Bryan Miltenberg is the proud principal of Aquebogue Elementary School in Riverhead, New York. He’s been a teacher, dean, and middle school assistant principal, and has presented and published on topics including school climate and culture, instructional technology, self-aware leadership, inclusivity, time management, and co-teaching partnerships. Against all logic, he remains a suffering lifelong Mets and Jets fan.

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Show Highlights

Establish transformational belonging at your school by avoiding these misunderstandings.

The different mechanisms Bryan put in place to understand the rapid changes occurring in his school to understand what people were experiencing.

We all have an “eyes problem.” Build something inclusive with tips to increase teacher retention.

Tips to build a pipeline that attracts culturally and linguistically diverse candidates to see your school as a place that they wanna be.

Create a Punk concert environment for your students to connect with their learning community.

Take the Michael Jordan and Brene Brown approach to adversity and harsh feedback.

Leaders need to play the long game by balancing the tension between urgent and significant.

Read my latest book!

Learn why the ABCs of powerful professional development™ work – Grow your skills by integrating more Authenticity, Belonging, and Challenge into your life and leadership.


Apply to the Mastermind

The mastermind is changing the landscape of professional development for school leaders.

100% of our members agree that the mastermind is the #1 way they grow their leadership skills.

Read the Transcript here.

Building Inclusive Schools

Daniel (00:02):
If we go back to the summer of 2017, I moved from Houston, Texas to Aquebogue Belgium in Central Europe. It was very exciting, a very exciting time in my life. But when we landed, it was traumatic. We had just survived Hurricane Harvey. At the time, which delayed our trip for a number of weeks. My wife was starting a brand new job and she was showing up late because of the hurricane. For Better Leaders, Better Schools, the podcast, the mastermind. I was going all in. It was scary. Would this idea, would this way that I show up and serve Ruckus Makers work. And then on top of that, with all the tiredness, jet lag, we show up and we don’t speak the language yet. Our luggage was lost. Half of it just left one third of the boxes because we moved internationally. A third of the boxes made it, a third of the boxes were lost. And a third, the post office was holding it for ransom and wanted us to buy back our own stuff. It was really hard moving to this brand new country and here we are, Two people, no children navigating a hundred percent brand new culture. And it was difficult. I could only imagine what it’s like to bring your family to a new country, to enter the school system and to be greeted potentially by a faculty or people around the school who say, speak our language when folks move to the United States because that’s where I’m from and where I’m based these days. We have a lot of students that English isn’t their first language. And now just a little bit I can empathize, I could feel what it’s like to be in that situation and to know how hard it can be and how much easier it can be when somebody puts forward just a little bit of effort to meet you halfway. To see you, to hear you, to make sure that you feel like you belong in today’s stellar Ruckus Maker guest. He’s all about creating environments that are inclusive and create belonging for all families. You’re gonna love his story. I certainly did and I can’t wait to bring you his conversation. Hey, it’s Danny, chief Ruckus Maker over at Better Leaders Better Schools. And this show is for you, a Ruckus Maker, which means you invest in your continuous growth, you challenge the status quo and you design the future of school now. We will return to our regularly scheduled conversation in just a second. After a few show sponsorship messages,

Daniel (03:06):
Take the next step in your professional development with a 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. Programs run from February 15th to March 15th, 2023. School leaders know that productive student talk drives student learning, but the average teacher talks 75% of class time. Give your students more opportunities to learn in class by monitoring the talk time for teachers and students. Check out Teach FX for yourself and learn about our special partnership options for Ruckus [email protected]/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 [email protected].

Daniel (04:17):
Hello Ruckus Makers. I’m joined today by Bryan Miltenberg. I met Bryan, we were in Kentucky. We met, which was super cool at a little event for principals at the conference. I think that was NAESP and another New Yorker. But like the city, the real New York. So I got to meet him. That was super cool and I invited him to the show. Somebody that I’m developing a friendship with, super excited to bring you this conversation. Let me read the bio. Bryan is a proud principal of Aquebogue Elementary School in Riverhead, New York. He’s been a teacher at Dean and middle school assistant principal and has presented and published on topics including school, climate and culture, instructional technology, self-aware leadership, inclusivity, time management, and co-teaching partnerships. Against all logic, I can confirm this, he remains a suffering lifelong Mets and Jets fan. Maybe we should start there. Bryan, Why the jets? Why the Mets? Why do that to yourself?

Bryan (05:24):
We don’t choose these things Danny. These things get handed down to us. The Mets from my grandfather, the Jets I got who could really say. Once you get started you can’t go back. I’m so far down this road, I just have to keep going. I have to keep going

Daniel (05:41):
It’s called sunk cost. What I try to teach leaders, you always have a choice. At any time you can hop on the Bill’s mafia this year.

Bryan (05:56):
There’s some good feelings in the group chat. Not gonna lie we’re doing all right.

Daniel (06:01):
Brilliant. I think you’re a principal now and that’s super, super cool. I want you to bring us to a story about somebody named Jocelyn. I’d love for you to tell us how she illustrates what you’re trying to do with your families at your school.

Bryan (06:18):
Absolutely, Danny. When we met, we were at NASP, we were doing a presentation on, we call it transformational inclusivity. And by the way, we don’t walk around our school calling ourselves transformational. I think that would go over well. But it was good for the presentation. What we’re trying to do is really make it so that our students, our staff and our families feel like school is home for them and they feel at home, at school. So of course that’s kind of an idealized version of home because for some of our kids, we want it to feel better than home based on whatever might be going on at home. But for us, what home means is a place where you’re welcomed and you’re accepted and you’re celebrated unconditionally. So a problem that a challenge that we found we were having in our school is that with the rapid growth that we were seeing in our Spanish speaking population, and now over the past few years, we’re a majority Spanish speaking community.

Bryan (07:22):
We had an amazing security team. Shout out to Claire and Peter. They were great. And they were the first faces that were seen by our parents when they were coming to elementary school. Parents come in all the time, a lot of different things going on, different needs that they need dressed. But despite being awesome people, because they don’t speak what really has become the dominant language in our community, the first experience that our families were having upon arriving to our school is one of being misunderstood. And that experience is one of struggle, right? And not only do we never want our families to struggle, but especially not in their very first time, in that very first moment when they come up and they have something that they’re trying to do and they can’t get it done. We had the opportunity to hire what we wanted to call a greeter, someone who would be there for them.

Bryan (08:12):
And we found a couple of amazing candidates from our community who would be able to do that. One was a Spanish speaker and one wasn’t. And we had to make that hard decision between two high quality candidates, one who has a background even in our district, but one can provide that experience for our families so that when they come up to our school, they’re understood with a smile and they can get their needs met. And the best part about that is it does so in a way that doesn’t detract from anybody else. It’s a lot like that ramp versus steps graphic that we’ve all probably seen because Jocelyn is an amazing person. She can help any of our parents, but especially she could be that bridge for our families so that they feel like they don’t have to change who they are to come and get what they need from us.

Bryan (09:08):
I tell that story, not to say that it’s radical to have a greeter or to have a bilingual person, but because it’s symbolic of what we’re trying to do in terms of telling kids, families and staff, we accept you as you are. We’re gonna make the adjustments that we need to make to support you rather than force you to do something you may not be able to do yet. You may be learning English, but you can’t communicate in English yet. So that shouldn’t impede you from getting your needs met. And she’s just an awesome person who brings so much joy to our school, but also can connect with kids because she’s come up in a similar way to the way a lot of our kids are coming up, kids who have come from different, who come from different countries and come to us really quickly after arriving here in the States.

Daniel (09:53):
A leadership service. It’s a small touch. It makes a lot of sense for your community where the majority of folks’ southern, native language is Spanish. And so of course just, you want people to feel like they belong, that they’re important, that you see ’em and hear ’em literally and figuratively. In this case, elementary, you’re still worried about your babies and what that school experience is like. And so you make the adjustment. As a school, even if your community wasn’t majority Spanish speaking and you had the opportunity to hire somebody like that and you had a good percentage of folks that spoke Spanish, what a way to communicate right to those potentially like a minority right group that like, hey, you matter. And Jocelyn obviously can speak fluently in English as well. So it’s just a huge win-win scenario. I love you sharing that story there. What are some other ways, Bryan, that you are creating what you might call unconditional belonging or transformational belonging at your school?

Bryan (10:50):
I think for us it’s about understanding that for our families as I said our demographics change so quickly. For our assistant principal and myself and our staff to understand that we can’t necessarily speak for our families because we don’t know what exactly they’re coming from. We can imagine, but we can’t do what we do based on what we think people might be experiencing. So for us it’s all about asking. It’s all about listening. So the different mechanisms that we put in place, surveying our students, surveying our families, having listening sessions with our students including students on our school-wide leadership team. So many ideas have come out of things like that and it’s just things you don’t think of because you’re going through your day with just your perspective.

Bryan (11:47):
We all have an eye problem as we only have two of them and we can only see one way out of them. So like, you have to get the perspective of others when you’re trying to build something that’s inclusive. And then for us, a big part of that, again, goes back to trying to make sure that as we go forward with the hiring that we can do, and we’ve been really fortunate to be able to do a lot of hiring in the past couple years, coming out of the pandemic with some of the federal funding, is to make it really clear who the that the person that, and people that come in have to embody that message of inclusivity and belonging. And a lot of times we’ve had to go outside the traditional structures for hiring because what we’re trying to do now we’re building a dual language program.

Bryan (12:36):
We’ve never had that here. And probably we could talk about that. And of course they have a different question, but those candidates are extremely hard to find. So we’ve had to go outside our typical hiring structures, we’ve had to partner with local colleges. We’ve actually gone and visited undergraduates just to talk to them, to try to build relationships with them before they even get their certification so that they come to see us diverse candidates, culturally, linguistically diverse candidates come to see us as a place that they wanna be. And we wanna become known as a place where if you believe in that, if you’re passionate about that you know where you wanna be. And then for us, like it’s just thinking about our school through the perspective of our students. Both our students who have been in our town for 150 years, which is many of our families.

Bryan (13:27):
And we have students who came to the country yesterday and they’re coming to our school this morning. That looks so different for different kids. So what can we do over the course of the school day to make that student feel that there’s a sense of acceptance? And it’s a support network for sure, but it’s also giving opportunities for students to show that they may not speak English yet, but their language is valuable. So we’ve done a lot of work on how we can show our students that Spanish languages, we always, the words we always use are beautiful and powerful. So doing things like morning announcements in Spanish and English, right now it’s Hispanic Heritage Month. We actually have our students coming up each day to say the pledge. And after they say the pledge, they’ll actually teach the Spanish word of the day to the whole school over the announcement.

Bryan (14:18):
So you can feel that kind of energy and you can see that sense of pride when kids language and culture is acknowledged going from a world where kids weren’t to, to speak your native language when you’re in English only school might be frowned upon to now where it’s encouraging kids, me they speaking Spanish on the announcements and they wanna come up to me, they wanna show me that they speak Spanish and they wanna talk to me. And so when you can show the kids that what they bring to the table is something to be proud of, that’s when they feel, I do think that’s when they feel accepted and encouraged and that’s when they’re gonna do their best work.

Daniel (14:56):
I love so much of what you said, Bryan one school just getting very creative in terms of hiring. And so you were talking about working through different channels and mechanisms. You can’t just rely on it being the old way of how teachers would come to your school. So the fact that you are planting seeds, getting out ahead meeting with undergrads and that kind of thing to establish those relationships is one of the ideas I heard from an assistant superintendent that I’m close with, he doesn’t, he teaches a course, right? As an adjunct professor doesn’t pay very well, it’s more work, right? He does enjoy the back and forth with his students so to speak, but he’s able to build strong relationships with those students who will be looking for teaching jobs.

Daniel (15:42):
It’s a pipeline to his district. And then the other thing too is as you’re playing those seeds, just to connect some more dots with Ruckus Makers we talk a lot about your school story. What’s that story that you’re telling out there? What are those values? We talk about something called sticky core values on this podcast. And then I’ve worked with leaders creating what I call their remarkable vision, right? So over the next three years, what are they doing within their school? A number of different domains, but to create a space in place that people are excited about, right? That the buzz is about you and the community that folks come to and wanna work for. I think you’re doing that as well, Bryan. So appreciate you unpacking that. So you’re talking a lot about belonging, we’re talking about an inclusivity and your passion started ages ago in maybe an unlikely place. I don’t know the punk scene. So can you tell us that story?

Bryan (16:33):
We all bring our passions and our pasts to our leadership, right? Nobody leads in a vacuum. Like all the sum total of our experiences impacts every decision that we make, right? So when I think about how I got to this place, and I took a really probably more circuitous route than most educators, but I was a kid who was trying to find that sense of belonging. I was lost. I was trying to find where I fit and what spoke to me. And when I found that punk rock, hardcore scene, when I first fell in love with the music and then actually getting out into the physical spaces of the shows, the local shows, the VFW shows, all that stuff. For the first time in my life I was like, this is me.

Bryan (17:24):
These are my people and I feel like I don’t, and they’re strangers, but you have a bond. IYou’re entering this community where anything is accepted, where you are accepted and deliberating. The aspect of that feeling is, and that stayed with me. Even as I’ve become an old man, I can’t be seen at punk shows anymore. I have a really visceral memory of being a teenager and getting into it, right at the punk show, the hardcore show, wherever. And things used to get pretty physical back in the day. I don’t know if it still rolls like that these days, but you know what most sticks out to me is you can be getting knocked around, getting an elbowed in the face, whatever.

Bryan (18:13):
But the one thing anyone will tell you is when you go, if you fall down on the ground, the first thing you’re gonna see when you open your eyes is 10 hands reaching down to pull you up. And it might be the guy who just elbowed you in the head or whatever, but that’s the unwritten rule of that scene. And no one has to tell you. It’s a known thing. And once it’s been done to you, you’re gonna do it to the next person you see on the floor. Cuz it gets lifted up. No matter how hard things are, everyone gets picked back up. And so to me when I think of the sense of belonging and community that I found and that hand reaching down I realize now since I became an educator, that’s what I’ve been trying to do and trying to be for kids.

Bryan (18:58):
And now as a teacher you try to do that for your individual kids. But as you move on and become a leader, you’re trying to create a culture where that’s the case. Where there’s always gonna be a hand reaching down to pull you up and you’re gonna learn that you gotta then turn that and be the hand to pull the next person up no matter what, right? No matter who they are, different, whatever different country, different language, doesn’t matter to me. That’s really where the core sense of inclusivity being in it together really came from for me. So trying to make a school to be a place like that maybe not a place where people are getting elbowed or you know, bland or whatever.

Daniel (19:41):
We don’t want the elbows in the heads, but the metaphor of who you wrote up. Like I think that’s a really important one for Ruckus Makers to think. So make sure you meditate and reflect on that question. Who are you lifting up intentionally within your community? And make a plan around that too. Is there a favorite punk band that you wanna just share with the Ruckus Maker listening? If they’re not into it and they’re gonna go check out that kind of music, like here’s start here.

Bryan (20:11):
Oh God, I don’t know, man. I went through so many different phases as a kid. When I first got into it, it was more like skate punk, pennywise, that kind of thing. And then moving over to you to get to pop punk, I’m going, I’m not gonna go through all these sub genres with you and I don’t wanna get too esoteric with you.

Daniel (20:34):
Give us three. I mean, that’s a good, that’s a good start. We’ll offer that to the Ruckus Makers , if you want to go check out some of those bands, I think you said Skate punks, so it’s starting there.

Bryan (20:46):
No, but honestly, that was the message and that was the message in the music too. For me that’s a lot of where my views on whether it’s anti-racism, antis, sexism really were formed in that, in that community so a very powerful place.

Daniel (21:02):
I want to talk about your student teaching experience. You received some pretty tough feedback, right? But you heard it, but here you are, you were a teacher and you’re a principal. So tell us the story. Like what was the feedback you received and why’d you stick with education

Bryan (21:18):
Well I shared that story with you because for me it’s really been the beginning of my path toward what you say, and this is one of the reasons I really connected with you at NASP when I was in your presentation. One of the things you say again and again is to invest in yourself. I didn’t come to teach right away. I started out my career, I worked in a couple different funny places, man. I worked for an asbestos law firm. No, have you ever heard those commercials? It’s like if you’ve been exposed to a fists, you may be entitled to compensation. I thought I might become a lawyer. I worked in book publishing because I was a reader. I was really passionate about books. Ultimately ,I found out I was looking for something more manly. I was looking for a bigger impact. And so I come from a family of teachers, but of course when you come from a family of teachers, one person in the family has gotta rebel and be like, I’m never gonna do that. But all of a sudden I started to come around to it. So I was like, you know what? I don’t have any experience with it. I never worked with kids growing up. I’m passionate about the impact that I could make. But I’ll tell you, when I started my student teaching, like I was struggling, man, I would, I was struggling.

Bryan (22:35):
It didn’t come naturally to me at all. It didn’t come naturally to me. And my student teaching supervisor in our first post conversation, I couldn’t believe this. He said to me, he was like you don’t really have to go through with this if you don’t want to. And I was like, “wow, dude, “that’s okay. That’s a form of feedback. You’re gonna push me out of this on my first go round. And so on the one hand like that’s kind of devastating to hear. It’s not what you want to hear. But at the same time, something clicked in me at that moment to be like, no, just to be like not going that way. Like I’m gonna, and maybe it puts a chip on my shoulder, but like I’m gonna figure this thing out. And so what I had to figure out was not just figure out how to teach because that was the primary thing, but I had to figure out how to figure out how to teach.

Bryan (23:32):
You know what I mean? Because I felt like my university classes were giving me a good pace of learning. But like, if I was gonna make it, I had to accelerate it, man. I was teaching in New York City, it was tough. I had to learn in dog years. And so I figured out like, what am I gonna do? So for me it was like, all right, whatever area I’m struggling in, like I’m gonna get the five first rated books that I can find and I’m just gonna devour this and see what I can take out of it, implement it and move on. And for me like that, that started a path of what I would really say is thinking about the way you say of just investing in myself and just understanding that.

Bryan (24:15):
And it was liberating in a way that comment because it just said, well I’m at the bottom I can only go up from here and I don’t expect my, I don’t expect myself to be good. So whatever I can do to add to what I am bringing to the table, let’s go. So that started my journey of, you know, my personal professional development outside of the other professional developments that were offered to me, which were great. But like I feel like if you really wanted to get to where I needed to be, like, like I said, I had to accelerate my own learning. So that’s really how I became like a self-driven kind of investing in myself. And it’s taken a lot of different forms over time. Whether it’s books, podcasts, conferences, whatever it all kind of goes into the soup. But you know, that’s what’s driving, what’s driving me is just knowing that I can always be better and I wanna be better. And so I’m lucky to be part of the community now that really supports leaders to get better. And it’s not just about where you are currently, but where you could be. So I’m grateful for the leadership that I have right now that sees that and values that.

Daniel (25:27):
It’s a great story. I really appreciate you sharing it and being vulnerable cuz we receive that kind of feedback, right? That is tough. You don’t have to go through with it. And the thing is you have a choice, right? You don’t have to go through with it and there’s nothing wrong with that route, right? You can find something that potentially could be your passion or your zone of genius or you know, whatever it is that where you wanna serve. And that’s totally okay. So just like being a Jets or Mets fan, like you can choose , you can change. But the other thing is if you feel like, what I think this is for me, I’m gonna receive that feedback and you know, it’s hard to accept at the time, but I accept it and I’m gonna work at becoming proficient and great at what I do.

Daniel (26:07):
That’s another choice. But you have to put in the work. And so I admire that you bounce back up and lift yourself up, right? And then decided, okay, I’m gonna be very intentional in growing myself. The worst thing you could have done is say, this person doesn’t know what they’re talking about. I don’t receive that feedback. And then you could have become like the world’s worst teacher, right? But instead you really agree with yourself. And actually reminds me, I don’t know if you saw the Last Dance and since you are a New Yorker, probably Nick’s fan maybe, but Jordan really beats you guys up for a lot of years.

Bryan (26:42):
I’m happy to say one thing I did avoid was being a Knicks fan. I’m not a Knicks fan. I dodge that bullet at least.

Daniel (26:49):
I really love the documentary, r The Last Dance that Netflix put on about the legendary Bulls. Which ruined my life in a sense because I grew up as I’m 11, 12, 13, they’re just winning all the championships. And now I had this expectation that your home team should just always win. But what I learned about Jordan, I didn’t know about this. He used to make up conflict with his peers. The other athletes, like things that they said about him or just beef in general, he would fabricate that because it gave him an edge. He wanted to prove he wanted to prove him wrong in a made up situation of how they, how they like offended him or whatever. And I haven’t done that yet, but when people do give feedback that’s hard to take. Like you, I’m like, well, let me show you that you’re wrong and it helps me get to that next level for sure.

Bryan (27:45):
I wanna stop there for a second because I think what you’re saying is really interesting because I see now that at the time I took that feedback as motivation, I worked my tail off and I became a really good teacher. I would e I could think I can really say within a couple years, but I see now the world, all the work that I was doing for a long time, for a long part of my career was to try to I think, I don’t know if you rock with B Brown at all, but she says, please, perfect, perform to try to prove people like that wrong. To try to prove that I can do this, to try to prove that I can be the best, that I’m gonna get better and better and no one’s gonna pull in my game. And I see now I’m making the transition where I think she calls it healthy striving versus perfectionism, whereas healthy striving is self-focused. It’s like, I wanna get better because I wanna make an impact and because I wanna be better for myself. And perfectionism is, I gotta get better because I don’t wanna be exposed to, not to be not good because I don’t want anyone to see that I’m not as good as they think I am. Imposter syndrome, et cetera, et cetera. So that’s when I think about you, think about someone like Jordan, he was working, invented that and everything. He seems so motivated by anger and animus and he achieved amazing things. But would any of us wanna live that life while achieving it? And the sort of emotional headspace that he seems to have. And you see his Hall of fame speech, like he’s still angry

Daniel (29:21):
He’s not a very positive like root for him. You’re like, wow, this is what you’re saying and you’ve accomplished everything. I really appreciate the pushback and that’s a valid point. So that healthy striving for sure is like where we need to be. I think for myself in the early days of this, because one, I remember getting some feedback from all my friends and family, better leaders, better school is a terrible idea. It’s not gonna work. Well, I remember you imagined that. That motivated me in the early days. And I had a very tough principal position in Houston and a difficult relationship with my supervisor and very hard feedback and stuff. And that was motivating for a time. But that all I can, part of my story too is in the summer of 2018 that wanting to show them wrong or that chip on my shoulder, it all melted away.

Daniel (30:08):
And I think I did transition because I hit some professional milestones that I had set for myself and then unlike taking the continued Jordan route and you know, just harboring that resentment. I was really exploring the internal side of leadership. The inner space and saying, oh, I don’t want to carry this anymore. I’ve been super successful, so what else is possible? Especially if I let go and leave that behind and just focus on service and focus on others. So that is a part of my story, but it did start off with this chip on my shoulder for sure. Yeah. Well Bryan, we gotta take a quick break here from four messages from our sponsors. When we get back, I would like to, just because you were in the audience, I’d love to ask you about what it’s like to experience me as a speaker and then get to the questions we ask everybody at the end of the show. 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 in their heart for this program. “I deeply believe that every single person on this planet has superpowers. And it is our job as educators to tap into them and unleash them.” Learn more about the program and apply at BetterLeadersbetterschools.com/harvard. Hey, Ruckus Maker Teach FX has been an incredible sponsor over the years and they do great work helping educators be mindful and reflective about how their talk right and how much talk they have in a classroom impacts student learning. Now, don’t just take it from me that Teach FX is awesome and it surely is, but check out what some real educators have to say about using Teach FX in the classroom. “I will be the teacher I wanna be when I’m a, like no longer a teacher and I’m truly just a facilitator of class. And I think that Teach FX is a tool that will allow me to get there more than any other tool I’ve used.” “I wanted the students to be speaking more with each other, incorporating more opportunities for students to speak in the target language to each other. And I recorded that and that’s what the data showed. So it helped me reflect on the purpose and what is best for my students.”

Daniel (32:40):
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. Learn [email protected]. All right, and we’re back with the Ruckus Maker, Bryan Miltenberg, who’s a proud principal, punk rock enthusiast and struggling suffering Mets and Jets fan. But we’ll lift you up out of that somehow. Bryan, it may sound self-serving, but I am really curious what it’s like to experience me in the audience speaking. And part of it is I just want a feedback loop and into heat like how that was for you. You know, and hopefully I’ll learn some things that I can amplify and help me be even better.

Daniel (33:41):
But selfishly I want Ruckus Makers to hear this too because I would love to come support. Your community, your school, your staff, your district. Well I’m doing live events by the time this goes live. Like you don’t know this, but I’ll tell you, we’re hosting a live event. It’s in January, so it’s already done by the time this is produced. And it’s in Costa Rica, right? Oh, it’s gonna, yeah, yeah. And the vision, cause I’m talking anticipating what it’s like, even though this recording’s coming out and it’s happened and there’s actually a story, if I could share it really quick too. So there’s a pre-event dinner is what I’m planning on January 12th, two days of live with leadership training. It’s about mindset, optimizing personal performance, then a day of outdoor leadership training and adventure experience. So like bucket list level, like epic stuff that you’ll be able to tell all your friends that you did.

Daniel (34:32):
And hey, New York in January kind of sucks the weather. Like, let’s be honest, no doubt. And so I had to pick a place that’s gonna be amazing. So we’re going to Costa Rica to have our live event in January. So the story is very short. I wanna share with one of my good friends Mitch Weathers who has organized binder, he said, Danny, you’re a great coach. Putting out content podcasts helps a lot of people, I don’t know if you know this, your superpower is actually creating live experiences, right? And so N A E S P is a little bit different cuz I was just doing a talk and like I didn’t build that thing, but when I built the whole thing, like I found out that that’s actually my superpower. So I wanna get, I wanna get hopefully listeners excited about potentially working with me in that way too. I don’t know, what was it like for you to be in the audience and when I was doing the talk?

Bryan (35:23):
Well I think the reason why I connect so much with what you bring to the table, whether it’s the podcast or the presentation is because you don’t live on the surface of leadership. You live under, under you, you are really good both with your guests and in your presentation at seeing what’s underneath, right? We all have these surface level aspects of leadership and those are super important. But it’s really far more, I think to me both more interesting, more critical to look at what’s underneath, look at what’s going on with us. You know, like I’ll call it self leadership before we ever get out into the world. So when you’re talking about things like investing in yourself, how do you create a sense of authentic authenticity? How do you be authentic to yourself so that you show up in an authentic way? I think that really resonates. I was thinking about it. It was funny like when I was go, I remember when I was going in senior session, it was very well attended, but I think it was like the session next door was something like 99 ways to jumpstart faculty meetings or something like that, which is an awesome topic and we all need great ways to jumpstart faculty meetings, don’t get me wrong. But like that was, that session was really well attended too. But it’s such the opposite that I feel like it is very much like the surface level and like, yes, we all need that. And yes, I even, I didn’t even go to the session, but I got something from the guy cuz he was wearing light up shoes outside of his session to pump people up.

Bryan (36:56):
And I ended up asking him where he got them from and I ordered them for the first day of school. But, like we can all see that, we can all get a list of that and we can go do it. But to me, like what you’re doing is something deeper to look under the hood of yourself as a leader. When you’re talking about self-awareness and how that impacts how we show up for other people and the things that are hidden inside our decisions that we don’t even realize until we really start to unpack instead of becoming familiar with self-awareness biases like internal biases and the things that you talk about. So yeah, it’s fascinating for me and you know, I was definitely leaving there pumped up and summertime was a great time to do it because you really can invest in yourself.

Bryan (37:47):
And so like I was faced with a decision like many principals probably anytime, but really especially over the summer, right? Like you can, I always feel like as the principal, you can sit there, I can do email right now for the next six hours and it wouldn’t be, it wouldn’t be done. I can, I always have the option to just keep going and keep doing more email, which will produce more email back to me and the cycle will keep going. But when I think about like what you say about investing in yourself, it’s like, well you know, what about this book, this research that I’ve been wanting to do and if I could, if I two hours on that and whether it’s during the school day or at night or whatever versus two hours of doing more emails what’s the long term impact of that one is just keeps the wheel turning and the other can be a game changer down the line, not tomorrow. Right? It’s not always an immediate impact, which is why it’s hard for leaders to step back because there’s always something more pressing in your face right now that you can check off and get the dopamine hit of checking something off your list, which is a great feeling. But ultimately is it that your long-term development,

Daniel (38:54):
Yeah, we’re playing a long game and it’s the tension between urgent and significant. So decide what’s more important to you. Well Bryan, if you could put a message on all school marquees around the world for a single day, what would your message be?

Bryan (39:08):
Well we had the opportunity to do this recently cuz we were built, we were creating some parking lot flags that actually just got put up today. So we’re really excited about it. So they have a few different messages that our team came up with. But the most important one to me was you belong here. And that’s for the students, but it’s not just for the students, it’s for the staff. It’s for the families to tell them that they do belong here and they’re unconditionally accepted as they are. And that doesn’t mean that we all don’t wanna get better at stuff. Doesn’t mean students don’t wanna get better at stuff that they don’t, that they don’t want to learn English or improve their behavior or whatever. But you’re accepted here and valued and celebrated here as you are in this moment without condition, truly without condition. And we’ll work on the other stuff later, but you know, showing all people that they have value right now, right here.

Daniel (39:51):
And Bryan, if you’re building your dream school, you aren’t limited by any resources. Your only limitation was your imagination. How would you build your dream school? What would be the three guiding principles?

Bryan (40:02):
Yeah. You know, since I’ve been listening to your show, you always think about how you would answer this, right? Yeah. And I think if you had asked me like five, five years ago, I would’ve talked about technology and facilities and all the resources that we could get. And it’s funny man, now that I’m a principal, I view it totally differently. So my question for you is, can I bend time in this scenario? Is that something I can do?

Daniel (40:23):
I think that’s like the ultimate Ruckus Maker energy. So I’ve never had anybody bend time. Let’s do it.

Bryan (40:29):
Yeah. Like, so like the, honestly my dream is to be able to really have a, what I would call a teaching and learning organization where teachers are learners. Cause that’s what’s so exciting to me about this job is that you’re always learning. But the challenge and the tension comes in because of when you’re gonna do it. Because teaching is like six full-time jobs into one. So if we could bend time such that teachers can be teaching a full day, but also have the opportunity to explore, collaborate, research, and read truly be the professional learners that I know at least our staff wants to be, they want those opportunities and are so hungry for it. But fitting it all in with everything else we’re doing. So the guiding principle is number one is we’re all learners.

Bryan (41:19):
We’re all learners on a journey to continue to continuously learn. And then when you can have that in place, then you can empower people to do, to take risks, to do things because people who are learning are the one, the people who you know, the people who are learning, cuz they’re the people who are coming up to you with ideas, right? And what if we did this and can we try this? And like most of the time it’s like, hell yeah, we can try that . Like why not? Like, I love when I can say that there’s a few times when you can’t cuz it might just be a two, two beyond the pale. But you know, when you, like a true teaching and learning organization, are gonna unlock so many doors beyond just what I, the principal could dream up, right? I’m only one brain, you know what I mean? But a hundred brains working together will come up with incredible things you can never imagine. Brilliant.

Daniel (42:09):
Well, thanks Bryan so much for being a part of the Better Leaders Better Schools podcast, everything we talked about today. What’s the one thing you want a Ruckus Maker to

Bryan (42:18):
Remember? Just to be that hand reaching down, lift someone up when they fall like we talked about earlier. And if you have the, if you have the power to create or change an organization such that you’re gonna have many hands reaching down to lift people up doesn’t mean people will never fall, but it does mean that there’ll always be, there’ll always be someone there to pick you up and get me going again.

Daniel (42:40):
Thanks for listening to The Better Leaders, Better Schools podcast Ruckus Maker. If you have a question or would like to connect my email, [email protected] 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 BetterLeaders Betterschools.com and talk to you next time. Until then, “class dismissed.”



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