Matt Silverthorne brings 30 years of high school teaching experience with him to Empowered — he introduced the program to its very first classroom in 1991.

Today Matt is the Strategic Growth Director. His job entails inspiring and growing a movement that attracts and motivates Empowered educator customers to become principled social change entrepreneurs.

Daniel: What if a pill existed that guaranteed you'd have higher student engagement and better student outcomes? You would take that pill right now. No questions asked. You'd probably give it to your faculty. You'd even give it to your students. Assuming the FDA approved it. Today I talk with Matt Silverthorne, director of growth over at Empowered, and they have a proven methodology that increases student engagement and student outcomes. He's here to talk about the program and it's neat because it's also talking about something that I highly value and love to discuss, which is an entrepreneurial mindset, innovative thinking, taking risks, learning from failure, et cetera, et cetera. I think you're going to love this show. Hey, it's Daniel, and thanks for listening to the Better Leaders, Better Schools Podcast, a show for Ruckus Makers in education making change happen. We'll be back with the main content of the show, right after a few short messages from our show sponsors. Develop your structures, systems supports and culture for excellent teaching and learning in every classroom for every student, as part of a leading learning, a brand new certificate of school management and leadership course from Harvard. Leading learning launches on July 21st and runs until August 18th, apply by July 9th and enroll by July 15th at betterleadersbetterschools.com/Harvard. That's betterleadersbetterschools.com/Harvard

Daniel: During COVID. Every teacher is a new teacher. That's why innovative school leaders are turning to Teach FX, whose virtual PD is equipping thousands of teachers with the skills they need to create engaging, equitable and rigorous virtual or blended classes. To learn more about Teach FX and get a special offer visit Teachfx.com/BLBS. That's teachfx.com/BLBS. 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 more@organizedbinder.com. Matt Silverthorne brings 30 years of high school teaching experience with him to Empowered. He introduced the program to its very first classroom in 1991. Today, Matt is the strategic growth director. His job entails inspiring and growing a movement that attracts and motivates empowered educator customers to principled, social change entrepreneurs. Ruckus Makers I'm so excited to be joined here by Matt Silverthorne, the director of growth over at Empowered. Matt. Welcome to the show.

Matt: Thank you, Daniel. Thank you very much for having me.

Daniel: You bet. I want to start off with this idea of how you were "playing school" for three years, in the beginning of your career. There was a moment where things pivoted because you learned how to connect with kids. Would you bring us to that moment.

Matt: Daniel, I think like many new teachers ready to change the world. A lot of new teachers are hyper-focused on impact. We want to change your world. We want to make a difference in the lives of kids. We're pretty outcomes focused and then you get in the arena, so to speak and every new teacher learns to persevere pretty quickly. We learned quickly how little you are prepared for the day to day realities of teaching. In my experience, and I've heard this from many other educators as well is you get in and again, you want to change the world and you enter this sort of culture of why. Why do you want to go above and beyond? Just play the game, just kind of play that school game you mentioned.

Matt: I saw that same deficit mindset shared by educators, shared by students and I felt like the system and there's reason for that, but it tends to not be entrepreneurial and discourages risk. A fixed mindset, one that comes from a system that's top down too often versus a contribution mindset. One that comes from ownership, the teacher having a sense of agency, ownership, freedom to innovate, to succeed, fail experiment. I think it's important to note also the expectation with that would be to be held accountable so that we can grow and improve as professionals. I mentioned a contribution mindset and that's a contribution mindset where educators and students walk alongside each other. Today at Empowered, we call a three-dimensional model. That's a three-dimensional model of discover, develop and apply. A model where educators and students are discovering their innate talents and abilities alongside each other, developing their knowledge and skills and applying that those skills in the real world, in the market. One of the most important things is the educator and students connecting to the fact that they have value and that they can connect that value to rigor and relevance in education. Another thing as a new teacher connecting to, "Okay, how do I make this subject matter relevant regardless of what subject area it is?" Connecting to our own value and that we do have that value and can connect it to the real world, to the market.

Daniel: Part of the "secret sauce" of a Empowers methodology is this, this idea of a 3d model. I'd love to hear just, uh, for the Ruckus Maker listening really, what does that look like lived out in day to day operations?

Matt: Our methodology is really built around five components and essentially those five components break down the mechanisms that power principled entrepreneurs inside of a market. One of those is agency, agency explorers. The idea that only when we're free to make choices and to make our own decisions, we have ownership in the classroom. We have ownership over our learning and over our growth that we can understand our potential and our potential impact on the world. Another piece of that is incentive. Incentive in our classrooms is the value we gain when we produce value ourselves in our classroom. We use currency and options as a means to place a value around things like knowledge. The acquisition and application of knowledge creates value in our classroom market. Our classrooms are markets for knowledge sharing. We also may trade goods and services in the real world market, but we begin to see that things like knowledge, principels, which is another piece of our methodology, those principles also have value.

Matt: Our methodology is built on eight timeless principles. For example, one of those is passion. When you read our definition of passion, it begins to change the mindset of students and educators. Typically one would hear the word passion and they would think about, "What am I passionate about?" That is a part of it, What am I passionate about and what value can I bring? But also a market is a place where we exchange, seeking to create win-win, which is another one of our eight principles. In creating that win-win and exchanging in a market we want to exchange knowledge, but also these principles have value. When I act with integrity, that has value in the market, typically that character piece. Many schools, students have a disconnect, they don't see the application, but through that piece, students begin to see that the behaviors that begin to surface in a classroom.

Matt: An example, let's surface positive and destructive behaviors in the classroom. Let's surface those. Let's learn together through success and failure. We demonstrate that we have choices around the behaviors that we exhibit in the market. We tie them to market impact and consequences resulting in not just gains in knowledge and skills by increased test scores, but in change of behaviors. Changed behaviors, educators, and students developing a contribution mindset that has long-term impact on the student and not only the student, but classrooms, communities, and society as a whole.

Daniel: Ultimately, where students are going to find themselves either running a business and in the marketplace finding a job. What I like about what you're sharing regardless of values and principles, whether that's like win-win or having a contribution, focus or passion, your eyes lit up when you talked about passion, which was cool. Character does matter. What I've experienced too, in terms of running better leaders, the business side of things, success has been easily tied back to my ability to develop relationships, to over deliver on my promise and that kind of thing. I think what I'm hearing you say, that's what empowered teachers in the classroom. The more I research how to create businesses that last it's very interesting. It's not necessarily the best product service or offer that wins. That's actually very rarely the case. The businesses that tend to succeed might be first, so they're a category king, established the brand identity there or the fact that they're more concerned about showing up and demonstrating progress over perfection or being prolific over perfection, rather than just tinkering, tinkering, tinkering while the whole world iterates. By the time you ship, so to speak, and take action, it's too late. Don't get caught up in that perfectionist mindset and relationships, your network, that is everything.

Matt: Definitely. You just mentioned relationships in that network. Previously I mentioned passion, but us defining it in a different way. We define passion as finding fulfillment in your life by improving the lives of others and that tends to get students to begin to think in a different way, not only about their own passion, but about the passions of others and how do I help others find fulfillment.

Daniel: If you'd allow me to be a little vulnerable here on the show and open up behind the scenes a little bit, Better Leaders, there's a connection. I'm sure you're familiar with Zig Ziglar, although might be taking a risk, but , Zig said, "Hey, you could have anything you want in the world as long as you help others achieve what they want." To me, it's about touching into and tapping into their dreams and aspirations and longings of their heart and helping them fulfill that. If you do that and be a person of value out there, the rest seems to just like take care of itself. In 2015-2016 I launched the podcast, launched my coaching community for school leaders. I was hyper-focused and still am on delivering that value to school leaders. But recently Matt, within the last, I would say quarter everything's changed for me.

Daniel: I read a book called Who Not How by Dan Sullivan, over at strategic coach, the assertion is my role is the leader cast the vision, get people inspired, and then go find the right people to execute and where I've been stuck as the leader of Better Leaders, Better Schools is I dream the vision, I backwards map. Matt, I incorrectly believe that I have to do all the work. It's so obvious when you say it out loud and get out of your head. I started to ask for help and long story short, I've got a coaching team now working with me and we've launched within this short amount of time, a new coaching experience that I'm not even facilitating. We have more impact in the world and it basically happened overnight. The connection and the connect, the dots here, hopefully the Ruckus Maker, listening is thinking about who are the right people to execute the vision? Having a focus, not on me and my ego, but how I can be of service to others?

Daniel: The other thing too, that I'm just so happy about, I still will serve school leaders at a high level, but my newfound passion is how do I help, uh, the folks who have raised their hand and want to help execute the vision? How do I help them achieve theirs? When it comes to passion, it actually excites me a lot to think about how do I help this person. The ripple effect, the impact is just like exponential. Thank you for allowing me to just like, give a little behind the scenes here with the listener.

Matt: Daniel, I think what you were just talking about that is exciting. We at empowered. That's very much what we're about, just what you were saying. If we believe in and empower people, they'll do amazing things so that's what we're about. We're about believing in and empowering educators and we trust that educators are going to do amazing things we know they are.

Daniel: For sure. Matt you've talked a bit too about a transformational mindset. I heard you say, I think in our conversation you say growth mindset, fixed mindset, too. People get stuck. They get in ruts, bad things are going to happen that's guaranteed, but you don't have to stay in that place. I'm just curious how you, and how folks at Empowered work with schools to change those mindsets, to turn barriers into opportunities.

Matt: Daniel, we're in the knowledge and skills business. We want to constantly measure knowledge and skills and see increases in those things. We're humans and we're dealing in relationships and with human beings. In doing that it's a miss when we don't address mindset first and that's one of the first things we do. Empowered, our secret sauce is a methodology, but we have to have the right mindset in order to implement that methodology in the classroom to get the impact and outcomes that we're all after. You mentioned transformational mindset, it's getting folks to not see. I'm gonna give you an example. We hear this, I can give you a million, this is just one. I was talking to one of our educators in South Carolina and, she said. "We just have this barrier that is our own mindset. It is our community. We are who we are. We have a tradition of obstacles of failure, whether it's in our economy, it's in our schools, it's in all pieces of our lives." The first thing we have to do is get over that barrier. That's in our own mind and see that vision of a better state and that's very much built in to the Empowered methodology. A part of that methodology is that is you mentioned transformational mindset, but it's based on Von (inaudible). A part of that is that we have a vision of a better state and we have a belief that we can get there. One of the first things that's in melting our methodology into the experiential activities and curriculum that our teachers implement in their classrooms. It's surfacing the importance of first bringing to life the vision of a better state and belief that we can get there. And that's true for our educators, as well as our student. It's a place that there's a lot of power in getting there together.

Daniel: Absolutely. Matt, I'm really loving this conversation. We're in a pause here just for a second, uh, for a short message from our show sponsors. When we get back, I'd love to dig in a little bit to, uh, what experiential learning looks like with Empowered. Develop your structures, Systems, supports, and culture for excellent teaching and learning in every classroom for student, as part of leading learning a brand new certificate in school management and leadership course from Harvard. Topics include aligning systems with instructional vision, creating structures for your students' academic and character development, developing your teachers navigating change and more leading learning runs July 21st to August 18th, 2021. Apply by July 9th, enroll by July 15th, get started at betterleadersbetterschools.com/Harvard. That's betterleadersbetterschools.com/Harvard.

Daniel: 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. Learn more about Teach FX and get a special offer at teacheffects.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. All right, we're back with, uh, Matt Silverthorne director of growth over at Empowered. We ended up, last talking about transformational mindset, turning barriers into opportunities. I'd like to move us towards this idea of experiential learning, which you brought up Matt., and that might be hard for some folks to wrap their mind around. It also challenges the teacher, and school leader to let go of some power. To give ownership to students. Can you refine experiential learning and paint a picture to that makes it real. What does that look like in school?

Matt: I'll start with, we believe real change happens when we transform the classroom into a deeply experiential environment and we power those experiences with the undeniable power of markets. It means deemphasizing, tests, grades, and material. It doesn't mean the deemphasizing their important. It means deemphasizing those as the outcome in the classroom, not getting the student to focus on the test, the material, but to focus on their own transformation, their own learning, um, their own transformation in terms of knowledge and skills, it means shining the spotlight on each individual student, uh, helping each individual student discovered develop and apply their unique gifts. It means incentivizing that behavior, showing them the power of their choices and connecting them to their agency, putting those students on a path of self discovery. We believe every student is unique as educators.

Matt: We should enable them to discover that unique value and learn to apply it in the real world. Truly making change in education. It isn't as easy as building or implementing a curriculum or funding a new program. Those can be impactful things, but we want to impact at scale. We believe that we have to focus on the individual. Examples of what does that look like? Again, Zooming into what some of our educators are doing is. We have educators doing some really cool stuff. We have, uh, an educator, for example, in California, US history teacher who sees the importance of agency in our classroom. She sees the importance of students taking ownership over their learning and of her history class room being experiential. She knows that her students have to apply what they're learning out in the market, out in the real world.

Matt: She has taken and blended her US history curriculum with many of our activities, but again, the real secret or "special sauce" as we call it is she's blended our methodology with her US history curriculum, and now it's elevated or impact and outcomes. It also has increased engagement or students are excited about our US history class. She's seeing gains in their knowledge and skills, which result in higher test scores. It's the welding teacher in Montana. Who's blending the methodology into his experiential welding curriculum. I mentioned that same educator, I mentioned in South Carolina, uh, teaches math and engineering. When she starts to blend this methodology and makes math and engineering experiential. She actually asks for the students who are struggling the most in math students, who typically to be blunt, they have many students who aren't graduating it's because of those math scores in those math classes. She's asking for those students who are struggling to connect the most and proving out this model, that when you blend this methodology and you connect students to markets, you get students to think entrepreneurially. Then they get excited about math. They begin to see the relevance and believe that they can have a future that math is relevant to. You're getting me excited asking that question, Danny.

Daniel: That's good. I want to keep digging. I'm not gonna let you off the hook. I'm hearing what you're saying. I get the concept that the methodology is blended with the content. I think I'm tracking with you there. I also hear, which is extremely exciting for me, I know for the Ruckus Maker listening it impacts engagement and outcomes, so those are going to grow. What I'm saying is, can you give a specific example of what does that blending look like? Whether it's history or math or welding. Joel Weldon says, "It's hard to read the label when you're inside the jar." I think like we get so used to our own ecospheres or something like that, like ecosystems, I should say. What's normal to us might not translate to somebody outside the organization. If you could even be more specific, what does that blending look like?

Matt: Picture first, the classroom where students have a sense of agency, the educator has a sense of agency, ownership over what they're learning. So now bring in incentive, a classroom economy, a place where students can discover their own value. We have what we call Empowered bucks. The student can earn those Empowered bucks by creating value in our classroom market. Another piece is principles. One of those principles is knowledge and by helping create value in our knowledge market and sharing that knowledge. Now we can attach a value to it through Empowered and through those Empowered bucks. The student begins to learn how these things have value in a market and they can, they can exchange that value. The Empowered bucks helps them exchange that value and see that it's real, all of our lessons and methodology are framed in those eight foundational principles.

Matt: Those foundational principles, one of the things we do a lot in professional development is train educators around those incentives and around those principles. How do I debrief my lesson, find those teachable moments or debrief at the end of the lesson around that value creation around those principles. Another one of the elements of the methodology is action. Students learn through that 3d model, I mentioned of discover, develop and apply. They learn they have impact through their actions. In our market is we exchange, as we all know, there are all types of behaviors in the classroom. As we begin to surface those behaviors and reward those behaviors that represent contribution to the classroom students one begin to internalize that it becomes an emotional connection to the student and they learn that they have impact not only on themselves, but on the classroom as a whole. For example of disruptive behavior, a deficit behavior, we can also surface those and have real world conversations about why that does matter in the market. What are the, the co market consequences to those behaviors? You begin to see students change those behaviors.

Daniel: I want to reflect back. I think I got it now. You're framing Empowered as the classroom is actually a marketplace, this exchange there's value of sharing a knowledge and ideas, taking action, character, integrity, all this stuff. Win-win situations. Then when students demonstrate that stuff, they actually get a reward, they get entrepreneur box. It sounds like, and maybe they could turn that in for something because they earn them. I'm guessing they can spend it somehow too, which may be affords them free time or who knows what, but,, I think I got it now. Am I understanding it right?

Matt: Yeah. Our educators then we'll have auctions where those Empowered bucks, they earn have real value. I may have an auction on Friday for 10 minutes where I auction, teachers auction off all kinds of things, both tangible things and other types of recognition and rewards.

Daniel: Perfect. That all is starting to make sense for me and, uh, appreciate it. The last question I have for you because a lot of this has to do with ownership and personalization during our intro chat a while ago, you said something that I just love. I want to talk about it real quick because I think the Ruckus Maker, listening is going to enjoy it as well. you said the first business, we all start is the business of ourselves. What does that mean to you, Matt?

Matt: Sure. As a program that, formerly youth entrepreneurs, we were people thought of have students start businesses. Our outcomes were students who, uh, did start businesses, but that was not the primary impact or outcome that we saw. I believe that every student who enters our classrooms they entrepreneurship is relevant to them. Having an entrepreneurial mindset thinking critically in an entrepreneurial way is the key to getting students to grow and to transform in the way we would hope they would. That's, one of the things that gets me excited is helping students start the business that is themselves discovering again, finding, discovering, recognizing their own innate value and potential, helping them to develop that potential and connect it to real-world markets and apply it in those markets. All of our activities to have students applying what they're learning, applying, uh, many in a collaborative fashion.

Matt: As students are building paper airplanes, and seeing that they, that each person has a comparative advantage or a comparative value, if you will, to bring to their team as they build, as they do our paper, airplane, exercise the student, not only learn that they learn how to apply that in a market to create value in a market, not only for themselves, but also for others. Each person, each student, the first business they started is themselves and then they can go out into the world and they may apply that in a way that is starting their own business, but they also may apply at intrepreneur early in whatever career choice they make, um, or as they seek additional higher level education.

Daniel: Great. We're at the point of the show, Matt, I asked the last two questions. I ask all my guests and I'm excited to hear your answers. First would be, if you could put a message on all school marquees around the world for just one day, what would that message read?

Matt: This probably won't be any surprise Daniel, but you are valued. Educators play the most important role in a young person's life. The most important thing you do is guide students as they discover their own value, develop the value alongside their knowledge and skills and learn and learn to apply that value in the market and that's what we do is we help educators do that, but definitely educators, you are valued.

Daniel: You'e building your dream school, Matt and your head zero limitations. Actually the only limitation was your imagination. How would you build your dream school and what would be your top three priorities?

Matt: The top three priorities, first that learning is individualized. it's individualized, and it's an experiential process. Work towards that, being the model in every classroom. I think second, that every classroom is driven by an Empowered community, a methodology that's proven to have impact and outcomes. Third, the goal of learning is self-actualization. Each person becoming the best version of themselves. Brilliant.

Daniel: Matt, we had a wonderful conversation. I want to thank you for being my guest on 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?

Matt: Trust teachers in their innovative nature. Let them take action on their ideas, support them. Teachers are loaded with untapped value and potential.

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 at @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 B L B S level up your leadership at better leaders, better schools.com and talk to you next time until then class dismiss.

Show Highlights

  • “Playing School” pivot to a Ruckus Maker connection to kids
  • First business we all start is the business of ourselves
  • Ownership of growth for the entire learning community
  • Blended methodology connecting students to markets and entrepreneurial thinking
  • 3D Empowered model to discover innate talents and abilities 
  • The components of the “special sauce” 
  • “Transformational mindset” Turning barriers into opportunities
  • Connecting Content to our own value  
  • Incentivize behavior and own your choices  
Matt Silverthorne: Empowering Educators

“We believe real change happens when we transform the classroom into a deeply experiential environment and we power those experiences with the undeniable power of markets. It means deemphasizing, tests, grades, and material. It doesn’t mean deemphasizing their importance. It means deemphasizing those as the outcome in the classroom. Not getting the student to focus on the test, the material, but to focus on their own transformation, their own learning, their own transformation in terms of knowledge and skills. It means shining the spotlight on each individual student,  helping each individual student discover, develop and apply their unique gifts.”

Matt Silverthorne



Transform how you lead to become a resilient and empowered change agent with Harvard’s online Certificate in School Management and Leadership. Grow your professional network with a global cohort of fellow school leaders as you collaborate in case studies bridging the fields of education and business. Apply today at http://hgse.me/leader.



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.



Organized Binder is the missing piece in many classrooms. Many teachers are great with the main content of the lesson. Organized Binder helps with powerful introductions, savvy transitions, and memorable lesson closings. Your students will grow their executive functioning skills (and as a bonus), your teachers will become more organized too. Help your students and staff level up with Organized Binder.

Copyright © 2021 Twelve Practices LLC

(Visited 238 times, 1 visits today)