Anthony Kim is a Corwin Press bestselling author, with publications including The New Team Habits, The New School Rules, and The Personalized Learning Playbook. His writing ranges the topics of the future of work, leadership and team motivation, improving the way we work, and innovation in systems-based approaches to organizations and school design. Anthony believes that how we work is the key determinant to the success of any organization.
In addition to his writing, Anthony is the founder and CEO of Education Elements, a trusted partner and consultant to over 1,000 schools nationwide. Anthony has been the founder of several companies across multiple industries, including online education, ecommerce, and concerts and events.
Anthony began his career in education by helping higher education institutions with technology projects and data. Shortly thereafter he moved into K-12 education with an emphasis in online learning with a company he founded, Provost Systems. Hebuilt virtual schools that included SIS, CMS and a portals for administrators, teachers, students and parents to use on a daily basis. Their success was quickly realized and were purchased by Edison Schools in 2008. After two years of serving Edison Schools as EVP of Online and assisting in the launch of Provost Academy he left to begin Education Elements in 2010.
Creative Thinking about School Leadership
Little did he know that his architecture degree and experience would play such a critical role in shaping his approach to education. He believes that learning environments and school designs need to be open and flexible so that teachers, the true designers of learning, can successfully create the best possible learning conditions for students.
Education has always been a part of him. As a young boy raised by a single mom, he never forgot the value his mother placed on education and how it shapes the person you become in the future.
“While I don’t teach students, I think my purpose has always been to teach adults and bring ideas from all industries to help us make a better education system.”
– Anthony Kim
- Establish habits of participation with the Check In Strategy
- Create an authentic interview by using a Crisis Improv
- How a well intended letter can change the trajectory of your life
- The pitfalls of sassy emails. Sound more human and less formulaic.
- What long term deposits look like in establishing partnerships
- Power in words, Anthony shares his motivational mantra
- You can’t out swim the ocean. Streamline the work and put the least amount of effort for the most amount of progress.
Full Transcript Available Here
Welcome to the podcast. This is your friendly neighborhood podcast, host Daniel Bauer.
Better Leaders, Better Schools is a weekly show for Ruckus Makers. 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 he gives up today. My guest is Anthony Kim, and we start off the show with an interesting story of how Anthony has gone from profession to profession, concert, promoter architect, finance, to now teaching leaders to be more effective in education. That’s an important story because so often we need to think critically and think creatively about finding, attracting and retaining the top talent for our schools. Well, we miss some folks. What can we learn from Anthony’s story to attract and retain better talent? Not only that, we hear about him learning to swim for the first time and the leadership principles there. Something that he’s really big on these days, the check in strategy, which is the way he opens, every single meeting. So Ruckus Maker, thanks for being here. And before we jump into the episode, I’d like to take some time to think our show sponsors The Better Leaders, Better Schools. Podcast is brought to you by organized binder, which increases student active engagement and participation and reduces classroom management issues. Learn firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today’s podcast is brought to you by teach FX. It’s basically like a Fitbit for teachers helping them be mindful of teacher talk versus student talk, get a special 20% discount for your school or district I visiting TeachFx.com/blbs.
I believe that school leaders are doing the best they can, but is it possible to be just a little bit better? According to Demetrius a school leader in California, the best part of the Mastermind is the hot seat. I learned so much from the challenges that we all shared during the hot seat because of the feedback that our members give is so insightful and valuable. Lauren, our principal in Washington, DC remarked, that the best part of the Mastermind is access to tremendous thought partnering. If you would benefit from getting connected to other elite school leaders and would enjoy discussing education and leadership deeply each week, then we welcome your application to the mastermind. Apply today at betterleadersbetterschools.com/mastermind.
Hey, there Ruckus Maker we’re joined today by Anthony Kim he’s a Corwin Press bestselling author, with publications including The New Team Habits, The New School Rules, and The Personalized Learning Playbook.. He writes about leadership team motivation and improving the way we work. Anthony is also the founder of Education Elements a consulting company with a mission to support educational leaders, to prepare their systems for the next generation of learners. Anthony, welcome to the show. Thanks man. Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.
New Speaker (03:32):
So schools could do a better job identifying and attracting talent. You have a good story of being hard to do some work in concert promotion. Let’s start there.
New Speaker (03:43):
Yeah, you’re going way back. I would say that was probably in about 1996 and I graduated from college in 1993 and I had just finished a couple of years working in finance and was in San Francisco,going through the paper. That’s how we applied for jobs back then. And I came across an ad that said a business manager for a concert business. At, at the time it was called Pace Entertainment, but it got bought by Clear Channel and by,SFX eventually. But the guy that interviewed me was Peter Gabriel’s manager and I don’t know, somehow we hit it off. I was trying to think why they would have hired me because I was in finance and they needed a business manager. I think part of it was just my lack of interest in celebrities.
New Speaker (04:50):
You know, it didn’t distract me from the work that needed to be done. Yeah. Okay. I like that. So almost this this dispassionate connection to what the whole industry is, was about allowed you to focus in and do the work if I’m hearing you. Right. Yeah. And I think that the guy appreciated my interest in the business, part of it, working with all the agents and how the stage gets set up and how you market the events and as opposed to like being fascinated by wanting to hang out with celebrities. I think that they took a risk on me to take on this position as the regional business officer and basically learn on the ropes. It was a lot around just being able to build good relationships with people, not really investing in the skills that I had, they were ready to invest in the skills and train me, but it was my ability to build relationships with folks.
Do you remember how they may suss that out a little bit. I don’t know if it was in the interview process or through the application process? The reason I’m asking is I see schools some schools, right? Not all, but,hey get stuck sort of in this rut and this very traditional mindset and they have an idea of what they want, but that person has to show up in a certain way. They miss out on a lot of people that could bring so much value to the organization. So I’m just wondering, if you remember, if there was a moment that let them say, okay, Anthony’s the guy.
Yeah. That’s a good question. I remember going through more of the formal interview process and interviewing with different folks, but one thing they did was they said, “Hey, today we got a show and why don’t you just stay for the show and kind of wander around and talk to whoever you want do whatever. I think during that time they observed what I was doing. I wasn’t just sitting backstage watching the show. I wasn’t in the front row, watching the show, I went around and talked to the box office manager, the food and beverage people, the stage hands, the merchandise people, and just engage with everybody. Like I cared about the people that work on the team, as opposed to just enjoying the show. And maybe that made the difference in terms of them thinking that I could build relationships and build a team with the people that were already there. And I could imagine in schools, it would be interesting to kind of carefully allow a candidate to wander the school and figure it out, see how they interact with people and kind of serve the way they draw people into conversations and relationships.
I love what you’re saying there. What I heard you share is that there was a formal process, but then that also turned into, Hey, we have a concert. Why don’t you come by? So this was an authentic experience for you. They could observe how you show it up and demonstrate if you had some of the skills and talents that they’ve maybe wanted on the team, the way I’ve shared this on the podcast before, but maybe a Ruckus Makers listening for the first time. And one thing that I think about is like in the main office, you can manufacture some sort of,fake crisis, right? Just to see if that applicant is all hands on deck, I’m willing to help out, even though I’m applying for a job, like sure, you need me to do this. I’m happy to do that. And that could be in the back of your mind check. Like they’re the type of person that we want on our team.
Oh yeah. That’d be awesome. Instead of doing a case study where people are making it up, you’re just like putting them into an improv situation. Basically.
I like how you said that the improv situation. So I want to push on the tradition idea just a bit more. And for somebody like you, who has had a just amazing diverse experience professionally, some people just really want to know, Hey, when were you a teacher? How long were you in the classroom? And they say it because to them, it really matters. Right. But my view is that that could be a very limiting question to ask. And I just want to hear your take on that.
You’re kind of hitting home in terms of just the sensitivity that I have around that. I feel like every time I give a keynote, someone comes up and asks me that question and when I say I haven’t been a teacher in a classroom working with students, they have a disappointed look and it kind of hurts my feelings. To be honest with you. I gotta say, I just kind of feel deflated beause I feel as if they may not have listened to the message as much, just because, or discounted the message after they heard me because they were like, Oh, you know, this person doesn’t really get what I go through. And I think one, the reality is I’ve been working with school leaders for 20 years, developing them, helping them think about technology, implementing digital curriculum with them designing schools.
While I don’t teach students, I think my purpose has always been to teach adults and bring ideas from all industries to help us make a better education system. One of the things at one point I started interviewing a lot of superintendents. When you think about superintendents in many ways, they’re the CEOs of their organizations. In fact, many school districts, regardless of whether they’re rural or urban are the largest employers in that community. They’re managing anywhere from a hundred million to multibillion dollar budgets. I think where did they get their experience as CEO of a billion dollar industry, right. Or a billion dollar organization. I think everybody needs opportunities to show up for the, the purpose and the mission of the job that they’re given. And it, we often discount people based on their resumes.
You’re bringing up so many good points there and hopefully pushing the Ruckus Maker to consider how they attract and then retain the talent they bring in to their organization. I’ve enjoyed getting to know you, I think you tell great stories and something you shared in our intro chat was a story of writing a letter to the author of New Market Wizards. Think his name was Bill Lipschitz. And why did you write that letter and what were the results?
Oh man. So like many, many folks after I graduated from college with a degree in architecture, I was like, I really don’t want to do that as a career. I was searching for different careers and I thought finance would be a good one. I saw wall street. I was like, okay, I’m going to go, go into finance and I reached out to this guy Bill Lipschitz. Because I was reading a book called New Market Wizards and he was featured with like George Soros and Stanley Tigerman, all these like incredible hedge fund managers. This guy was a Cornell architect who had the same thesis professor as I did and became managing director of Solomon Brothers and then became the most famous currency trader in the country and still is. So this was before we had cell phones and actually email at the time.
I had to call up my friend in school still and asked him to go to the library, go to the alumni directory and some random shelf in the library and look for this guy. Literally, I think it was a month later, he called me and gave me the name and address of this guy. There was no phone number. So I wish I had a copy of this letter because I hand wrote this letter and I think it was about three pages and I folded it up and said, Hey basically I think they just did. The letter was, I read this book and it turned out there was another architectural digest piece on his house that he designed. And so I said, I researched all this stuff and I really liked the career path you had from going from, Cornell architecture to becoming a trader.
And I wanted to follow that path. So perhaps you could give me some tips just on a phone call or something. One day I was at home and I got a call and his wife, Linelle Jones called me up and she said that we got your letter and we’re willing to help you. Perhaps you could come to Connecticut and I was in San Francisco, but next week, to meet and we could help you find a job basically. I packed up my bags and went over there, stayed there for two months, at their house in Ruwet, Connecticut, which is just outside of Westport. They actually set up about 12 interviews for me, ranging from Bear Stearns to Citibank to little traders. It was incredible.
Yeah. Just the experience you had there. I might’ve missed it in the intro chat, but two months to stay with them that’s pretty neat, investment that they made in you. I think that you did the hard work to make personal connections. You mirrored the same journey from architecture to finance, took the time to write the letter, use the resources, your community available to actually get the letter delivered. So that, that was an approach that you used years ago. I’m wondering when you think about that experience, what might be the application for a Ruckus Maker listening today? How might they use that to help them level up or progress?
Yeah, that’s interesting. It’s thousands of times easier to connect with people right now. You’re in the UK and I’m in San Francisco right now and we’re able to connect through my editor at Corwin. That didn’t take very long at all and very little effort. So it’s less about the tools that we need, but it’s the, how we approach people. And so I think often we, people come to me at least asking for something without knowing anything about me or what I care about. You probably get a ton of requests from people wanting to be on the podcast or this or that. It’s all about what they want and I would say that it’s important for any person who is reaching out to make, invest an equal amount of time researching somebody equivalent to how much time you want from them, especially now.
So if somebody wants 30 minutes of my time, I kind of want them to spend some amount of time, not maybe not fully 30 minutes, but 15 minutes thinking about what I tweeted about, what I wrote, share something to show that they’re just not doing a mass search and sending the same message over to everybody, don’t just do the numbers, right. It’s not a numbers game. Really. I want people who really specifically care about the things that I know or have experiences around what my particular experience. I would also say that it’s, I want messages from people that sound more human, less like formulaic and not too sassy. Sometimes I get some really sassy, intro emails. I would love for you to find what is more human and what a sassy email sound like to really unpack that for the listener.
Yeah. I’m a sassy email. I’m getting a ton right now just because everyone’s like, Hey, I got the solution for you. You got this problem. You guys don’t know anything about me and so you get a lot of those kind of salesy, Hey, you have this problem. Let me solve it for you. I’m like, I’m not even sure if you’re qualified to solve that problem for me, even if I have it. So that’s what I would say. More of the presumptuous kind of sassy email. The human ones are ones where they’re like I noticed from what you wrote, that we’re working towards a similar problem and I’d love to have a conversation with you because this is how I’ve been thinking about it. And here’s how you’ve been thinking about it. If there’s an opportunity to either share ideas or similar ideas it’d be an interesting conversation. And that feels more like someone’s wanting to put together their thoughts with mine and see if it becomes something better. Then eventually they could ask for something
Good stuff. The combination of thoughts, which you ended with right there, but the importance of doing the work, doing the research, finding connections as a humane approach. The reason I dug into that is because I hear from a lot of leaders I serve or those that listen to the podcast and write in, Hey, I’m currently an AP. I want to get to be a principal. I’m a principal. I want to move into a central office leadership and I know that one way to do that is to have solid relationships that you’ve already formed. People are already comfortable. They know your skillset, they pick you to be on the team, but if you don’t have that relationship yet, what Anthony just described, it was pure gold on how to develop those relationships. And then as a result, you might get that opportunity leading to where you want to end up. Alright, go ahead.
I would add that to talk about it with folks as making deposits into a relationship, small, large deposits. If you go to your bank and all of a sudden you ask for something and you’ve never talked to anyone, they’re like, if you want a loan and you know, it’s all the small business loans as part of the stimulus package. But if you don’t have a relationship, somebody they’re not gonna do anything for you when you ask. It’s part of it is just like making those longterm deposits and people and the relationship so that they’re more inclined to help you when you need it and you’re more inclined to help them when they need it.
And I think a relationship deposits one way to do that might be through something that you’re an expert on. I know you’re really excited to talk about the Just check in questions. We’re going to go to that right after this break and a message from our sponsor, Better leaders, better schools is proud,y 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 and dependable classroom routine, learn more and improve your students’ executive functioning and noncognitive skills and organizedbinder.com. The better leaders better schools. Podcast is brought to you by Teach FX. Teachfx is a research driven app that uses artificial intelligence to give teachers feedback on the balance of teacher talk versus student talk, their use of open ended questions. Wait time, and equitable classroom dialogue, learn more and get a special 20% discount for your school or district by visiting TeachFX.com/blbs
We’re back with Anthony Kim, Author, New Team Habits, new school rules and the personalized learning playbook. We teased that we were going to talk about check in questions. Anthony, talk to us about how you starting meetings these days and the value of check in questions. Yeah.
So a lot of approaches right now, and especially in a virtual meeting setting or remote work settings, how do you build relationships and how do you get to know your peers because we don’t have water cooler conversations. We don’t cross paths with each other. We don’t say, Hey, how’s it going? And so for a long time, because we have a distributed workforce, we’ve been implementing the check in question. We found that the checking question, which is just one question before you start every meeting that everyone has the opportunity to answer works both in face to face settings and in online settings. Checking questions can range from something easy, like a what’s your favorite food or favorite restaurant to something much more deeper, what’s a book that has had meaning for you or a quote that transforms your day.
It could be broad but what we’ve found is in our research that the checking question is one small habit, to building equal talk time, which comes from the research that Charles Duhigg did with Google around how to create better teams. And that equal talk time allows for the development of better psychological safety in an organization, which is, the Amy Edmondson work around how to make people feel included and belonging and such and so often we say, we want to do all of those things, but we don’t have the daily habits that allow for that. What happens is leaders often say, well, I want everybody to participate and no one has the habit of participating. So the check in question is a way to get everyone in the mode of talking in meetings and convenings.
When you present it, are you framing it in a way, guys, we’re going to check in right now and everybody I’d like you to contribute 90 seconds. Don’t go too long, but not too short and pass the mic. You know, if Anthony is sharing, then Anthony could pick the next person. How do you set it up?
There’s a bunch of different ways you could do it based on the size of the group. So now on our team, everyone knows, regardless we do one, but if we’re introducing it, then we say, Hey, the checking question is a way for everyone to practice speaking in the meeting and feel included from the very start. We’ll start with a easy one. Like, what color are you feeling right now? And so that one is a great one for a larger group, even like a hundred people, because they could just say, I’m gray purple, I’m red, I’m yellow. Or you could say something like what’s top of mind right now. And that might be for a smaller group because they might say a couple sentences. So what we found is that as people do it more frequently than they just get better and better. Now we could do check in questions internally within five minutes or 50 people just because people just rapid fire, they know they have the fluency around it.
Right. So you mentioned books, the color, quotes, a range of them. Do you have a favorite question? Favorite check in question that you haven’t shared yet? Maybe you’ve already shared it
Lately, just because of the time we’re in, I’ve been asking, especially at the Monday meetings, what’s the mantra to set your intention for the week. So I try to come up with something for myself each week. And so I want other folks to start thinking about it. What I’ve found is that check in questions are also a good forcing reflection for folks. So if I can help people set their intention for the week, maybe they’ll have a better attitude for the rest of the day and the week.
Do you have a mantra that you could share with us?
Yeah. Right now I’ve been working on and practicing be the kindness in the face of everyone else’s stress.
Mm. So needed. Thank you for sharing that. We’re reading the big leap by gay Hendricks in our Mastermind community and he shares something called the ultimate success mantra. That’s what he calls it. I like it. I took it, I put it in my affirmations and so that one goes I expand in abundance success and love every day as I inspire those around me to do the same. There’s power in words, right. And intentions, like you’re saying helps you really focus, but then there’s this alignment between the conscious and the unconscious so that you just start moving in the way that you know, this mantra is set up. So thank you for sharing that. It was really generous of you.
Yeah. Thank you for yours. I never heard that one before.
Cool. Well, I’m glad you’re here it now. I want to end with the story of you learning to swim. You mentioned in our intro call that you swam, you did the Alcatraz Swim. I can only imagine how cold in how long, you know, that might take. I know that you’re into triathlons and like iron man, half iron man type stuff, which, you know, good for you because that’s about like two thirds more than I’m willing to do in any type of competition. You learn to swim and you learned some stuff about yourself and I think leadership through that experience. So I was wondering if you could end there and riff on that.
Yeah. Awesome. I would say about six years ago now I did learn to swim. I couldn’t get across a normal pool. Most of the time, I just exerted myself completely just wailing my arms and legs, just out of breath by the time I got a third down the pool. So, I studied a bunch of YouTube videos and got a coach and eventually started to do triathlons and then set a, kind of a bigger goal because I lived in San Francisco. Most of my life, I always saw Alcatraz. You hear about people that swim it and I thought that would be a goal for me. And so I did that, I think two or three years ago and it was a pretty rough day. The water was kind of rough. There are a couple of things that come up when you’re swimming and to be able to do something like this one is you have to streamline your body.
You can’t, you can’t out swim the ocean. Sometimes you think you could out swim the ocean, but you just can’t. The way you swim in an ocean is you streamline your body so that there’s no drag you’re efficient around your stroke. So every stroke maximizes the amount of energy or propulsion that you have. What it does, is that like the shape of your body, the alignment of your body really matters a lot so that you use the least amount of energy to get to your destination. I only thought that that was an interesting analogy for how organizations or teams can function because so often leaders want everybody to exert massive amounts of energy. Do you feel like they’re doing something, but you might just get exhausted and not get very far. And so when I talk to leaders, I thought about how do we streamline the work of the organization so that we could put the least amount of effort for the most amount of propulsion. And also you can’t fight the ocean, which is like everything that’s around you. And so how do you get into the flow of it? How do you use the energy of the waves and the current set so that you’re, you’re utilizing the energy that’s around you to move forward and achieve your goals. That’s the same thing with school leaders or educators, where you have to use everything that’s around you to propel you to the goal that you might have and the things that you might want to achieve.
I mean, I think that’s a podcast in itself. I’ll probably ask you back to really dig into that because that topicyou’re speaking basically my love language now, so that’s great stuff, Anthony. I really so appreciate you sharing. I love to ask everybody at the end of the show, basically a thought experiment question, but if you’re going to build a school from the ground up, right, and you had no limitations, only limitation was your imagination. How would you approach building this school? And what would you identify as your top three priorities?
The first one is I would want an awesome front office. Just like when check in at a hotel or go to a restaurant, that first experience that I have really sets the tone for how I’m going to experience everything and tells me a lot about what to expect. I think that after having visited hundreds of schools across the country, we could put some time into like what the front office experience might be. So that would be one. Two. I would say that the job of educating students, it’s not solely on the teacher. So I would like to see the cafeteria workers, the custodians, the bus drivers, the security people, everybody feeling like they’re part of the education of every student and talking to students in dialogue and conversation so that they’re increasing their use of vocabulary and having a building skills to build relationships with people, not just sitting in a classroom like empty vessels.
Then third, I would say, we have to give more flexibility to teachers so that they have the opportunity to decompress throughout the day, plan their day, reset their day and right now the way bell schedules are set up, there’s just no opportunity. It’s just exhausting to go six classes straight and then try to do the grading and the followup and all of that stuff. It’s really a difficult position to be in. I’m just stunned at how many teachers can do that on a day to day basis without feeling completely exhausted every single day.
Yeah. So good. Well, Anthony, you shared a lot, you brought incredible value to the show of everything you shared today. What’s the one thing you want to Ruckus Maker to remember.
Lately, I’ve been really focused on relationships. Today I think we all have a tendency to expend a ton of time on social media, just it’s swiping through, especially now with our shelter in place scenarios and probably what I’ve noticed is in many cases, I know more about random celebrities. I follow on Instagram than the people I work with. I’ve been more deliberate about trying to balance that out. So I try to spend less time thinking about these celebrities that I’m never going to engage with and figure out what are the questions that I’m going to ask. I’m thinking about with those guys and then bring that to the people that I see every day.
Thanks for listening to the Better Leaders, Better Schools podcast for Ruckus Maker. If you have a, or would like to connect my email, Daniel at better leadersbetterschools.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.
Speaker 4 (33:23):
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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.
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