Susie Harder, M.A., CCC-SLP is an experienced clinician who devotes much of her passion to working with children, teens, and adults who stutter. She works in private practice and the school setting to help support children who stutter, trains speech-language pathologists to work more effectively with students who stutter, provides various fluency trainings to school districts across the state, and is also directing the Junior Authors Program platform.

Susie grew up in Central California and completed her Bachelor’s Degree at Fresno State. She earned her Master’s Degree at Northwestern University, rated #2 in the nation for their program. While there, she met Kristin Chmela, M.A., CCC-SLP, BCS-F, an internationally recognized fluency specialist who had a true passion for helping kids who stutter. After graduating, Kristin and Susie have continued to work closely. Susie credits her passion and knowledge for working with people who stutter to Kristin Chmela, her mentor.

Daniel: It's sort of amazing that even though we know giving ownership, transferring that ownership to students is important and it's transformational in terms of a approach that we can take within our instruction. We still want to hold on to everything as a teacher and as a leader, we want to do everything ourselves too. I struggle with it leading, Better Leaders, Better Schools, podcast,, podcast,. I forget about the amazing talent that's literally all around me at my fingertips. I forget about the talent, the voice of those I serve and how I might tap into that to actually make my work like this podcast even better. But today we're going to start off our conversation with Susie Harder. She created an awesome program called Junior Authors. I hope you check it out. She leverages the voice of students to write books and some really interesting things have happened in her community as a result of that. 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's sponsors

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Daniel: Hey, Ruckus Maker. I'm with Susie Harder, who has a master's of clinical speech pathology. She's an experienced clinician who devotes much of her passion to working with children who stutter. She works in private practice and a school setting to help support children. She provides workshops and consulting based support to school districts across California. She recently created the Junior Authors program, which is a revolutionary literacy-based platform and a there'll be a big component of today's conversation. Welcome to the show Susie.

Susie: It's good to be here.

Daniel: So there was a hometown calamity, a fire caused mass chaos. There was Ash everywhere. The skies were gray. In that literal and metaphorical moment of darkness, you were pondering, how can I help? How can I be helpful in that moment? So what did you do, Susie?

Susie: I think that side of you steps in, right, that says, "Okay, there's something going on and I can make the choice to sit back and kind of sit in that fear or the unknown, or I can take a step forward and move into what is this going to look like if I were trying to help and how can I best help?" And your description of it is so accurate. It's my hometown and I now live about 45 minutes away, but I mean there was Ash floating in the air. We'd come out in the morning and our car was covered in Ash. There were these little moments that I kept thinking like this could be someone's wedding album, that's floating in the air right now. This could be someone's Teddy bear and you notice those really heavy moments.

Susie: As much as financial donations are wonderful, they really don't give you that feeling of that continual, like I am really, really helping and doing exactly what I can. Being that my background is working with kids and specifically with helping kids work through difficult situations and kind of best manage in an age appropriate way, what's happening in their world. That's where my mind went. It was kind of like, "Okay, well, let's do something that really engages kids and helps kids." And in turn, of course helps their parents and teachers in the community, but really with this focus on supporting children directly.

Daniel: Right. I think, uh, you had this unique approach to writing books, uh, that I've learned about with the Junior Authors program. From what I understand, I'm not an expert, you are in terms of the book writing process, kids help to make decisions, which, uh, seems very interesting to me. Can you describe that process a bit and why it's important?

Susie: Absolutely. The initial idea was to create a really wonderful kind of healing based story for kids who have lost a home in the wildfire. And so I wrote this story and it's about a girl and her dog, and there's some beautiful moments in it and the artwork now that it's all coming together. I feel like I just want people to kind of like go see those beautiful moments because it's so impactful. I'm in the middle of the book specifically, there's a scene where the dog has lost his doghouse and it's his first time walking through the neighborhood and not all of the neighborhood burned, which is very representative of what happened locally. It's that feeling of he's looking and he's thinking kind of like he's got his house, I have my house that looks comfortable. I miss my bed. And so really in a purposeful way, building in a lot of those conversational pieces to help kids process what happened during the fire and to build awareness for those kids that didn't have that direct experience.

Susie: I don't know how to make a book. I work with books all the time, but I had this beautiful story and it's kind of like, "Okay, but now what do I do?" As I was learning all of the parts and the behind the scenes and you're in the middle of it too, I mean, you really appreciate how much work goes into making a book. Also all the things that you don't necessarily think about until you're exposed to it in that way. It launched me into, "Okay, well, I can't just learn all this cool stuff and not share it with the kids that I'm around. This is so neat and let's share it. How am I going to do that? I don't know." Within those next few days I developed a voting based platform and we, I did a website and a Facebook page, and I think that the concept happened on a Friday and I launched on Monday and the goal was not to be perfect in any way.

Susie: It was to be very real and to have kids travel a journey, the journey with me. It's so relevant, not just contextually with the topic, but as a speech pathologist, what I have during distance learning right now, all of my kids sign in. All of us are over the normal candid stuff that we do during our sessions online, because they're so used to being in person and this gave us something so fun to talk about and so relevant. All the kids would get on and they're kind of like, "Okay, Susie, so on the vote last week, here's what I was thinking. I was wondering about blank." It lit the fire of, now I'm really invested in this story and it launched mid-October. I had kids sending, parents sending messages from their kids, but emails and messages saying, "My child wants to know how Eva, the main character, the girl, my daughter wants to know how Ava's Halloween went?"

Susie: I was kind of like, that's so sweet because they're really so invested in these characters. We did a lot of character development and they really represent this very real, uh, person and this very real issue. I put out a survey and all the kids chimed in on how her Halloween was and what her favorite candy was and who she hung out with and what she dressed as. I reported back but it has given this life to something that everything has felt so disconnected. As a professional, it's such a weird journey because any of us that work with kids, the moment you pull kids out and you put them on the computer, all the things that we do that takes so much work, but they're offset by that rewarding feeling of working with kids.

Susie: If you don't have that rewarding feeling, then it just feels like a lot of work. I think it was timing wise for me as a person, my kids are three and six and that fire happened on labor day weekend. It was like we had just started back. Distance learning was kind of at its peak. My son, kindergartener, who had never used Zoom before really quickly learned to mute himself. If he wanted to yell really loud out of frustration, and then he'd put his mic back on. I was kinda like, "I've never seen this side of my child" and just everyone was having a hard time. It was, "Okay, well, can I do something that really gives kids something fun to be involved in with a sense of connectedness, but also not selfishly, but also gives us as professionals, whether that's a speech pathologist, a teacher, a principal, a way to connect with kids and have them really, truly want to do that."

Susie: I'm sure we'll lead into it, but I have so many schools now that the principals are leading these school-wide live, Zoom votes for the book. They've all said, "Oh my gosh, this is like the first time all school year I really feel connected to my kids. I'm used to kind of lunch being my favorite time of day. I get to walk around and kind of get all of the energy from the kids and then I go back to making my heavy decisions when kids aren't there. It's just all the decisions and all the logistics." We have two really, really wonderful principles that I'm thinking of right now. One I had asked her about having her teachers participate and she said, "I cannot ask my teachers to do anything right now. It is so much, but can I, as the principal, can I take this on?" We figured out a way for it to work and then she, she got like an educator of the week award. It's just Suzy. "Oh my gosh, that was the first positive thing I've had happen. I called my boss. I said I got an award today. I got to talk with kids. We got messages from all the kids saying, "Oh my gosh, I was like star struck. I to build a book with a principal." There's this kind of like sense of school community that isn't there this year. Being able to cultivate a little bit of that is a really wonderful addition to what we're doing.

Daniel: I want to pull it out for the Ruckus Maker listening something I heard there in terms of the kids wanting to know what Ava. I think you said Ava was doing for Halloween and the kids saw themselves in Ava. They connected with her story. You said you did a lot of character development. I'm sure there's tons of intention that went into creating a great story. At the foundation of it is that kids saw themselves in the story. They could empathize with the characters. From a high level, for the Ruckus Maker listening, where in the curriculum do kids see themselves? Or are they invisible? I think that is a really important point for the listener to ponder, but I want to go back to actually where you started the story. I'm going to reflect back to you to make sure I got it. Idea on Friday launched on Monday. Right? There's a handful of days there between idea and launch. Did I get that right?

Susie: Yes, That sounds nuts hearing it out loud, but yes, that's correct.

Daniel: What I want for you to explore with me right now and for the Ruckus Maker listening, there's a leadership lesson there, I think. Between having an inspirational, wonderful idea that's gonna make change happen in the community. Sometimes we punt and we kick the can down the road and we procrastinate or whatever. You are the antithesis to that. You took massive action quickly. You also said something about progress, not perfection, or that might be my phrase. I don't know. But that was the gist of what I got there. Talk to me more about that quick from Friday to Monday scope.

Susie: I kind of jokingly say, "I'm a recovering perfectionist" because by nature, I really am drawn to kind of sitting down and spending way too much time on something. The example that I would give is through some of the non-profits that we're working with for Creek Fire and Reforestation and kind of the whole community rebuild. We had a number of weeks recently where we were talking about how to help kids. It was all of these meetings and we're talking and we're strategizing and we're planning and we're pulling those things out. I had this random kind of idea of like, "Oh my gosh" because the newspaper contacted me and I don't need me to be highlighted. Let's highlight these kids who need to be highlighted, not for their loss, but for their contribution to this project. We did these interviews and it was kind of like this, and I'll go back to what you were saying about the Friday to Monday, but this is kind of a similar thing.

Susie: Whereas they reached out on a Saturday and by Monday morning I had identified a Junior Author of the week, interviewed her, written up the article and submitted it by Sunday evenings that could be printed that week. More happened in that than all of the weeks prior of planning, how to help kids. It was like, let's just dive in, let's talk to kids. Let's include them in the process and it will just naturally evolve into whatever it needs to be and that's really how I approached it for the launch of this as well. It was kind of like the more time I spend on it is not going to really change anything. I really value the input from kids. Let's get their input starting right now. Just this week I interviewed, uh, sisters that were 11, 13 and 15 who lost their home.

Susie: They lived on the same property as their grandparents and their cousins and everyone lost their home. We spent an hour plus and we laughed, we cried, it was so touching and so wonderful. And through that, I had been thinking, I'd been asked by a number of schools, "How can we support these kids and what can our school do to help? Can we do a fundraiser? What is it we can do? Through this conversation we're talking about ideas. I said, "What if we send things? It's kinda like, you can make a big collage out of them. What if we do? This beautiful comment came out of this 11 year old girl's mouth. "Like our property is so gray and blah, and there's these little sprigs of regrowth and that's my favorite part right now." I said, "Well, let's do trees. Let's all send trees. I can create it and I'll post them on the website and people can just send trees and then we'll make this beautiful collage of just like whole bunch of trees. " Now that's going and that never would have happened if it was just me thinking about it. It's that culmination of using that creativity that kids have and just that rawness and going for it.

Daniel: Love it. Thank you for sharing that story too. We were talking about how you leverage student voice and they vote and they have a influence in terms of the direction of the book. I'm curious for principals, how might they think about staff voice? I don't know if it's something that you've experienced as a professional or something you've seen with other other schools, or just an idea that you'd like to share with the Ruckus Maker listening and how to incorporate more voice into the work.

Susie: Yeah, that's a really great question. My lens really does look so specifically at kids. I'm sure a lot of that is transferable and it also kind of overly simplifies working with the staff, but the concept of people feeling seen and feeling heard is so important to me. One of the ways that I know I am drawn to accomplishing that is really taking the time to acknowledge what someone is doing and to appreciate out loud those characteristics that drove that. Not just the action that happened, but the true character trait behind that that really can be, I think, more deeply meaningful. For kids that might be instead of like "Oh, you did a good job on that. I saw you working really hard and even when blanki and blank happened, I saw you stick with it and you kept editing." For a staff member that will look different, but even just yesterday, I got a compliment like that and it resonated.

Susie: I woke up thinking about it. I just felt so good about myself. How we pass along those compliments, I think can be so empowering. When I think about the things that I've done within the school district setting and kind of at the district level, and then within my own practice, and then the Junior Authors, the times that I really I think had most access to kind of, all of my ideas was when someone had faith in me and kind of gave me that I believe in you, here's the things I see in you and go for it. I really try hard with kids to frame it out a lot like that. That's why the book and this project is so intentionally built that way. Parents and adults aren't even allowed to vote. It's all kids, they're driving the ship.

Daniel: Beautiful thing, give the kids the ownership and it's amazing what they can accomplish. Susie, I'm loving our conversation. We're going to pause here for a message from our sponsors. When we get back, uh, I'd like to talk to you about this tweet that sort of went crazy for me. 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 a 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. Are you automatically tracking online student participation data during COVID innovative school leaders across the country have started tracking online student participation using Teach FX because it's one of the most powerful ways to improve student outcomes during COVID, especially for English learners and students of color.

Daniel: Learn more about Teach FX and get a special offer at teachFX.com/BLBS. That's teachfx.com/BLBS. 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 more at organizedbinder.com. We're back with Susie Harder, who is the founder of Junior Authors program. We just ended up talking about the importance and value of a really giving ownership and voice and power to your students, letting them drive the ship, which is so, so good. I mentioned before the break, we're going to talk about this tweet, but this tweet is really about you.

Daniel: It's about women in leadership in general. You already highlighted, and everybody knows I've been working on a book and doing some research, and it's about the Mastermind Community, which is a leadership development community. Part of the book, real quick is just the, ABC's of powerful professional development. That's authenticity, belonging, and challenge. Each component has sub-parts to it that bring it to life. Within belonging is inclusive environments. I did a deep dive of research. What is it about, uh, building inclusive environments? I also had some assumptions that I wanted to find out what are the real, um, facts and figures percentages in terms of women in leadership and then leaders of color. I found out that 76% of the teaching force are female educators. From that 76%, 52% are principals and when you move into central office, it's around a quarter that becomes superintendents.

Daniel: It's interesting how it gets smaller and smaller as you move up the ladder so to speak. I put that tweet out there and normally I get a couple likes, a few retweets. This one went crazy, like hundreds and hundreds of likes and retweets and comments. Normally that doesn't happen. I said, "Whoa, I struck a nerve." We were talking in the pre-chat how you relate to that. You mentioned how women are naturally compassionate. I want to get out of your way, but I just wanted to set up sort of the context of that tweet and I'd love for you to speak to both our female listeners, but the male listeners too because I think they could learn from your experience and what's going on there.

Susie: I think that it's so neat to have someone capture data that helps us reflect on what's happening. Thank you for all the work that you're doing on helping to build the leadership community. We talked about in the pre-chat my first thought was and I can only speak for myself, but as someone who loves working with kids, it's really hard to have strict work boundaries, even though I know, and everything I've done tells me, I need to have strong work boundaries. I still find myself in situations where I'm really just so compassionately drawn into extra things and then I'm really at risk for burnout situations. Another thought, as you were saying that just now, is that I'm curious if the, because if I'm making an assumption and just a statement based on my own experience, but if as a woman in a leadership role, if I really am fueled by working with kids, being a teacher and being a principal might be my best place, because then the further you are away, the further removed and you have less direct interaction with kids.

Susie: I know for the pieces that I've done within the school, when I'm really removed, it feels like work. When I'm in it with kids, the days fly by and I'm exhausted, but it's a different kind of exhaustion. I would say hands down, being a mom in a leadership role is very lonely. You don't have a lot of people that see you as a direct person that you're either a boss, your a resource, your a mom, but really kind of having those people that see here's my day to day, and there are a lot of pieces happening. This morning I had this giant like email campaign that went live and I got a feed thing right back that says like, "Your Link's not working." Here I am, my six-year-old is getting ready to leave for school. My three-year-old's jumping on my computer. I'm trying to fix the link. She types the XYZ QR and almost hit send. I was kind of like, "Oh my gosh," these little moments. It's just this tiny moment in a whole day and it can be really stressful because in those moments you can't be four different places. I was looking at my six year old who had his puzzle on the Island. I was looking at the puzzle pieces thinking sometimes, it is this hundred piece dinosaur puzzle. Sometimes life feels like the hundred pieces that are spread all over and you don't even know what to do first. Sometimes there's pieces put together and there's kind of these chunks and it just kind of looks a little bit less daunting. I feel like as a professional, it's kind of like, I go back and forth between those two places where everything feels like, gosh, there is a lot, and there's so many different pieces and then moves into, okay, I can do this because things are organized in this way. I kind of roll back through the if things feel a little bit more organized.

Daniel: Sure. I'm curious. I like that metaphor the puzzle that really illustrates and makes it come alive for me. I'm curious. Is there any routines or rituals that sort of work for you to help you see the organization or get to that place?

Susie: It took me a long time, but my early morning assignment. Naturally I'm a night owl and getting up early is not my thing and it took me a year. I read Hal Elrod's, Miracle Morning and that kind of got me moving in that direction. During COVID I think was really when I was kind of like my only way to survive the day is to have this really great piece of sanity to start the day with intention. My early morning routine is now what it saves me on on the days that I don't do that. I get up at the same time as my kids, I find myself chasing the day and it just feels so different. Start to finish, not just the first hour, but the entire day. I've mentioned to you that not that my ideal, but as of this project finding places that things fit and how to best support our community. I get up at four every day and I have an hour. So myself, whether that's kind of meditation based or journaling or emails, if I need to, and then I go and work out and then I either go to my office and work or I come back home and then I'm at work a lot right now. When I have those early mornings though, I really find myself better utilizing my day and finding joy in pockets instead of feeling too frazzled.

Daniel: Yeah, that's good. I'm glad that, uh, you've been able to find that in the pandemic because if I'm transparent and vulnerable, my routines and rituals, have gotten worse. It's been a really weird moment for me because usually, I'm really great at that, to be honest. And that's part of reason people I think elect to work with me, but that's been a huge struggle during this time. I wonder if it's the lack of sort of a team sport and competition, which I normally had in the morning and being able to get a good sweat in, which I can do individually, but it's different when you're doing with a group and trying to, win so to speak. Yeah, that's all I want to say this, this show is, uh, about you.

Susie: My thought on that is, the feeling of inspiration to me is absolutely key. I'm prone to my ups and downs mental health wise. When I'm up, I'm up and when I'm down, I'm just kind of blah. The begining of the pandemic was starting that way. I think it was out of necessity and I really feel like I can contribute. It's been really interesting watching kids transition during this project, like the girls that I mentioned that I interviewed and we came up with this tree project, we were talking about their wishlist items for their new house and just kind of going there and dreaming. We started talking about a Playhouse they could build out by the pond that had all these things and they just lit up.

Susie: I said, "Well, you guys, haven't done a GoFund me. What if we do a go-fund me and we'll put it in the paper and let's see if we can build this dream house, will you sketch it for us? Let's just see." And then their mom said over the last two days , "Oh my gosh, they are inspired beyond belief right now" because something gave them that thing. For all of us that looks different, but if we can, for ourselves and for our kids find that thing that gives us that real inspiration and that true, genuine, I am excited about today because I get to do blank, not I have to do blank, but I get to do blank. That really can shift so much of that pulling back from the day and kind of move into the launch forward into the day.

Daniel: For sure, for sure. Susie, I'd love to ask you, if you could put a message on all school marquees around the world for a day, what would you put on those marquees?

Susie: I would say your voice matters, and that comes from my message as a speech pathologist, who works with children who stutter and really supporting their confidence and communication in daily situations. And then that's also a key component of the Junior Authors program and our little mascot Tap, the little microphone, his mic tap. He says because your voice matters and it's so true. I just say really want kids to truly feel that.

Daniel: You're building a school from the ground up Susie, 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?

Susie: I love this because I feel like people go so many directions. I'm going to start with a giant slide because the perception of kids as they're driving by would be, I can't wait to go to that school. When do I get to go to that school? That school is fun. Even if it's a disguised learning model, if your packaged in this like, "Oh my gosh, this is amazing. I think there's a lot of fun things there." I also work with occupational therapists and sensory regulation would dive heavy into sensory smart classrooms and where kids could potentially be showing signs of ADHD. A lot of times it can be offset by a really good OT building in things during the day. Like one of the schools that I work with, they have a portable. The teacher was saying so-and-so first graders just stomps everywhere he goes. I said he is probably getting some deep proprioceptive input and she's like, wait, what? We started doing some things to offset it and she was kinda like, "Oh my gosh, that is amazing." I feel like that would help teachers in those moments that they're driving, going nuts. I'd have a really great kitchen. And not that it's practical, but I think it would be amazing if kids had a ton of healthy food and they could go make their own lunch and see what other kids are making and kind of explore in that way.

Daniel: Yeah. I would eat there too. Awesome. Susie, 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?

Susie: I have so many. Probably to create opportunities to celebrate kids and that would work for staff members too. But not all the time do those celebrations just happen. As a leader, we are in the position where we can create those. I have so many kids that are saying my principal did this as a Junior Author or something. My daughter was star struck and this just made her year. Now she's writing books all the time. She calls herself an author. Now she blank and blank because the leader looked at her in that way and acknowledge that. I would say that's my longer answer than you probably wanted, but that would be the thing. Celebrate kids.

Daniel: 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 Better School 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, the earbud and using the hashtag B L B S level up your leadership at Better Leaders, Better Schools, podcast,, podcast,.com and talk to you next time until then class dismissed.

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Susie has a history of designing and building successful programs. During her time in Fresno Unified School District (2011-2015), Susie designed and piloted a successful framework for a Fluency Consultant role to utilize specialty skills and support SLPs. In 2016, Susie created a private practice focused on supporting children, teens, and adults who stutter. Within her practice, she built a mentoring program for children and teens who stutter to help guide younger children who are experiencing similar challenges. Most recently (2020), following the devastation of the Central California Creek Fire, she decided to write a book to help children who lost homes in the fire. During the process of writing the book, she created a unique platform to reinvent how children connect with literacy and books. Through the Junior Authors Program, children are involved in ongoing votes to help build the book from rough draft to published book on Amazon.

Susie’s love of working with children is evident from the first time you meet her. She cares for each one of the families she works with. She is full of positive energy, encouragement, and is an invaluable resource for anyone she works with. 

Susie Harder: Promoting student voice

“If we can, for ourselves and for our kids, find that Thing that gives us that real inspiration and that true, genuine, ‘I am excited about today because I get to do blank, not I have to do blank, but I get to do blank.’ That really can shift so much of  pulling back from the day and kind of move into the launch forward into the day.”

Susie Harder

Show Highlights

  • Hometown was on fire and out of the ashes a purposeful way to build connection emerged
  • Tips and tricks to give more voice to your staff 
  • Junior Authors creates an excitement for learning and the ability to cope during life’s crises 
  • How we pass along compliments can be empowering or meaningless
  • Taking massive action quickly can accomplish more than planning for action
  • Be a recovering perfectionist for progress 
  • Create opportunities to celebrate 
  • Life feels like the hundred pieces puzzle

Susie Harder’s Resources & Contact Info:

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