Simply put, a ruckus maker is an innovative school leader who makes change happen in school. They don’t make change just for the sake of change. They make change because their communities deserve it. Your students are crying for it. Your teachers want to aspire to something more. 

To be an effective school leader, go make a ruckus. 

Here are 10 ways to make a ruckus within your school . . .  

Find the right “WHOs.”

The BLBS “Just Cause” is “to connect, grow, and mentor every school leader who wants to level up.” It’s a big goal and I can’t accomplish it on my own. And yet my default is to sit in my office, backwards map a plan to get there and start executing on the plan. 

The problem with that approach is not only is it stressful; it is ineffective.

I’m reading a great book that has challenged my thinking on this matter. According to Dan Sullivan, I need to find the right “WHOs” that can execute on my vision and forget about “HOW” BLBS will get there.

Forget the coffee mugs and banners.

If your vision fits on a coffee mug or banner, it may sound good, but it’s less inspiring than you realize. It’s not bold enough. 

I have an uncommon approach to crafting a meaningful vision and the truth is — most school vision statements suck. Instead of writing a few sentences of where your organization is going, a meaningful vision is robust and looks at everything like organizational goals, core values, ideal team members, how you spend your time as a leader, future programs that would enhance the school experience, etc.

Develop yourself.

At BLBS we believe, “Everyone wins when a leader gets better. Everyone wins when you get better.” Your community is counting on you to be the best version of yourself. If you don’t develop yourself intentionally, there is an actual cost to you and your community. Instead of growing you are degrading. The choice is yours.

A few ways I develop myself that will work for you too:

  • Read, and read some more.
  • Take online courses (preferably live for accountability).
  • Practice in public and implement what you learn.
  • Have conversations with people smarter and more experienced than you.
  • Hire an individual coach.
  • Join a mastermind.
  • Invest in a multiple day leadership intensive.

Develop your team.

Earlier I mentioned the importance of finding the right WHOs to implement your vision. Your job is to cast the vision, set up the guardrails, and develop your team. Effective school leaders utilize assessments like StrengthFinders 2.0 and allow people to contribute in their “zone of genius.” You might also consider developing your coaching skills.

Be unique.

The surest path to leading a mediocre school is to do what everyone else does. By doing the opposite you can become more effective in your role. 

Anything great was first an outlier. 

Henry Ford said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

Steve Ballmer, the head of Microsoft, laughed at the idea of an iPhone.

Schools have a funny way of paying lip service to innovation, but how many great schools around you are truly innovating? I was hired to innovate within a school. That pissed off the Board of Ed and Central Office team who hired me. I would have been fired if I didn’t resign.

High Tech High is the poster child for innovation. 

So why aren’t there more High Tech Highs across the nation?

Be the pink umbrella. 

Pink umbrella

Do your work in public.

I like to post my goals, results, and reflections in public. This does two things for me:

  1. It holds me accountable to the Ruckus Maker tribe I serve. 
  2. It models effective leadership and inspires others to do the same. 

Before bringing OKRs to the entire school, Gene modeled his professional and personal goals. Then he piloted it with his leadership team. Now this goal setting system has gone school wide and has momentum. 

Help your staff accomplish their dreams.

Working on a bucket list (or dream list) is a great way to build culture in your school. What would happen if you had an idea of every individuals’ dreams in your school and you helped them achieve some of those dreams?

  • Your culture would improve.
  • Your staff would create higher quality work.
  • No one would want to leave your school.
  • You would have to turn away amazing applicants each year because you didn’t have a position for them.

Many schools have the opposite problem. 

Test me on this idea. I dare you.

Read widely (and outside education).

We don’t read any education-focused books in the mastermind. That’s because school leaders read enough about education already. Education “bubbles” exists when the only information coming in is from education content creators.

“It is extremely difficult to maintain a circle of competence without an outside perspective.”

– Shane Parrish

What do Oprah, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffet have in common

Yes, they’re all billionaires, but they also read — a lot. Buffet reads five to six hours a day. Gates reads at least fifty books a year. Oprah credits much of her success to books. 

Read widely and read diverse perspectives

Know what kind of work you’re doing.

There is a difference between deep and shallow work. Shallow work helps you maintain your job. Deep work makes you indispensable. 

It feels good to cross things off your to-do list and you can check off 10 shallow items for an individual deep task. 

Fight the urge to do easy, comfortable, nearly automatic work. Invest in emotional labor, projects that move your vision forward, and tasks you might even be likely to fail at. 

Shallow work can often be automated, delegated, or eliminated. Deep work is like a lead domino — once you knock it down, everything else falls into place.

Have fun.

The energy you bring to your work is contagious. The work is serious, but you don’t have to take yourself too seriously. No one wants to be around (or work for a jerk). 

They say, “People don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad bosses.”

One step toward being more effective is to have fun in your role. If that’s not possible, maybe you should reflect on if you’re in the right position and industry.

My promise: do these 10 things and you are guaranteed to see change in your community. Like the lead domino, each of these 10 items are highly leverageable and create a ripple effect within your school.


How does it feel?

Since 2016, Better Leaders Better Schools has served 100s of school leaders from around the world by connecting hungry, innovative leaders to each other through a powerful network called, “The Mastermind.”

If you are leading on an island …

If you are surrounded by others, yet still isolated …

Or if you just want to level up your skill set and serve your community at a higher level, then check out why the mastermind is a powerful professional development experience.

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