Amy Platt is delighted to be the Head of School at the Paul Penna Downtown Jewish Day School. Amy is passionate about excellent instruction and working with teachers to be the talented professionals they are destined to be. Amy holds a PhD and an MA from the University of Toronto. When Amy is not at work she can be found on long-distance bike rides, pondering the larger issues facing education.
3 Big Ideas
- Education is better with ice cream
- Challenge will make you better
- Everybody needs a mantra
Climbing Big Hills and Navigating past critics
- The cornerstone of what you’re building is formed around knowing your vision, mission AND values.
- Learn how Amy overcame feeling sidelined as a leader
- Amy shares leadership principles, mental endurance and benefits of creativity
- Go at the big hills in life and in leadership if you expect growth and strength
- Amy tells how the Mastermind community transforms leadership
“I just want the Ruckus Maker to know that they can take any mundane moment and make it powerful if they really use the factors that are there to help transform moments.”
– Amy Platt
Full Transcript Available Here
Welcome to the Better Leaders, Better Schools Podcast. This is your friendly neighborhood podcast host Daniel Bauer
Better leaders, better schools is a weekly show, full of Ruckus Makers. And what is a Ruckus Maker? A leader who has found freedom from the status quo. A leader who makes change happen. A leader who never ever gives up.
When was the last time you’ve done something so unexpected? It brought a smile to everybody in your community. I’m talking about parents, teachers, staff members, students as a leader of a school or district. You,Ruckus Maker have a unique opportunity to do something special. Maybe even every day, every day could be exhausting. But what I want you to think about is the power that is inherently inside every single moment that we sort of just take for granted in today’s conversation with one of my friends, Amy Platt shares, how she did just that. How did she do it? Well, this story takes place with a holiday that happens every single year but Amy decided to look at it a bit differently this year and brought in ice cream truck to school and the rest is history. So keep listening to hear that fantastic story and how you might bring some energy to your school by utilizing the power of a moment. We’ll also talk about something Amy found extremely valuable called the decision journal. You can read all about the decision journal on my website and download a free template over at BetterLeadersBetter Schools.com/decisiondash journal, a link to the decision journal. Will also be in the show notes, so Ruckus Maker. Thanks for being here and before we jump into that episode, I’d like to take some time to thank our show sponsors
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Well, hello Ruckus Makers. I’m here with a friend and fantastic leader. We’re going to have so much fun. I’m talking in added value to you today through the podcast. Dr Amy Platt is delighted to be head of school, the Paul Penna downtown Jewish Day School. Amy is passionate about excellent instruction and working with teachers to be talented professionals they are destined to be. Amy holds a PhD and master’s from the University of Toronto. When Amy is not at work, she can be found on long distance bike rides, pondering the larger issues facing education. Welcome to the show Amy.
Thanks Danny. It’s really fun to be here.
So you have just a wonderful, beautiful picture of you with the biggest smile hanging out of the window of ice cream truck and I want us to start with that story of bringing the ice cream truck to school and why you did that.
It’s a great, great story. So ice cream trucks are an incredibly seasonal delight in Toronto, Canada. Our temperature warms up towards the end of May and cools down and the beginning of October and from May to October you can see ice cream trucks everywhere and they are truly, truly delightful for children and adults alike. So in my first year at the school, it was June and we were coming up to a Jewish holiday called Shavuot and it is traditional for people on Shavuot to eat dairy foods. So you don’t eat any meat on Shavuot you just eat dairy. We blintzes, we eat ice cream, we cheesecake and the traditional food to give children in schools is ice cream sandwiches. The 20 years the school was alive, every Shavuot the children would get ice cream sandwiches in the classrooms and I felt that we had an opportunity to do something really fun and different and special to mark the holiday, partially because it was my first holiday there and it was early June, sometimes Shavuot it falls in early May, but this was early June, so it was warm enough to do this.
So I suggested to our parent’s association and to our school program coordinators that we get an ice cream truck. I thought it was a bit of a wacky idea. I wasn’t sure what everyone would say and they thought it was a great idea. Our parents’ association agreed to pay for it. It was probably about $250 or $300 more than ice cream sandwiches for the class. And so on that June day we brought that ice cream truck and we pulled it into the only parking spot around the building. I had to work with my building manager to allow the ice cream truck to back up. I actually bribed her by telling her that after the children ate ice cream, every staff member in the building would have a 20 minute window to come and get ice cream. We gave ice cream to all of the nursery school students in the building who aren’t part of our school but are definitely our pipeline.
And that was super fun. And I was holding the door as the children were running down with glee as they saw the ice cream truck, we had this complex schedule to get 160 kids and their teachers ice cream in a 35 minute timeline. And I thought to myself, I could hold the door or I could give the ice cream, who wouldn’t want to be the person who gets to give the ice cream? So after about the third class, I jumped into the ice cream truck and I worked in tandem with the ice cream truck driver and I handed out ice cream. And those smiles were unbelievable. The kids were so excited to choose and to get and to enjoy, and the teachers loved it. So when Shavuot came back again this year, the question was, do we do the ice cream truck again? Do we do ice cream sandwiches?
What do we do? We ultimately decided against a second ice cream truck because we didn’t want the kids to get into the habit of expecting something big and special. We really wanted that to be a standout memory in their time. Remember the time the ice cream truck came to school and so we rethought it and we did another wonderful thing that was a little bit of ice cream sandwiches, a little bit of ice cream sundae, a little bit of welcoming the third graders up to the upstairs where the fourth, fifth and sixth grades live so that they would get a sense of what life upstairs is like. It’s a big move for them and we played with ice cream again. We’ve decided that we’re not going to take ice cream as routine or for granted and each year we’ll think about how we can really leverage the ice cream into a memorable moment.
Speaking of moments that really reminds me of that book. We ride, you know, the power of moments and you really leveraged moments. Having the ice cream truck amplifying the value of the holiday and doing some special that would be forever in the minds of those students. I wonder too, if it’s something that you bring back just once through their tenure at your school. And I love that you, had the strength to say it’s not every single year because what’s the value of doing it big and bold every time there might be a cost related to that and you critically thought about it. So it’s interesting. Ice cream stories, ice cream trucks. Wonderful. Wonderful experience.
Yeah, it was great. It was really, really great. Everyone loves ice cream.
That’s a sweet story. But I’m wondering if we can turn to one that’s maybe not necessarily very challenging, but I know that you shared in the intro a metaphor of what you learned about climbing a big hill on your bicycle. That you love to go out on long bike rides. But this does also illustrate some leadership principles. So can we go there?
I think it’s important to start at the beginning of my bike riding journey. When my son was in JK he made a best friend as lots of little kids do in JK and one of the things that allows me to do the kind of work I do and work as much as I do, with as much passion as I do, is that my children are at school with me. And so when my son was in JK, he made a little friend and that little friend was in my charge because I was a vice principal for this group of children and I met his mother.
This little boy was really a spirited child and I had lots of interactions with his mother and she really became my best friend. We’re best friends to this day and I think it’s because of bike riding. So what’s amazing about my friend, it is so sad is that she was widowed in 2013 with a almost three year old and a one and a half year old. And when I met her in 2015 or 16 she had participated in an amazing bike ride called the Ride to Conquer Cancer to help raise money for cancer research and support the hospital who had given her late husband and her family so much amazing care in his final months. She had done it with her brother and sister-in -aw. But this year her sister was pregnant with twins and wasn’t going to be able to do it and she was going to do it alone and I couldn’t have her do it alone.
I don’t like when people have to do big things alone. I thought to myself, if this amazing woman can do this with two little kids and no husband at home, surely I can do this with two little kids and a husband at home. So I bought a bike and she and I started training together. And for five years we’ve done The Ride to Conquer Cancer together. I think that we’ve probably raised close to a hundred thousand dollars in our small network. My husband ultimately joined in and for us that started a passion of cycling, which was exactly what we needed to get us from ski season to ski season because its really what we love to do as a family escape. Anyways, all that to say this year on the ride to conquer cancer, the ride went down into a city called Hamilton and that was our midway point and people set up camp at the University of McMaster University in Hamilton campus and the ride in was beautiful.
There’s one little hill, it’s beautiful through the vineyards of Ontario and you’d go down a lovely hill right into McMaster. The problem with going down a lovely hill ,what’s the problem, Danny? Yes. You have to go back up, you have to go back up. Getting 5,000 people up a big Hill is a challenge. So the organizers of this ride planned the route really nicely to go up a really gentle railway trail that kind of went in and out of meander off the big hill. And so I was set to do that. I was following my husband, I was following the people, I was following my perfectly programmed byte computer and when I got to this railway path I noticed that my husband and five or six people we were riding with and my bike computer all went the other direction.
So 5,000 people are going up to the bike path, gentile bike path and my six people and my bike computer are going up the steep kilometer and a half long hill. And I have a big decision to make at this moment. Do I follow my computer and my people and take the challenge of the big hill or do I do what I know I can do, which is meander up the bike path in a crowd of people. And if you know anything about road cycling, there’s nothing worse than being on a bike that’s supposed to go fast behind people who are going slow. So I dug deep and I started cycling up this very, very big Hill. Actually halfway up you have a lovely, lovely view of the city of Hamilton and McMaster campus. So that was a halfway bonus and when I got to the top of the Hill, my group was patiently waiting for me and I had a sip of water and I then had a long flat to think about what I had just done and I was really proud of myself.
It was a hard and unexpected hill. It was the beginning of our season and what I remembered in that moment or what I came to in that moment is that our moments of greatest growth in strength often come in the times of greatest struggle. So the hill was really hard, but I am a strong, literally stronger writer and rider and metaphorically and mentally stronger rider because I did that hill. And I know the same is true of leadership, that not all moments of leadership are ice cream trucks and ice cream cones. And big smiles on a sunny day that we have a lot of big hills that we have to climb and they’re not always expected and sometimes there’s an easier route to go, but our organizations and ourselves aren’t going to have the same amount of growth if we don’t strive for those big but attainable. I have been clear with my husband that if and when we ever go to Europe, there are hills that will never be attainable to me or they’ll only be attainable with an E bike, in which case I remind myself that sometimes there are huge hills that we have to climb that might not be attainable with just our own pedal power. But there are other tools in our kit and other resources around us that we can use to still get up those hills. So I’ve learned a ton from endurance cycling and hill riding that gets me through my day every day. And my kids will say to me, because they’ve heard me say it on my bike, on my skis and actually on water slides you can do hard and scary things. So my kids will always remind me and I often will remind myself in the course of my day, you can do hard and scary things.
Thank you for sharing that story. It reminds me of one of my favorites, Seneca quotes now, which is basically, I judge you unfortunate because you’ve gone through life without any misfortune. You’ve had no opponent, nobody knows what you’re capable of, not even you. That was an important quote for me. Get into my heart because I don’t like going up the challenging hill I like doing the meandering path. I like it too easy sometimes. Now with that quote and experiences in life, just like you mentioned, learning that they do teach you the biggest things. I look forward to what those big hills will teach me
Endurance riding and Big Hill riding isn’t for everyone. So you know, you’ve moved across the ocean with only Miriam and had to create a life and a social network and a work that works there. To me, that’s a huge, huge hill. So it might not be your pedal power, but it is definitely your mental endurance and your creativity that allows you to live overseas, away from family for multiple years at a time. It’s just where people find their hills but look in your life for your Hills and see how that can metaphorically relate to the way you do your work, the way you engage in work life quality or work life balance, the way you parent, the way you’re married. I mean all of those things can be great Hills and just finding the place in your life where you can and go down them or go at them.
It was real. I have to pull something out of the story that you shared. I may have known this about you or am I just learned it for the first time, I think I heard you say that your kids hear you say something that I can do hard and scary things. One, did I hear that correctly? Two, if I did, that’s because this is something you’re saying out loud, is that right? Am I getting it correct?
There’s two things my kids say so I’ll talk a little bit about hard and scary things. They also will say to me, mom, the light or the want will pass. So when I walk by a store and I say, Oh that’s a really nice dress, I think I’m going to go try it on. My daughter will look at me and say, mom, the want will pass. Oh that’s really sweet. The other thing my kids repeat that I say and my husband repeats to them. I’m now finding some colleagues who are telling me that you can do hard and scary things. So for me this is a personal mantra. I use it when I’m going down steep ski hills. I use it when I’m riding up deep bike hills. My family loves water slides and I don’t ever want either of my kids, but I guess especially my daughter to see me backing away from something because I think it’s scary. So I have done water slides that are way, way outside of my comfort zone and I literally will stand out in that water slide. If you’ve ever seen the videos of the water slide where the floor falls out from under you.
I haven’t, but that sounds terrible.
It’s terrible. You go into this chamber and then the door closes and then you count to three and then the floor falls out from under you and you just drop. It’s very scary. But you know, I can do hard and scary things and so I know that I can do that. And it transfers to work. Last week over the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend we did some ropes courses with our kids and I definitely heard my daughter while she was, you know, 25 feet up in the air going over these rope and wood blocks. We were harnessed in, we were totally safe, but saying you can do hard and scary things, I can do hard and scary things and mom, you can do hard and scary things and so we set it back to each other. It’s really a great mantra. We all have.
Everybody should have something like that. Confidence is 100% tied to what you say to yourself. Far too often I don’t know if the Ruckus Maker can relate. Maybe you can Amy, but that thing we say to ourselves, even out loud is not very helpful. Right? Why’d you do that? You’re so stupid or, you know, but to be able to repeat, I can do hard and scary things and doing that consistently is such a generous gift and that you’re giving it away to, you know, to your family. I really, I really loved that.
Amy. Let’s pause here just for a second to get a message from a sponsor, but we’ll be right back. Better Leaders. Better Schools is proudly sponsored by organized binder, a program which gives students daily exposure to goal setting, reflective learning, time and task management, study strategies, organizational skills, and more organized binders. Color coded system is implemented by the teacher with the students, helping them create a predictable independable classroom routine, learn more and improve your students’ executive functioning and noncognitive firstname.lastname@example.org today’s podcast is sponsored by SaneBox inbox zero that’s a thing of the past Ruckus Maker. You’re so inundated with email that it’s no longer about responding to everything. It’s about responding only to the important things, the messages that truly matter. That’s where SaneBox comes in. Think of it as a robotic Marie Kondo for your email as messages flow in SaneBox, tidying up your inbox, leaving only the important emails and directing all the distracting stuff to your sane later folder. Now you know what messages to pay attention to and what stuff you can get to later on. It also has nifty features like seeing black hole where I drag messages from annoying senders that I never want to hear from again and see reminders which pings me when somebody hasn’t replied to a message I’ve sent out. Best of all, you can use SaneBox with any email service out there. See how SaneBox can magically remove distractions from your inbox with a free two week trial, visit sanebox.com/BLBS today, and you’ll also get a $25 credit at sanebox.com/BLBS.
All right, and we’re back with Dr Amy Platt. We just finished a wonderful story about her talking about how she can do hard and scary things and the leadership lessons she learned climbing very difficult hills on her bicycle. Amy, something that you mentioned in the intro call that I love is that you’ve often felt sidelined as a leader. I don’t love that. You said you didn’t feel that in the mastermind and I’m wondering if you could just speak about your experience there for a little bit.
Sure. I’ve really loved being in the mastermind and recently given a lot of thought to how the mastermind has become one of my favorite times of the week, that I love the people I’ve met and really the friends that I’ve made. I look forward to it as a social highlight of my week, hearing about other people’s wins of the week, thinking about the hot seat and what I can learn from other people’s challenges and the way that this diverse group of a dozen of us share how I’ve been helped with my own challenges. What I love most about the mastermind is how I feel like they’re such equal playing fields. So sometimes in leadership I feel that both being female and also being young,I started as a vice principal at 31, my voice hasn’t always mattered or my ideas haven’t always been counted and there’ve been other people in the room whose ideas are more important.
I’ve learned a lot about leadership through that and from that and what to do with that and how to overcome that. But in the mastermind, I never feel that way. I feel that gender doesn’t matter. Race doesn’t matter. Sexuality doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t matter who you are because we’ve all come to this with our best intentions and our most generous assumptions about people and we’re just there to learn and help and and form friendships. And so I have found that to be a really remarkable highlight of my week and I feel like it’s added tremendously to my professional growth over the last probably 14 or 15 months that I’ve been part of the mastermind. Learning from others, learning from you the resources that I’ve gained access to both because they’re available and maybe they’re available to everyone in the community, but just being on that call every week highlights to me what’s there and reminds me where to look and what I can use to really level up my own leadership.
I appreciate you sharing a bit about your experience in Ruckus Maker. If you are wanting to apply or to check out about all the value of the Mastermind go to Betterleadersbetterschools.com/Mastermind. Well, Amy, let’s finish up our conversation. You knew these questions were coming. What would you put on a school marquee around the globe if you could do so for just a day?
So the first thing I wrote was a Berne Brown idea. I couldn’t imagine that I could get through this podcast without referencing Berne and my general love of Berne. I am the number one Berne fan out there. So I took a quote from her book, Braving the Wilderness, which is a wonderful book about how we really get to know ourselves in this complicated world. And what Berne says in that book is “move in people are hard to hate close up.” And in a world right now that is really quite driven by divisiveness along arbitrary lines. I think it’s important that we remember to move in, people are hard to hate close up and so when we have so many differences that drive us, you know, when we really get to know people, whether or not they’re a Republican or a Democrat, whether or not they belong to one religious group or another, often that stops mattering because we really get to know what’s at the heart of people. And so for that I would want everyone to remember to move in. People are hard to hate close up. But then we talked about this idea of I can do scary things and so I wonder if really what I’d want to put on school marquees is I can do hard and scary things and you can do hard and scary things because I would want faculty, families, students, drivers, custodians, cafeteria workers to remember every day that they can do hard and scary things and those challenges will make them better.
Both messages are a BLBS approved. So we’ll give you two days with marquees around the world.
Thank you so much
Amy. You’re building a school from the ground up. 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?
I think I’m in the process of trying to build my dream school and we’ve talked about this before and I brought it to the Mastermind, hot seat at my school is currently undergoing the decision making process as to whether or not we’ll grow from a K-6 to a K-8 school. We spend a lot of time thinking about whether or not adding a grade seven eight will both add value and be sustainable in the long run. Both in terms of growing our organization and adding more value for the families who are currently there. And so I think about what does it take to build a school? What would I really want? My thinking, like we’ll be doing at our school is what I call a satellite space. And so I think about space. I really do wish that money was no object.
I spend a lot of time thinking about how to raise funds for this school so that we can do everything that we want. And then I think about what is it that I’d want in this school? What would it look like? For me, people always come first and who are the people we’d want running the school? Who are the right faculty? Who are the right families? How can I create a school that would offer great opportunity to children in our community who really want this kind of values based education, either through elementary school or linking them from elementary to high school, really insulating them during those really tumultuous years of middle school. I think about wanting people who our values aligned. So values aligned with families and faculty are so important and we know our value. I think it’s important that if you’re building a school from the ground up, you know what your mission, vision, values are and you know what the cornerstone is of the institution you’re building.
When I think about a school, I want a school that has lots and lots of light. I look for space with big windows. I think about architecture that would bring in the right light from the right directions and not just light in the physical space, but light in the emotional and the spiritual space. So what would it mean to bring light into a building in the way that we engage with people in the way that we engage with our spirituality and just in a way that would allow visitors to come in and say, wow, this is a really bright place, from both the sunlight that would shine in and bright from the sunlight that would shine out of the people who were in the school.
Amy, 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?
I think what I want Ruckus Makers to remember is that you can make any moment powerful and reading the book, The Power of Moments with the Mastermind by Dan and Chip Heath has really been a transformational experience for me. It’s up there with Daring Greatly by Brene Brown books I’ve read or listened to multiple times, I’ve given out as gifts. I tell my employees that new employees have to read Power of Moments when they start and I just want the Ruckus Maker to know that they can take any mundane moment and make it powerful if they really use the factors that are there to help transform moments.
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 at betterleadersbetterschools.com or hit me up on Twitter @alien earbud. 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 @alien earbud and using the hashtag #blbs level up your leadership at better leaders, better schools.com and talk to you next time. Until then, class dismissed
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