my community and the needs, look at other schools around me, reading interesting books and thinking how books on education and leadership and psychology helped me think about the work I'm doing.
Amy (07:22): The visioning I'm doing has all been super energizing. I'd say another truly energizing piece of the work is that in November pre COVID, I traveled with a partner on this project to New York. In two days we saw six excellent middle schools, and we were able to sort of take that learning and think about how that could inform what we might want to create. So that idea generation has been exceptional. I think the most challenging piece is around change management and how do you get a community on board to envision what they know and love as something different. My sense is that we can do more of what we do really well, but actually understanding that for some people, there's a grief here and helping to see them through that grief and coming to my own understanding of the tension between my energy, my vision, my excitement, creating fear and uncertainty and grief for others has been challenging. I'm hopeful that we've really crossed that hump. We've got more and more of our community members with us on this journey of excitement and visioning and having the opportunity of preparing our kids for high school.
Daniel (08:46): I'm curious if I heard you correctly, the board approved this unanimously, which congratulations, that's quite an account there. I know you've made some big asks and have been doing some fundraising as well. I'm wondering how you approached enrollment and ownership of this vision since you have such great backing right now,
Amy (09:09): It's a journey. The enrollment is a journey. And what we ultimately came to as a board is that, , we're in this for the long game that a win isn't about a full class in September, 2021. If a win was that the full class would be full, the first class would be full. We probably never start. And probably our little school would have never opened 23 years ago. Right. 23 years ago, pioneers took a chance on 10 little kids and K and grade one. And now we sit with 167 kids in S K to grade six. So we had to sort of look at the long term and think about what are our great visions and what are our big ideas and how do we look at this in the long run? And it was sort of serendipitous that at that same time that we were having those conversations, I got to read the infinite game with the Mastermind and really think about what is a finite game and what is an Infinite game and how can we look at enrollment and ideological school as an infinite game rather than a finite game of registration.
Amy (10:15): We're targeting a class of 11 to 14 as our inaugural grade seven class, which will fit in nicely in a COVID context of these small sort of encapsulated cohorts we've been running. We're working really hard to have our current students see this as a really viable middle-school option for them. We've got many of our right fit right now, students are choosing to stay with us and we have this great opportunity to reach into our greater community and say, there's a wonderful option here. We can bring you into this values-based education at the middle school level and prepare you for high school. Our approach to enrollment has really been, how do we keep the kids that we have, who are right fit right now, families and how do we make sure we have an opportunity to stretch that class and give all of the kids a greater social experience by welcoming new members of our community into our school.
Daniel (11:15): Yeah, that's great. I love that you mentioned the Infinite Game by Simon Sinek and the difference between playing an infinite in a finite minded game. Can you dig a little bit deeper into that? Just in case the Ruckus Maker listening is completely new to that, that idea.
Amy (11:32): First of all, I'd say, read the book or listen to the podcast. He also did a podcast with Bernay Brown in the last sort of three months where he talks a lot about it. The infinite game really helps me think about the work that I do as a values-based educator, that I'm in this with a purpose and a why, and it's not about this year's enrollment or next year's enrollment, but it's really about thinking about what is my cause and how do I own that cause and how do I help other people see the work that we're doing as cause worthy? I might be in this work now, but I'm surely not going to finish it. I might be opening this middle school, but if all goes well, it will be my legacy to the next leader to continue to build this middle school.
Amy (12:25): As someone who believes in values based education, and I believe that children who identify as Jewish in downtown Jewish Toronto should have a place to go to have this wonderfully diverse community-based rich education that we're doing this for a purpose. It really helped me to dig into my cause and I also loved the idea from that book about a worthy rival. COVID has created this wonderful opportunity for the heads of schools in Toronto to really come together as colleagues and my colleagues at my neighborhood and Jewish day schools have become my really close friends and my trust group in this time. We all have middle schools and there is actually a finite number of kids who can come to our school. To start to think of ourselves as worthy rivals all in this same infinite game together with this same goal of education of kids in a certain way, really helps me shape the way that I went about sharing my vision with my colleagues and our community and how we thought about how we differentiate ourselves from each other and really find our niche in this market. Where is our blue water?
Daniel (13:37): Yeah, all those points were perfectly made for an infinite versus finite game. The just cause has transformed my approach to serve in school leaders. I drafted what my just causes to connect, grow and mentor every school leader who wants to level up and play such an expansive type of game. I have to look for collaborators versus seeing others as competitors, right. Or those worthy rivals pushed me to level up. The other thing it has done is helped me get out of my own head in my own office here in Syracuse, New York, and to ask for help. What's amazing is just a month or so after crafting that and building teams and asking for outreach, we're now launching Masterminds in 2021 that are not facilitated by me and people have already signed up.
Daniel (14:29): It could have happened years ago and here I am just messing around. So thank you so much for pointing all those points out. I do want to talk a little bit more about books and hear about Mastermind as an incubator in anything we might've missed about the middle school. We're going to pause here just for a moment for a message from our sponsors. Learn the frameworks skills and knowledge. You need to drive change improvement in your learning community with Harvard's online certificate in school management and leadership, a joint collaboration between the Harvard graduate school of education and Harvard business school connect and collaborate with fellow school leaders. As you address your problems of practice in our online professional development program apply today at hgse.me/leader. That's hgse.me/leader.
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Daniel (16:51): We're back with Dr. Amy Platt, and she just revealed a big dream, a big idea that she's working on and she's taken the Paul Penna Downtown Jewish Day School from sixth grade and adding a middle-school component to it that's launching here next September. So congratulations.
Amy (17:10): This September, this September
Daniel (17:14): In a few short months. You mentioned the infinite game and I know the Mastermind has exposed you to a few other books that have challenged your thinking and have been a gift to you. What were some of those other reads that really impacted your leadership?
Amy (17:29): So I loved the book When that was called when by Daniel Pink. I thought that was great. It really had an impact on how I thought about time and thinking about time right now, where time feels so amorphous. I don't know when this is going to actually launch, but sitting here on March 4th, 2021, we are a year plus one day out from when the first Jewish day school in North America closed for COVID. It was at that moment a year ago that I realized we had to do something different. 10 days before, we closed our doors on the 13th and time and how we've used time and thought about time and our workdays and productivity. I mean, all of that was touched on. When I think that's really shaped my leadership and how I think about how my team can work.
Amy (18:22): We've had to work really hard, our board, our team, so many meetings, it's just been a whirlwind and a roller coaster of a year. To be coming out of that year with this new initiative is quite amazing. When it had a real impact on me, I'd say the other book that's had a huge impact on me and actually I never read it in the Mastermind. I just heard about it in the Mastermind and I went and read it on my own as the Power of Moments. We're really thinking with this launch of the middle school is how do we leverage this moment? How do we make all of those kids, the pioneers in our middle school, the inaugural students, how do we make them feel special and a sense of belonging? What does that look like to create the middle school and moments?
Amy (19:06): What is the first day of a new school look like and how do we really leverage those moments? I love that book. If you haven't read that, that would be like my number one choice. The last book we read in the last year is Dare to Lead: Brave work. Tough conversations. Whole hearts. For me this work that's happened over the last three and a half to four years of launching this middle school has truly been an experience in dare to lead. It has been courageous. It has been daring. I have had brave conversations. I have believed that it was going to fail and watched it come back to life again and brought people on board. I have been criticized and praised and all of those things have happened at the same time.
Amy (19:52): I've had to really know myself and stand strong as a leader. Thinking about dare to lead whether or not, , dare to lead or Daring Greatly before it, and that foundational work for myself and for my team has been amazing. It's interesting to link the books together because I pulled my book Dare to Lead off the bookshelf to have it beside me while we talked about it. When I opened it up, it said, this book is presented to Amy as a gift from the school to recognize participation and the Paul Penna DJDS faculty book club. We did a book club with this book and we gave everyone the book and we marked it because it was important to mark the moment and mark that place in time. I hope that 15 years ago, or from now people will pick up their Dare to Lead book and remember that that was something that they did here under our leadership, because bringing everyone on board with Brené Brown work is so important.
Daniel (20:48): It's going to remind people of that time you shared together. If they're still with you or if they've moved on, that's fine. All those emotions, the feelings, the hard work, the celebrations, I think will all come bubbling up because you did mark that within the book and created a moment and it doesn't have to be complex. It's a simple thing but it's incredibly meaningful. Thank you for talking about some of those books that have really touched you. Something I'm excited about working on in the Mastermind too, is that, Paige from the Purple Cows she talked about how books, powers moments. You mentioned you didn't read it in the Mastermind. It was before you started, we have built such a great inventory of knowledge and have this resource chest,but we talk about it a lot.
Daniel (21:33): We're going to actually try to get it on paper, codify it, make sure that like maybe executive summaries, here's how you might use the ideas with your staff as a value add to the Mastermind experience. You talked about iteration so I think I'd like to pivot here because I continue to evolve and iterate within the Mastermind and try to be responsive to you all, who are our wonderful members, but I'd love to hear. How did the Mastermind act as an incubator for you? You said you've been chewing on this idea for two and a half years. It's been iterated, sometimes you had to vent and yeah, I'll stop there and just hear what your experience was like.
Amy (22:12): The hot seat has given me a stage to bring my ideas over and over and over again. When the hot seat would come up and I would know that it was my time on the hot seat, one of the things you do to any of that, I think is great as you send people preparation sheets for the hot seat so it would give me an opportunity to think through what issues I wanted to bring. I didn't always bring middle school stuff to the hot seat, but when I did, I got such great feedback and I would say more than getting feedback on the middle school itself or the vision. I would often bring the challenges around leadership to the Mastermind and it provided a safe space where nobody knew my people and there's such trust that I could share my ideas and I would get different perspectives on how to move that challenge forward. Many challenges I think I've had I've been able to look at in a different space or I've got unstuck around it. I'm bringing it to the Mastermind for thinking about my daughter who actually talked about last time, she teaches me a lot. Last time I talked about the mantra that I share with her,which is "we can do hard and scary things" and opening this middle school, I think might be a hard and scary thing. Recently we've been using a mantra with her, which is "just walk up the dumb escalator." So she watched a video of these people who got stuck on an escalator and they looked externally for help. Ultimately what they need to do is just start walking. We talk about it as a way to get unstuck. I feel like when I bring my ideas to the Mastermind or my stuckness to the Mastermind, they'd give me the tools to just keep walking up that escalator.
Amy (23:57): And that's been amazing. Before I did my last big presentation to the community, I brought it to the Mastermind. We've had a real angel gift come to this project and I've been working on fundraising. When I was able to share with our community that someone was philanthropic supporting this. I was able to tell my friends that I had done an ask and received a gift of a million dollars towards this vision. That was so exciting. To hear the way they were excited for me and also that I was excited to tell my friends, like when that happened, one of the things I wanted to do was bring that to the Mastermind because truly this group has been on a journey with me and that's been really exciting.
Daniel (24:47): I have goosebumps and a huge smile on my face. Just reliving that moment with you. It's been fun to be on that journey alongside you. Did we miss anything about middle school before we sort of asked the marquee question and built the dream school? I want to create this space in case there's something else you want to add.
Amy (25:06): I think my lessons of leadership from this middle school have really most recently been around creating a team. We've just shared with our community who the five teachers who are going to sort of be the centerpiece of the middle school are, and that's been super exciting to bring excited people and really it's about it. It continues to be about the people. Who are the people who you get in there to be on your team with you? As a leader, you can't do it alone. Who's the team you have propping you up. The support I've had from my family, from my husband, from my parents, from my in-laws, from my kids who have really just given me the time, the space, the constant cheerleading, my board of directors, my executive on my board, my administrative team. Although this has been you talk about Danny as my project, it's really become our project and our community is moving that forward.
Amy (26:06): I think that's, what's so key about this middle school is that it continues to be about this community and how we continue to serve this community and that there are lots of us who are moving this idea ahead and moving this idea forward. It's going to be really exciting for our students who get to stay and for the students from our greater community who we get to bring in and join us, whether or not they're coming in in grade two, because they now know they have a pathway to grade eight or whether or not they're joining us in grade six or grade seven, because they're really coming for a unique middle school experience.
Daniel (26:39): You could put a message on all school marquees around the world. What would Your message say?
Amy (26:44): I can send you to go back to Berne Brown and it's really resonating with me today. "Lean In. People are hard to hate close up"
Daniel (26:53): You are sort of living this out, the dream school question, but if you're building your dream school, which you are this time, maybe there are some limitations around resources, which is okay, but I'd love to hear how you're approaching it and what your three priorities are.
Amy (27:08): I think my three priorities are people, people, people. This school is going to be driven by the people that we bring with us, by the faculty who are taking a leap alongside us, by the leadership who are going to live this out with me and by the families who are putting so much trust into this really small by design and super mighty school. We're going to do something great and prepare their kids for high school and really give them this identity building experience in these pretty precarious middle school years.
Daniel (27:46): Thanks for being my guest on the better leaders, better schools podcast. We talked a lot. So everything we talked about today, what's the one thing you want a Ruckus Maker to remember?
Amy (27:57): I think the one thing I want to make sure to remember is that you're not alone, that there's so much support out there for you, and that if your support does or doesn't exist within your own school community, that the Mastermind is a place to gain tremendous collegial and professional support and a place where great professional friendships can be forged. You're truly not alone.
Daniel (28:22): 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@betterleadersbetterschools.com or hit me up on Twitter @alienearbud. If the better leaders and 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 @betterleadersbetterschools.com and talk to you next time. Until then, class dismissed.
- A safe space to iterate, incubate and sometimes vent
- Create viable opportunities to stretch and create community
- Focus your purpose and live your “why” as a values-based educator
- Worthy rivals help you level up
- Collaborators versus seeing others as like competitors
- How to leverage and mark the moment
- Really know yourself and stand strong as a leader
- “Just walk up the dumb escalator” as a way to get unstuck
- Master the Mastermind experience
“How do I own that cause and how do I help other people see the work that we’re doing as cause worthy? I might be in this work now, but I’m surely not going to finish it. I might be opening this middle school, but if all goes well, it will be my legacy to the next leader to continue to build this middle school.”
– Amy Platt
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