Vicki Philips is a former teacher. Life-long teacher champion. Avid reader. Lover of geography. Committed to empowering the next generation of solution-seekers, planetary stewards and changemakers.

She is driven by a fierce determination to help all students realize their dreams. Over the past four decades, she has worked at all levels of education to champion students’ rights to a high-quality education, including as a teacher, superintendent of schools, state chief of basic and higher education, nonprofit CEO, and director of K-12 education for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

She joined the National Geographic Society in 2019 to lead the organization’s global education strategy, focused on transforming the classroom experience for millions of students and educators. As chief education officer at the National Geographic Society, Vicki Phillips oversees the Society’s education strategy and programs focused on inspiring the next generation of planetary stewards. Phillips has been in education for more than 30 years, and has served as a teacher, state-level policymaker, nonprofit leader, superintendent of schools, chief state school officer, and K-12 education director.

Daniel: Usually I try to craft a story that previews the first thing you're going to hear on the podcast. I'm going to change that for today because I really love how the show ended. I got to speak with, listen to this, the chief education officer at National Geographic Vicki Philips. Towards the end of the show, we were riffing on the idea of what it means to be a curious, empathetic, and empowered educator. I loved those words so much, which is why I wanted to preview that for you here in the intro of the show. Nat Geo, also has amazing free resources for educators, and we've linked up those resources in the show notes and welcome you to enjoy this conversation. It is Daniel and you're listening 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 some short messages from our show's sponsors.

Daniel: Take the next step in your professional development with Harvard certificate in school management and leadership learn from Harvard business and education school faculty. While you collaborate with a global network of fellow school leaders. Apply now for October, 2021 and February, 2022 cohorts at betterleadersbetterschools.com/Harvard. 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 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 at organizedbinder.com. We are here again with expert coach Corinne Beldumm. She leads a Mastermind specifically for women in leadership, and it's a lovely, lovely group. I would love for you to check it out, but the point of her coming on this show, it's the highligh her expertise and to serve you the Ruckus Maker listening. Corrine, you have a tip of the week for us.

Corinne: I am so pleased to be with you. I just want to encourage you in the heroic work that you do. My encouragement to you today is if you haven't had a chance recently go back to your daily practices for thriving. That's my tip of the week: what are your daily practices for thriving? I have four daily practices that I defined a morning, a Workday start-up, a Workday shut down, and an evening, and I'm going to say, I'm not completely consistent. There are seasons where I do better with them all than others. Sometimes I focus on one. I often have to focus on Workday shutdown, but those four daily routines help me go on into autopilot and ensure that the most important things that I need to do each day get done. If you've never done this before, I suggest you start with a morning routine.

Corinne: My morning routine includes drink a glass of water, exercise, coffee, and cuddles with my family review of the daily plan, get ready, and journal. That might sound completely overwhelming. Especially young moms who are ed leaders do not try to start there, but getting up and drinking a glass of water and moving our bodies every day before we look at our phones or emails is a really great place to start. The morning ritual is transformative and miracle morning was the start of that in my Mastermind with Better Leaders, Better Schools. I want you to know these are the kinds of transformative changes we apply in our work with the Mastermind.

Daniel: Brilliant. I'll add two things for being authentic. We are not perfect and we don't do things like a hundred percent all the time. I have a very strong, end of the day shutdown routine that includes a journal practice that I have, and I don't hit it every day. I want to, but there's some days, that I miss or whatever, and that that's okay, but over most of it, I am doing that and I get so much fruit from those times. Literally when I do it, it's kind of funny that I ever miss it. Honestly it takes five minutes or less. That's how I got a drill down. Thank you for sharing that Corrinne. Since we do serve Ruckus Makers with a bias for action, what is the challenge today?

Corinne: The Challenge for the Ruckus Makers is what is your morning practice for thriving? Define one or two things that you can do every day or aim to do every day that will help you thrive and put energy into those pieces?

Daniel: Hello, Ruckus Maker, today we are joined by the chief education officer at the National Geographic Society Vicki Phillips, who oversees the society's education strategy and programs focused on inspiring the next generation of planetary stewards. Phillips has been in education for more than 30 years and has served as a teacher, state-level policy maker, nonprofit leader, superintendent of schools, chief state school officer, and K-12 education director. Vicky, Welcome to the show.

Vicki: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here.

Daniel: The pleasure is mine. When we talked in our pre-chat, I think we were discussing teacher appreciation, work, and having a lot of conversations with educators. The tension of strength and vulnerability and you've really been learning a lot in the last year. Things that have educators showing up differently in the future. I'd love to hear some of those insights that you found memorable.

Vicki: It's stems in some ways and actually a lot of my team, at Nat Geo, but I've always been a teacher champions. One of the things I make a practice of is really listening to what teachers say they need it and how they're experiencing things. We know that teachers have had a lot to deal with over the last 18 months, and we've tried to make sure that we're as responsive as possible and that includes everything from working with them to get stand up resources quickly, that could be used in remote and hybrid environments, giving them small grants, to let them create those resources themselves, to building out our educator community and trying to both, inspire and support them and make sure that they know that we see them.

Daniel: Yeah. I love that emphasis on feeling seen and heard. I'm sure that's something that you've used and flexed in all the different roles you've held throughout education in your wonderful career.

Vicki: It's been incredibly important to me. I never want to forget that one. I was a teacher myself for a lot of years that I understand the power of what teaching can bring. The way that we need to respond to this current generation and help them become leaders. In particularly at Nat Geo, when we care so much about helping both exposed young people to the wonder of our planet, but also protected, given all of the issues that it's facing. I think teachers play such an incredible role in making sure that young people are equipped with an Explorer's mindset and that they're curious and empathetic and empowered and solutions driven. We very much appreciate who teachers are and what they do every single day.

Daniel: I have a tool called the Mastermind mindset score cards. That's something with Ruckusmaking and the school leader that I serve a framework that I have, but I heard Explorer's mindset. That seems very on brand for you, but can you unpack a little what that means to you?

Vicki: Well, first I would say that I love that you think of people as Ruckus Makers. I guess at, Nat Geo in many ways, we would say that we're intrepidation explorers. Explorers are people who go to the edge of possibility and then take that next step. We believe deeply that young people and that educators who reached them are key to addressing those pressing problems of our planet that we talked about a moment ago. We think that we can inspire everyone to be an explorer. I was saying, to be curious, to be empathetic, to communicate, to collaborate, to understand geographic perspectives and tools. To be able to take informed action wherever you are. Those informed actions can be big and small. They can be in your home and your school and your community, or they can be as part of a collective group of educators and young people testing out ideas and seeking solutions.

Daniel: I love that phrase "geographic, perspectives and tools." The context for this question is I've had the opportunity to live in many different areas in the United States. I've also lived in Belgium, Netherlands, Scotland, in visited South Africa for an extended stay multiple times. That worldview and world perspective is really important to me. I would love to hear you riff on that idea a little bit. Obviously, it's something important to you and the work you do at National Geographic.

Vicki: Definitely within our education resources. What educators may not know is that we have a large free library of resources for educators. That includes everything from lesson plans and curriculum units, to videos and photography and infographics, lots of things to inspire and engage their students in learning. A common theme for us is definitely geography. It's very much in our middle name and it's non geography in the ways that people think about it in the past. The way I learned it in school, which was, places on a map or the states and capitals. The way we think about it is this door for learners to understand the interconnected world around them. We believe that if ever there was a discipline suited to problem solving, it's 21st century kinds of notions around geography. Where you're studying how things came to be and the way they are and you're taking those insights and thinking about what that means for what's happening to the earth and the inhabitants of it. Whether those activities are helpful or harmful and how you could be a part in changing that. It's that ability to think like a geographer that might be one of the most important skills that we can give young people now, along with having an Explorer mindset. Being curious about the world and your place in it.

Daniel: Living across the world is taught me, there's not just one approach or one right way to solving different issues or handling how you live life. You mentioned how geography you think about it in a way of it opening doors, to something new.I'm curious of all the places where you've traveled or lived, what's been a favorite and what was the door that was open for you?

Vicki: Wow. That's a really fantastic questionconsidering how I grew up. I grew up in a very small place called Falls of rough, Kentucky. a high poverty corner of the county that I grew up in and that experience was incredibly grounded in community, but not very grounded in what the larger world looked like. In fact, I really didn't even have the expectations that I was going to go to college. Quite honestly, maybe the most important road I ever traveled was from my home 90 miles down the road to the university. I ended up going to because a peer pushed me and wouldn't accept the inequities between us. She probably opened the most important door for me and that door, really ended up in me going to college. Traveling that 90 miles and learning that there was a whole new world and opportunity for me out there.

Vicki: Once I graduated college, I had the good fortune to set my feet on a career path that took me to lots of different roles and lots of different places. Every place I've traveled around the world, I've found something to wonder about both in terms of the culture, the beauty, and the diversity. Also something to be curious and wonder about in that respect and to just deepen my knowledge and understanding. We have to figure out how to give young people, those kinds of opportunities. I've gotten to do a lot of that by physically traveling, but given today's world, we can actually help people virtually travel from their backyard and experience the, sort of the wonders and the diversity and the geographical differences across the planet.

Daniel: Absolutely. I couldn't agree more. I'm very privileged to serve school leaders and literally from every continent except Antarctica. I'll figure that one out at some point, but that's really interesting and you've held many different roles within the space of education. I'd like to pull on that thread of growing up there in rural Kentucky and not necessarily seeing yourself at college, but then that that changed for you. What would you say to the Ruckus Maker listening? They're typically principals and APS and especially for those ones that serve in a rural community, like you grew up in. How might they inspire the young Vicki's that are in their school to have the Explorer's mindset that college might be the next best step for them?

Vicki: I think part of it is exposing, young people at a whole variety of ages to careers they might not have imagined with people who look like them in those careers. Getting them out and doing projects and other things that allow them to both be inspired, but also develop that set of skills that we talked about earlier that you need to have an Explorer's mindset. There are organizations like National Geographic that are increasingly putting education resources in the hands of educators, wherever they are in the globe, rural America or rural Africa that actually help young people do that. Actually work from not just an Explorer's mindset, but actually demonstrate the real life work of explorers and allow kids to experience firsthand what that can, what it can be like to have those attitudes and skills and competencies.

Daniel: Brilliant. I know you mentioned earlier in our conversation that Nat Geo has tons of just tremendous resources to offer educators. I think you said free as well, which the Ruckus Maker nation for sure is going to appreciate. Is there anything else around the resources that you'd like to bring into the conversation? Maybe a favorite resource or newly developed one, but something to peak their interest and where can they go to get them?

Vicki: You can go to NatGeoed.org and you can go to variety of places in our education tools, but we certainly have a very large and assessable resource library. You'll also find that we do events like this week. In fact, tomorrow we're doing a virtual field trip to the solar system and beyond. Kids get to be exposed to an astrophysics and some others so it's very, directly related to what's kind of happening in the world and to the work of our explorers. One thing that's very exciting about national geographic resources is that we are reflecting the work of explorers around the world. Another example would be that we post on YouTube during the week, something called explore classroom, where one of our explorers comes online and spends time with young people. Some of them can get chosen to be able to directly ask questions. In any case, you get to see what the real day-to-day work of an Explorer in the field is amazing.

Daniel: I'm in joining our conversation so much Vicky. We're going to pause here just for a quick message from our sponsors. When we get back, I want to talk about educator burnout and how to persist during these days.

Daniel: Take the next step in your professional development with Harvard's online certificate in school management and leadership, learn from Harvard faculty without leaving your home, grow your network with fellow school leaders from around the world. As you collaborate and case studies of leaders in education and business. Apply now for our October 2021 and February, 2022 cohorts at betterleadersbetterschools.com/harvard. That's betterleadersbetterschools.com/harvard. 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 in 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.

Daniel: 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. We're back with Vicki Phillips, the chief education officer at the National Geographic society. I mentioned before the break, during our pre-chat, I remember discussing just the challenging times we obviously exist in these days, but we need to persist. Any tips do you have, for the Ruckus Maker listening in terms of how to renew their energy or to remain hopeful and that kind of thing.

Vicki: It's interesting when I was a superintendent of schools and I needed a lift, I'd go to the nearest kindergarten class, and have a conversation with kindergarteners and let them read to me and get a big hug. I think there's all kinds of ways that you can get that lift. One is to just, be inspired by what you're doing for the young people around you and the chance that you're giving them. I also think that one great source of inspiration for educators or other educators, like nobody knows teaching, like teachers, nobody knows what the principalship is like other principals. You have to surround yourself with people from whom you can get ideas and seek advice, but also seek just inspiration and support. I think we don't do enough to show educators that we can both support them in the work that they do, but also in their Headspace, but also support their heart space.

Vicki: The fact that, they too need us to be lifting them up, elevating their voices honoring and respecting what it is they do on an ongoing basis and finding ways to put great resources in their hands that they can readily use at the moment they need them. It's what we wake up every day at National Geographic Education, trying to think about. It's one of the things I felt strongly about in my whole career that you need to find multiple ways to support educators, but I've also just learned that building a network community of educators, which we're doing at national geographic and giving those educators ways to support each other, because nobody knows that work better than they do, or how to uplift each other in a moment. This large, diverse global community of educators that we're building, we watched that happen every day, a year or so ago when, COVID first hit. We watched, one of our educators put out a tweet that resonated around the world with educators and ended up creating a lot of conversation around what it means to be teacher strong in a time of really high anxiety.

Vicki: We saw teachers really support each other and the fact that they were trying to stand up virtual classrooms virtually overnight. Those big networks communities can, and some of the smaller interest groups inside them can be a real source of both support and inspiration.

Daniel: Community is everything to me. I appreciate you highlighting the topic of that tweet or the theme if I caught it does it have to do a perseverance and grit and what it means to be teachers strong or was there, was there something else to it that I might be missing?

Vicki: It was about persistence and grit and the fact that teachers could come together and figure it out together and that they didn't have to feel alone and isolated in what was obviously one of the most challenging and difficult, years of their profession. I mean, in some ways continuing and I think, finding support among each other, being able to share immediate ideas that worked, finding things that could be done and environments that you weren't used to teaching in, figuring out that you could learn what you need of working with others quickly. All those things I think helped for a lot of teachers make a huge difference. As somebody who grew up again in challenging circumstances, but we're community was very strong. You looked out for your neighbor and you helped each other out. I watched teachers do that on a daily basis and it never fails to make me so proud of them.

Daniel: You've found yourself ahead of the curve often in your educational career. I think that is like the definition of making a ruckus. I know the listeners will be able to relate part of that though, is figuring out how to bring people along with you. As the leader. What are some stories of a success or failure when you are leading ahead of the curve and you need to bring others along with you?

Vicki: Well, I definitely sometimes got that right but sometimes I got that abismally wrong, I will say in various roles. I think one key for me in are maybe a couple of keys for me in every job I've been in is that one, I never forgot that victory is in the classroom. By that, I mean, that victory is where the learners are. You can't claim success if you're not impacting learners. The bond between teachers and learners is so powerful. I always felt that the job that I had as an administrator, whether I was at a school level, a district level, a state level, even when I was acting as a philanthropist, I always felt that it was my job to power that bond. It's the job of principals and district superintendents and others, to make sure that that bond between teachers and students is as powerful as it can be because that's where the magic of learning happened.

Vicki: I tried to keep in mind that that's where things should begin, with the learning. The second thing is I tried to really listen to teachers and I became better and better at that over time. Involving them early on, really listening to what they needed, being responsive to that, being clear about it when I couldn't, or when I needed them to come along with me and try something out. Many, many instances, it was teacher leaders who helped me move something ahead of that curve, whether it was project-based learning or an immersive learning experience or a new way of designing how schools were organized so that it would give better a time for learning or whether it was more time for professional development for teachers, I learned to let, teachers and teacher leaders really both have a voice and take the lead. And that helped me enormously.

Daniel: Absolutely. There's a lot to learn from our students obviously. I'd love to hear what you think in terms of listening to the youth when it comes to innovating in education and where education needs to go.

Vicki: You're speaking language that's near and dear to my and Nat geo's heart today about both educators and young people. In addition to building a large educator community and supports for educators who are also working with youth and building a large youth community and helping them find solutions. I would say that some of the same things apply. We're learning to listen to you and co-design with them. They tell us that they're tired of admiring the problem. They want to be part of finding the solutions that they want their voices elevated and heard that they have amazing ideas about what should happen, innovate in education. They want to be at the table in the same way. They want us to put teachers at the table. We should be designing things for them that really resonates. For example, we recently designed a storytelling for impact course, because as you might imagine, one of National Geographic superpowers is storytelling. We designed a storytelling for impact course, and we designed one for educators and one for you. Increasingly we're trying to listen to them and provide opportunities, both to be heard, to be part of the solution and to be part of a collective community is aiming for impact around issues that they care about.

Daniel: I love the highlighting and elevating of story.That's the way we've learned as civilization for forever. I am very excited that you have that offer available for people. Thank you for sharing that. I'd love to hear. If you could put a message on all school marquees around the world for a single day, what would your message read?

Vicki: Can I have two days, one month? I think there are two things I would put on a marquee. The first would be just a reminder that the learners of today are the leaders of tomorrow. That as I mentioned a moment ago, it's important to listen to teachers. It's also important to listen to young people because they're powerful forces for meaningful change. In fact, we've been funding young explorers and there's a quote from one of them that says "young people are the Earth's most untapped resource for hope." I just think that's such a powerful image to have in your head because while these young people are separated by distance and culture and a global pandemic. There is a growing community united and a common cause. The same way, many of us are United in common causes.

Vicki: They're motivating and engaging their peers. They're working together to champion solutions around everything from climate to social justice, to equitable education, to sustainable development. They're very much, forces in the world that we should be, lifting up empowering with a voice and with an Explorer's mindset. I would say they're the leaders of tomorrow and they're architecting that change now, and we should help them do that. So that would be one thing. The other one, I think is around this concept that we've been talking about an Explorer's mindset. I would have a bottom are key for quite a lot of the year. Be curious, be empathetic and be empowered because that's what we want. Both educators and youth, to be curious, empathetic and empowered,

Daniel: Curious, empathetic, and empowered. Those are great suggestions. Vicky, if you could build your dream school and you're not limited by any resources, you're only limitations your imagination, how would you build that dream school? What would be your three guiding principles?

Vicki: Well, not surprisingly. I would build my dream school, I think around design thinking and bold innovation that empowers students as planetary stewards, storytellers, and explorers, and really engages them in the kind of real world experience that allows them to help design solutions. Fostering connection and understanding, cultivating that Explorer's mindset and using the boldest most innovative delivery mechanisms we could to engage kids in learning. That's what I would be focused on.

Daniel: Brilliant. Well, Vicki, we've covered a lot of ground today on this show. If the Ruckus Maker listening could remember only one thing, what would be that thing you'd have them remember?

Vicki: I think I'd go back to the marquee, which is all of us should be curious, be empathetic, and be empowered.

Daniel: Thanks for listening to the Better Leaders, Better Schools Podcasts 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 Schools Podcasts 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 #BLBS level up your leadership at better leaders, better schools.com and talk to you next time until then class dismissed.

Show Highlights

  • A weekly tip and challenge to help you thrive. 
  • Memorable insights that have educators showing up differently in the future.
  • Be a Cosigner to the teacher’s needs and how they’re experiencing things. 
  • Developing an explorer’s mindset and an empowered voice. 
  • Nat Geo provides a door for learners to understand the interconnected world around them.
  • 90 miles for a global perspective that minimizes inequities between people. 
  • Nat Geo’s superpowers, solutions, and impact around issues we care about.
  • Find yourself ahead of the curve in your educational career.
Vicki Philips: Leading With An Explorer’s Mindset

“If ever there was a discipline suited to problem solving, it’s 21st century kinds of notions around geography. Where you’re studying how things came to be and the way they are. You’re taking those insights and thinking about what that means for what’s happening to the earth and the inhabitants of it. Whether those activities are helpful or harmful and how you could be a part in changing that. It’s that ability to think like a geographer that might be one of the most important skills that we can give young people now, along with having an Explorer mindset. Being curious about the world and your place in it.”

“Victory is in the classroom. Victory is where the learners are. You can’t claim success if you’re not impacting learners. The bond between teachers and learners is so powerful. I always felt that the job that I had as an administrator, whether I was at a school level, a district level, a state level, even when I was acting as a philanthropist, I always felt that it was my job to power that bond. It’s the job of principals and district superintendents and others, to make sure that that bond between teachers and students is as powerful as it can be. That’s where the magic of learning happens.”

– Vicki Philips



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