Ben Jones knew he was going to be a principal when he was in 3rd grade. His entire school career, while a bit tumultuous at times, gave him experiences that helped him become an impassioned educator. After graduating from the University of Georgia in December of 2002, he began teaching at Carson Middle School in Greene County, GA.
After getting married in 2004, Ben and his wife moved to Forsyth County, GA where Ben began teaching at Liberty Middle School. In 2010, Ben became the Graduation Coach at LMS where he supported students, parents, and teachers. In 2012, he had the privilege of being named one of the Assistant Principals at SilverCity ES. 4 years later, he was named AP at South Forsyth Middle School. In 2019, he was named the Principal at Shiloh Point ES where he proudly remains today.
Ben is a faithful Christ follower, loves to read, watch movies with his family, and eat Twizzlers. He is also a member of the Guiding Principals Mastermind that meets on Wednesday nights!
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Transform Your Culture In 30 days
As a leader it can be extremely isolating and lonely, candid. What’s your solution for that? Today we’re gonna talk to Ben and he’s back for a second episode. We’re gonna hear about what his solution was for solving isolation and loneliness. But I also wanted to ask when you join a leadership development program how soon are you expecting a result? Is a day good? Is that over-delivering? because experiencing, ‘oh my gosh, here’s this thing and I do it and I got a result.’ And how about a culture shift? Like can you see a transformation with visible results in 30 days? You think that’s pretty good? I don’t know about you, but I would say so. I invite you to check out today’s episode. We’re gonna hear Ben’s story a little bit deeper in how he’s grown in the Mastermind. Hey, it’s Danny, chief Ruckus Maker over at Better Leaders, Better Schools. And like I always say, this show is for Ruckus Makers, which means you are investing in your continuous growth, challenging the status quo in designing the future of school. Now we’ll be right back after some quick messages from our show sponsors.
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Hey, we’re back probably with UGA’s number one fan, in terms of dogs and Los Rios, too. So this is a good friend of mine, Ben Jones. And if he didn’t listen to last week’s episode, go back like hip pause, go download that one and check it out. Ben ran a masterclass on vision and connecting the dots between not just creating it but having it live. It exists and guides the work within a school. If you could use some pointers around that in building a core team. He also introduced a really cool idea, a shout out to Spike as well anyways called ‘Teaching Sprints.’ Ben, welcome back for around number two. Thank you. I’m excited.
All right, so round number two, tell us Ben, before you joined the Mastermind, what was life in leadership like prior to that?Life in leadership was lonely. Felt very lonely. I had connections certainly with small group people in my county. I was actually working in the professional learning group called Learning Forward, which was super great. We would meet and talk but not very regularly. And it was usually at conferences in big cities. It was good. I love the people. I still talked to those small groups of people, but it wasn’t regular and leadership felt very lonely. And then as I moved from an assistant principal to a principal, it became even more lonely and difficult to be honest. And so I’ve been listening to your podcasts for a long time and really loved it. You kept talking about something called a Mastermind. I don’t know, you were talking to me about it and I loved your persistence on it. I’ll never forget, you would reach out every once in a while. Hey, you’ve been interested in the Mastermind, loved to have you. Finally it was the time for me to do that because you would even say, in a Mastermind, you’re not lonely. You have this small group of people who’re working on the same things together. And I’m so appreciative of you for that. So thank you for that. Thank you.
Well the thing is that everybody’s in the seat. They’re not in the same county and system as you, but they get what you’re going through. And I had to be persistent because I always just felt a cool connection with you. I had to practice patience because I was like, I never told you this in, I don’t know how to express this in a good way, so I’ll just be authentic. I was sort of frustrated that you were in a program because I’m like, I wanna get Ben now. Like I wanted to have him in the community because I knew you’d grow a lot. I knew you’d add a lot and that we could help you. But I had to practice patience because you were already enrolled in a good program. So I think the timing worked out at some point and that kind of thing. And just so you guys know, we are friends. Like we’re planning to go to a dog’s game in 2023. So like, we’ve already texted about that and I can’t wait to make that happen. That’s gonna be a highlight for me for sure. That’s like a bucket waving. Okay, so back to stuff I, it sounds like you’ve heard about the Mastermind through the podcast, which is cool. I wanna bring you back. You said actually life and leadership got lonelier and harder. And was that just because of moving into the principalship or if there’s something you feel comfortable sharing, like what was going on there?
Even as an AP, assistant principal, you had somebody else who was doing the same work as you that you could talk to. And certainly I had a mentor who’s a great mentor, she’s a great principal and I still consider her a mentor. I still call her every day and maybe once a week now. But I still call her and ask her questions. And she was great. Of course we had somebody from the county who came out and talked to us about once a month, which was great too. But it just felt, I don’t know how to describe it but, it just felt lonely. I felt like I was the only one doing the work. I felt like I really couldn’t talk to anybody about it outside of my own family or whatever about anything. And that was really hard. I don’t know, it’s just like I was all by myself. I don’t know, it’s not the answer, I don’t think that’s just just the feeling I had.
Well I think probably a lot of Ruckus Makers listening can relate? I always talk about how insulating is the number one enemy of excellence and that’s not my idea. It comes from Greg Sati who wrote a book called Enemies of Excellence that we read in the Mastermind probably like 2015. The Thing is the opposite of that. When you get better, everybody wins and you do that through a structure like the Mastermind connection. So the timing worked out for you. You did say yes and joined. Was there a certain challenge that you were wrestling that you knew the Mastermind could probably deliver on? Or was there a number one goal when you decided to enroll?
I think first of all, I love reading. I love reading all things and I love talking to other people who are passionate about reading all things. And I knew that was what Mastermind was a part of. I would read a book and I’d get excited about it with some people I knew around me.
They’re like, I haven’t read a book for three years. I’m like, you haven’t read a book in three years? What are you talking about? Like I read three books in three weeks. Like let’s go. So knowing that was a part of it that I could talk about every Wednesday night, I could get on and we’re reading these amazing books and talking with other people who are passionate about reading and learning. That was one thing. Most definitely the diversity of thought that is on our guiding principles group in our Mastermind was amazing. We’ve got people from all walks of life. We’ve got people from all over the world who come together and once you’re in a system like our system for a while, you’ve heard a lot of different, the same things. You want to get out there and branch out and that was a huge draw for me was to, what else else can I learn from all these people from all over the world who have all these different experiences and perspectives and thoughts and ex and all the things. Of course the hot seat, which the first time I was super nervous about everybody, was so awesome about it? , that was really for me. Wow. That time with the cherry on top, I was like, oh, that was really kind of cool. And then even, yeah, and finding myself helping other people. I was learning not, I was learning from everybody else talking to the person on the hot seat, it was probably an issue I was probably dealing with. So that was so cool. All those things, but really the thing that really drew me into it was the reading and being with other people who are passionate about reading and learning.
This hot seat became a good thing for you too. Could you describe that in your own words? What is the hot seat experience all about?
We get assigned a week or we’re on the hot seat that we bring anything we’re working on or thinking about to the hot seat and get turned over to us and we share what we’re working on or what we’re thinking about or what we’re struggling with. And then everybody asks really. And that was really cool. There’s several people who do a great job at this, but I’ll call a few of my friends out, Demetrius and Chris Jones for example. They ask really good questions like, and that alone is their help. They’re not giving me an answer. They’re asking really good questions and I’m like, oh. And so they’re just what good models they are.
And then of course a lot of very thoughtful people. Chris Loeffler for example, probably one of the most thoughtful humans I’ve ever talked to. I’m so introspective. That’s right. And then everyone else, I mean my friend Erica who we’re all from the same breakout groups together, which is awesome. Liz and Chris Carlson and all the rest of them have such practical things. They always seem to have the answer. I’m like, how do you have this answer to this question that I thought was super hard? And though it’s really, I mean, one time I was brought up, I was really, and my office staff knows this, I was struggling to connect with my office staff, and our group brought out the Mastermind. I got great ideas of how I can do a better job with that.
And I took that, implemented it and like in a month things were so much better just by implementing some things I got from Mastermind and it was awesome. Another great example, I think I talked about it a little bit ago, but was teaching Sprint Strong that I heard from Lizzie that Lizzie just mentioned and grabbed onto it and I invited her to come talk to our instructional coaches and she was so willing to come do that and talk with them over Zoom and talk about what teaching sprints were. And it’s something we’ve implemented at the school now and it’s really changing our practice and impacting students and it’s affecting literally thousands of kids now and hundreds of staff members that saw one little conversation in one Mastermind meeting.
Really sweet and it’s amazing that you have a space where you can be authentic and just like, man, I am not connected with my office staff. Get some practical advice within 30 days. You see that all turns around. 30 days and then you hear just an idea, this teaching sprint, you grab onto it, you start discussing I guess outside the Mastermind a bit. For the Ruckus Maker listening here, we’re not gonna unpack teaching sprints. Go back to the last episode because we did. But the point I wanna make, you’re in Georgia at the time, Lizzie was in Nepal. They’re not close together. If you’re not good at geography, they’re not close. But here’s this place where I like connecting these leaders and how cool is that? Thank you for sharing that.
Well the cool part is too, I just wanna add on and it’s like such a judgment free zone. You don’t feel judged, you don’t feel like people are looking at you crazy. It’s always supportive and I feel like they’ve all been there too. Even if they haven’t, it’s really neat.
Sweet. Thank you for sharing that. We need to pause here really quickly for some messages from our sponsors. The Better Leaders Better Schools podcast is proudly sponsored by Harvard’s Certificate in School Management and Leadership. I know many Mastermind members and many Ruckus Makers who listen to this show that have gone through the program and have loved the experience. But don’t just take it from me. Let’s hear how some of the Harvard faculty describe the impact and their heart for this program.
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Young people struggling with executive functioning skills will fall further and further behind the pandemic. Let’s be real, it’s only made things worse. The remedy is found in equipping students with executive functioning skills. Our friends at Organized Binder have released a new self-paced course and it teaches you how to teach these executive functioning skills and set up your students for success. Learn email@example.com/go and start setting up your students for success today. Again, that’s firstname.lastname@example.org/go. We’re back with one of my favorite Ruckus Makers in the world, Ben Jones. And I’m curious, when you, well before you joined, did you have any fears or reservations about jumping into the Mastermind? And if so, what were they?
I think one of my biggest fears, and I know it’s funny, I knew I was jumping into an established group. Anytime you do something like this, what are the group norms? What’s sure, no. Are we super serious? Can we be funny? Like, what’s going on? And so that took a minute, again, everyone was so welcoming and sometimes when you just jump in and you start doing the work, you just just just go. Within a month after the first three or four, it was like, okay, I get it now. Like here we go. I think that was one of my biggest, I think that was one of my biggest things was like, okay, am I gonna be accepted by the group? I don’t want to come in there and mess up what they have working. Didn’t wanna see that part. And we’ve welcomed some new things since I’ve been there.We welcomed ’em some new people and being able to make them feel comfortable, on my end because I knew how hard it was or how, wasn’t hard. Everybody was great, but it was just having those unrealistic fears because they were unrealistic. They were super kind, super welcoming.
Gotcha. Did anything surprise you when you joined? It’s okay if you don’t have something for this, but I’m curious when you started like, I didn’t know it would be like this.
Think I didn’t. What I appreciated, I guess I wasn’t surprised by it. I just hadn’t experienced it at this level. we’re able to just sit and not say anything. You would ask a question or somebody would ask the question and we just sit there and it might be 30 seconds, it might be a minute.
Of course it feels like forever. But you’re giving us that space . Or whoever’s leading that group, Paige now who’s leading our group is giving us that space. And we’re okay with that. And that says a lot. Usually if you’re in a group of people and nobody’s talking, somebody tries to fill that space. That’s not the case with our group. I mean, you happened the other night, like somebody asked a question and we just kind of sat there we’re like two minutes and then finally somebody said something brilliant? And so that surprised me that it was Nobody was, everybody was okay with the quiet and the silence and the time to think. And I really appreciate that. Cause you don’t get that a lot in traditional pl or traditional discussions even.
You are so cool, so interesting to me. because we ask our teachers to provide wait time because we know that allows our students to make meaning and to figure it out. As leaders and when we’re working with adults, you’re always trying to talk and not listen or think. That always seems so bizarre to me. Where is a badge of honor? I think I started that, the culture, but I call myself the king of wait time. And so, thank you for sharing that. I didn’t know what you might say, but that’s pretty cool. This may sound like a weird question , if you don’t wanna answer it, that’s fine or if you don’t have an answer, that’s also fine. But I’m curious, did you ever feel like you wanted to quit? And if you did feel like that, how did you overcome it?
I never felt like I wanted to quit ever. I have had days where, it’s been tough days at work, tough days personally, whatever it might be or sometimes my wife makes fun of me because she’ll know and I’ve talked all day long or had conversations because like, you’re outta word aren’t you? I’m like, yeah, I’m outta words. Like I’m just done talking, I just can’t, I’ve exhausted my word count for today. Of course we’ve been together since we were 16 and 17. She gets that about me now, which is kind of really cool. But there’ve been some days where it’s like, oh my gosh, it’s seven 30 and I gotta go sit and talk to a bunch of people again. I’ve had those days, but really I’ve never not gotten on just because of that. I’ve even said this in the Mastermind, I’ve, guys, I was really exhausted today, like really tired. And so, super cool, but no, never wanted to quit there. Ha. Again, there have been days where it’s just hard? But every time I leave energized and I leave with something great.
I’m glad you articulated that because I do see that in our groups, that people might come in and you can tell they’ve had a day? You know what I mean? But they’ll leave and it’s like, oh, they’re re-energized, refreshed, that kind of thing. So, hey, you mentioned the office staff, we’ve taught Teaching sprints. Can you remember potentially what your first big win was? And you were like, whoa, wow, this Mastermind thing works. Or if you can’t remember the first win, can you just think of another exciting result that you’ve achieved?
Lovely thing there’s, I mean I think one of the things now, I mentioned it a little bit earlier with Demetrius and Chris Jones, again, they are such great models and everybody, I just pick them out specifically. They’re so consistent about it, asking such good questions. And it is always such a good reminder for me even recently, even this week, to be honest with you, of making sure I’m asking enough questions of people when they bring concern or a problem or an idea and just having an, it’s like I’m channeling my Demetrius or I’m channeling my Chris. Like, what would Demetrius say? What would Chris ask here? And I think that long term has just been huge. And then just little ideas. For example, Chris Jones again, we’re not related. I wish we were. He does something called Welcome Sign Wednesday in high school.And it’s something that I completely, 100% stole. Guess what we do now at Shiloh Point? Welcome sign Wednesday. At first my staff was like, what are you doing? Like, what is going on? But now it’s like the kids look forward to it, the parents look forward to the car line. And we’ve actually made really nice signs and say, we’re so glad you’re here. Happy Wednesday, make it a great day. All these different things. And we have different signs, we rotate in and out. It’s a beautiful thing that he, what he was doing with a high, with a bunch of high schoolers in Massachusetts we’re now doing here, outside of Atlanta with the elementary school.
It’s been awesome. We talked about what life was like before joining the Mastermind life and leadership. How’s it different now after being a part of the Mastermind?
I think after being a part of it now it’s like, it’s so funny. Like if something were, something happens or there I had this question or concern, I know where I can take it. Do you know what I mean? And before Mastermind, I didn’t have a place I could take it? And so now if there’s a problem, there’s an issue. If I got this just complex thing that I’ve heard everybody else’s views at my school about it, that maybe I need something else, I have somewhere else to take it. And how powerful, it’s almost the word I can only think of is relief. Where I felt so lonely before. Now I feel relieved. I have somewhere to take it and it’s really cool. Awesome.
Do you have any advice for someone who was in a situation like you before joining the Mastermind?
I mean, Danny’s always looking for people to join Mastermind. Find something you gotta find, you gotta do something, whether it’s Mastermind or not with Danny, you’ve gotta do something because like I said, would I still be a principal if I didn’t have guiding principles as a Mastermind, probably would I be as energized to Happy Build? Probably not. You know what I mean? And so I would say, what’s the worst that can happen. Give it a shot, come join something. The worst that can happen is you get a couple of good ideas and it’s not for you. It’s not for you. But that’s okay. I feel like anybody in my position, if you, this resonates at all Mastermind’s, the, for me is the lowest the way to go. I’m never leaving now, so you have me for life, Danny, bye.
Awesome. Well that makes me super excited. Not from like, it’s cool business wise, but honestly like, that I think you’re awesome. So I wish I still lived in Georgia. I mean we’d probably be hanging out all the time. Were you, were you in the group when we read the Infinite Game? No, I think I came, I literally, I had read that book on my own and I think I came in. Gotcha. Well the only reason I bring it up is because you mentioned Danny’s always looking for people to join the Mastermind, which is true. And I have an ambitious vision. Like this is like a 20 year Jim Collins type of thing. because right now, to be fully transparent, there’s 95 leaders in the Mastermind. My vision’s 5,000, . And that used to be scary to say out loud, but if you look at all the principles, if we serve the entire world, we have members on each continent.
So I don’t want this to sound just North America, but my point is, if you take all the leaders in the US and all the leaders in Canada, principles, just principles too, that’s actually only 5% of all principles. So what I like the teaching lesson here for you and the Ruckus Maker listening is when you break it down like the math that way, then I start thinking, oh, we can do that 5%. That’s not, it’s totally doable. So, and infinite game wise, the big idea that I learned from that is you don’t have to lose for me to win, I’d rather collaborate than compete. . I’m also confident that what I offer is the best. I’m not gonna be bashful about that. But my point is, what Ben said is to get connected. Maybe what we run is for you, but get connected consistently. That’s the big idea. Is there anything else you’d like to share? This is the last question today.
I’ll just say super grateful for you and your work, Danny. I think you’ve put a lot into everything that you’ve done, everything that you do, in a completely selfless way and wanting to impact the world, which is really cool and inspiring.
Thank you for that. Thank you for being you, Ben, and for this opportunity to talk about your experience in the Mastermind. You’re awesome and I can’t wait to go to a dog game with you in 2023. Go Dogs. Go Dogs.
Thanks for listening to the Better Leaders, better Schools podcast Ruckus Maker. If you have a question or would like to connect my email, Daniel@betterleadersbetterschools.com or hit me up on Twitter at @Alienearbud. If the Better Leaders, better Schools podcast is helping you grow as a school leader, then please help us serve more Ruckus Makers like you. You can subscribe, leave an honest rating and review or share on social media with your biggest takeaway from the episode, extra credit for tagging me on Twitter at @alienearbud, and using the hashtag #BLBS. Level up your leadership at BetterLeadersbetterschools.com and talk to you next time. Until then, “class dismissed.”