Dr. Donna Marie Cozine helps overworked and exhausted Educational Leaders on the verge of burnout increase their work-life balance, so they can lead their organizations AND live the life they DESERVE! She is a leader, author, speaker, podcast host, and executive coach.
Dr Cozine has been featured in Authority Magazine, Principal Magazine, The Rochester Beacon, Medium, Connections with Evan Dawson, WHAM 13 Rochester NY, WXXI News Rochester, NY, and various national and international podcasts.
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Daniel: It’s a mistake to believe as a leader, you have to hide. And it’s natural, we make mistakes. We want to hide. We screw something up, or maybe we put our foot in our mouth. We say something that we shouldn’t have said, and we want to go and hide. But here’s the thing. When you make a mistake, that kind of stuff, the best thing to do is to own it, apologize and do that quickly. The other thing, too, is when it comes to stuff that’s happened in our experience, we often feel incorrectly that our failures, if people knew, if they only knew the real me, they wouldn’t listen or they wouldn’t be attracted or they wouldn’t think I’m good enough as a leader and all this kind of thinking. Nothing could be further from the truth. Obviously, you can’t consistently, every single day. That’s not what I’m talking about. But there are times in our lives where we mess something up and there’s a great lesson in there and it makes us seem more human. If we could communicate those stories to our people that would actually lift others up, encourage them, create a better culture. Today’s guest, Dr. Donna Marie Cozine, said something that impacted me. She said, “your mess is your message.” Isn’t that kind of what Bernie Brown talks about, too, with being vulnerable? My mentor, Erin Walker, says that people crave authenticity, so be real. You make a mistake, own it, apologize, learn from it, and don’t feel like you have to hide. You can tell people those areas where you’ve messed up and be a model for how to pivot and how to learn from your mistakes. Because failure isn’t failing. It’s not a death sentence. It is an opportunity, a powerful opportunity to learn. Hey, it’s Daniel, and welcome to the Better Leaders Better Schools podcast. A show for Ruckus Makers , those out of the box, leaders making change happen in education. We’ll be right back after these messages from our show sponsors. Learn how to recruit, develop, retain and inspire outstanding individuals and teams to deliver on the vision of your school. In Leading People a certificate in School Management and Leadership Course from Harvard Leading People runs from July 20th to August 17, 2022, apply by July 8th, enroll by July 14th, and get started at betterleadersbetterschools.com/Harvard. During COVID, every teacher is a new teacher. That’s why innovative school leaders are turning to Teach FX whose virtual PD is equipping thousands of teachers with the skills they need to create engaging, equitable and rigorous virtual or blended classes. To learn more about Teach FX and get a special offer, visit teachfx.com/BLBS. All students have an opportunity to succeed with Organized Binder, which equips educators with a resource to provide stable and consistent learning, whether that’s in a distance, hybrid or traditional educational setting. Learn more at OrganizeBinder.COM.
Daniel: Hello, Ruckus Makers. Today I am joined by Dr. Donna Marie Cozine, who helps overworked and exhausted educational leaders establish work-life balance so they can lead their organizations and live the lives they deserve. She’s a leader, author, speaker, podcast host and executive coach. Dr. Kosan has been featured in Authority Magazine, Principal Magazine, The Rochester Beacon, Medium Connections with Evan Dawson W Adam 13, Rochester, New York, WXXI News, Rochester, New York. And various national and international podcasts. Dr. Cosine, welcome to the show.
Dr Marie Cozine: Thank you. I’m so happy to be here with you.
Daniel: Danny It’s my pleasure. I’m so happy we are connected now. I’ve been seeing how you show up in the world in a lot of your social posts and that kind of stuff. I know that the message you have, the way you support school leaders is so important. It’s my honor to have you here today. I love to start and go back to 2012 and you have an idea to start a charter school in Rochester. But you told me that everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Tell us that story.
Dr Marie Cozine: Yeah, it’s Murphy’s Law, but maybe we should call it Cozine’s law. Because I said to somebody yesterday, by the three G’s, it happened. God’s grace and grit. It happened. In 2012, I was at a crossroads in my career. I had been supporting some Rochester high schools as a member of the College Board. We had a model school and in 2012, the superintendent at the time said, “We’re not going to do this anymore.” So I said, “Well, what am I going to do? My children were three and ten months old and I decided I want to start a charter school of the arts. Because what I was noticing in working with these high schools was kids were coming in at the seventh grade, at a third grade reading level, and the teachers were killing themselves from seven to 12th grade to try and get these kids not only reading on level, but in New York, you have to pass the Regents exams in order to graduate on time. I had this great idea. Let me start this charter school for elementary children that services the city of Rochester, but also I could bring my own kids there. How hard could it be? Those words should be on my tombstone. Donna Marie Cozine, how hard could it be? Ignorance is bliss. We ran into a lot of issues as I was trying to launch the school. First, I applied to New York, there are two chartering agencies and I applied to SUNY Charter Agency. We got pretty far. And then they said, no, you’re not ready. And then somebody said to me, “Well, you could you could apply to Nice said, but you only have six weeks.” So I was like, Oh my gosh, am I going to do this? Am I not going to do this? So I spent six weeks turning around a brand new application, and I had a co-founder at the time. Two co-founders. One was my mother. She did like all the finance stuff for the application. Another gentleman who got into a little disagreement with the board and he quit mid July and we were supposed to open with staff at the end of August and we were going. The two of us really launched this school and he quit. He asked to come back and the board said no. We had a meeting and they asked me if they really wanted me to hire somebody new and we had a conversation about that. Before we could get too far into that conversation, a board member basically called me out in front of everybody and said, “I think we should ask for a planning year because we are not ready to launch this school.” I felt very strongly that it was now or never. Either we were going to launch then or it wasn’t going to happen because we already had 194 students registered for school. We had 32 staff members sign on the dotted line that we were going to hire them. And so we all of a sudden say, we need a planning year. No one’s going to come back to us next year. They’re going to say this is the school that sold us a dream that they couldn’t fulfill. So this board member says to everybody, they want a planning year. I’m sitting there and my reptilian brain, of course, is firing, like, what am I going to say? And I was like, okay, DMC, don’t be inappropriate. And I said to her, I said to everyone, Excuse me, with all due respect, I didn’t just fall off a turnip truck. I’ve run schools before. I can do this. Besides, we’ve made a commitment and I remember a very good friend of mine. He’s now a very good friend of mine. He was a board member. He said, “Let me ask you something. What’s more likely to get us sued asking for a planning year? Or continuing until we can’t go on anymore?” And I said, I think we have to continue. I think that if we ask for a planning year, we have lost all credibility with the community. We went and I started with staff on Monday, I think it was August 11th. And guess what? I had no building. I had kids coming in three weeks and I had no building. Right around the time that the co-founder quit. We also do not have too much drama. I guess we also lost the lease on the building that we were going to lease. I have 194 kids. I have 32 staff members, I’ve got no school. I launched my summer on boarding at another school in another school’s basement, and they’re like, DMC, when can we see the school? Yadda yadda? And I am literally, literally lying between lying. Oh, well, we hope to be there next week. And so that Tuesday the board, because we were leasing a school from a school district, said that it was a surplus school. So literally that Tuesday night at 730, the board approved it and it was like, Oh, so then I get Monday. I say to my husband Tuesday night, he’s a painting contractor, he clears his schedule, he gets all of his guys to get to the school, gets to the school, they won’t let them in. So he calls me and he’s like, They won’t let us in. We’re just going to go to another job. I was like, Okay, my phone rings. 30 minutes later, he says, I just got into an accident and I totaled my van. So here I am in the middle of onboarding staff. Fortunately, I had them in small groups and I said to everyone, Just continue, I’ll be back. I went and rescued my husband and it was just like one thing after another. But I wouldn’t give up Danny, I just knew that if I gave up so many children and so many families would be just left behind. At that time you think about it, if you’re in a charter school or you signed up for a charter school, you’ve missed enrolling in all the schools in the city or in your district. So what seats are left? The seats that are left are in the schools that nobody wants. And why don’t they want those? Because they’re underperforming. They’re all dangerous and all of those things. So every time I came up upon this obstacle, I was like, this is not going to sink this organization. I know that this organization is meant to be and it is going to serve so many children. And it still is. Eight years later, we’re there. It’s my eighth year. I recently did leave because my daughter was leaving. She started when she was four and she went all the way through sixth grade. And we decided as a family it’s a good time to be available to her because you were not a middle school girl, but I was a middle school girl. And I knew that my daughter as a middle school girl was going to need her mama a little bit more. So that’s when I launched and I changed things and wrote my two books and I’m working with schools and districts across the country. So that’s my story. I feel so much like a Ruckus Maker. You talk about Ruckus Makers and I believe it was Susan B Anthony who said something around about well-behaved women seldom making history I think it’s. That’s true. You have to be that Ruckus Maker who makes things happen. I’m blessed that so many people believed in me and believed in that school. It is now on a third charter. We were renewed twice and they’re on the third charter. So it’s all good. All good.
Daniel: What a story. Thank you, DMC for sharing that. My follow up question, I want to know if there was a moment or if it was a series of experiences, you talked about reptilian brain and there’s multiple events. You’re there with the board or husband totaling the car, like not having a building, like there’s so much going on or it would be very easy just to walk away, you know what I mean? But you said we made this promise to the community. Teachers are on board and you had this big vision. But what is it about you that you embrace that? The tension and the pressure could be so much. But here you are standing strong.
Dr Marie Cozine: That’s a really, really good question. I was raised by amazing parents and my father became profoundly deaf when he was 11. He lost his hearing to spinal meningitis. I was just raised in an environment where you just don’t give up. People have it way worse than you. What are you complaining about? Even those times when we’re leaders and we think to ourselves, like that imposter syndrome, am I meant to? Be here or whatever.Growing up in the environment in which I grew up, two things happened. One was I realized like, I don’t have it bad, right? No matter what happens, my dad had it bad. He first had polio and almost died. Then he had spinal meningitis and lost his hearing. Only people are family-like, you know what I mean? Like, that’s bad. That’s like, what do I have to complain about? The other thing that I really believed was, if not me, then who? Right. If I’m not the one to stand up for these families and provide this option, who is going to do it? And the truth is nobody. There are few people like me and like you, Danny, who want to go out there and want to do these things. Finally, I don’t think failure is an option. It’s funny because if I’m doing something for myself, I’m a lot less gritty. When I know I’m doing it for somebody else and I’m doing it for a community and I look parents in the eye and have said, I’m doing this for you, I just wouldn’t fail. Let me tell you, I was registering kids for school at Wegmans, which is a big grocery store up here, McDonald’s. I was going to people’s homes, literally. I started July one in the basement of my house with two secretaries. I just felt like I made a commitment to these people. And who am I? I mean, I’m Ed and Barbara’s daughter, and they taught me better than to give up. I think that’s what it was. It was just pure grit, honestly.
Daniel: And that strong, strong upbringing. Kudos to your parents. What a story there. This is sort of a similar sort of question, but it’s very clear that you see obstacles as opportunities. Right. Actually, before I get there, the one thing I want to highlight, because I think this is a really important point to you, is about if it was for you, you’d have less grit and perseverance, but if it’s for others, then you push through. I know they talk about the number two, like one and two fears that people have dying and speaking on stage. I think it’s speaking before dying. I think when folks get caught up in that, whether it’s speaking or whether it’s getting a charter school off the ground or whatever the challenge is, we get in our heads and we’re thinking about like, Oh, poor me and this kind of stuff. But that’s the wrong perspective. As you pointed out, if you connect to who you’re serving, that will pull you through, that pulls you through the hard points. So I just wanted to highlight for the peacemaker listening. But yeah, of course.
Dr Marie Cozine: For your record, I think the other thing is ego. I totally didn’t have one. I was like, this school is bigger than me. This is not about me. And if I get in my head and think, oh my goodness, and I’m Donna Marie Cozine and I know leaders sometimes get in their ego and I just would not let my ego out. Everyone has it ,right? I’m really proud of what I’ve accomplished, but I know that what I’ve accomplished will be there well beyond me. And that’s true leadership, right? Creating something that will be there after you’ve left. And I think that you have to. When I started the school, I said to everyone from 8 to 4, hang your ego at the door. And I truly believe that it’s not about what’s best for me. It’s about what’s best for the community. It’s about what’s best for the children. So I think also in addition to what you said, I think ego plays a pretty big part in that for some people.
Daniel: We’re talking about connecting with that bigger vision, connecting with those you serve to pull you through the hard times. It’s very clear that you see obstacles as opportunities, too. And is there anything else that we could add to this sort of discussion? Right. For the Ruckus Maker listening to say, okay, you get obstacles and maybe that gut reaction is like, shoot at me type of thing, but then you gotta switch it. Do you have any other ideas or feedback for the listener on how to see obstacles as to.
Dr Marie Cozine: I absolutely do. And there are two things that my people that I work with who I led would call me out on, “This is so typical. DMC. “The one is if you don’t ask, the answer’s always no. I will ask anybody for anything. I will call up and say, I need an aid. What do you get? You know what I Something for your school, usually you get it because people want to help schools. And then I learned another. I went to a workshop by Bill Daggett, and it was many years ago, and it wasn’t Bill who told me this. I remember the guy’s name, but he said, Don’t go for the best solution, go for the next best solution. A lot of times when we sit around the table, we come up with our best ideas and he said, Go another step, go pass that, go pass the knee jerk reaction of let’s try this, because usually that’s what everyone else has tried. But if you say, well, what else can we do? What’s another thing we can do? Then you’re pushing yourself out of that comfort zone. And usually you come up with a solution that better matches your problem because every problem is unique. And if you try to solve a unique problem with the same old solution, you’re not going to get a different result.
Daniel: I am really enjoying our conversation here, DMC and I would love to continue it, so we will absolutely do that. But we’re going to pause here just for a second to get in a few messages from our sponsors. Now, when we get back, I love to talk about this idea that you have. Your message is your message, which I think is super important. We’ll be talking about that in just a second. Learn how to successfully navigate, change, shape your school success, and lead your teams with Harvard Certificate in School Management and Leadership. Get world class Harvard Faculty Research specifically adapted for pre K through 12 schools self paced online PD That fits your schedule. You can apply now at betterleadersbetterschools.com/Harvard. The BLBS’s podcast is also brought to you by Teach FX. Research shows that the more students speak in class, the more they learn and the better they perform. Teach FX has helped hundreds of schools increase their student engagement by visualizing for teachers. What portions of class are teacher talk versus student talk? You get a 20% discount on Teacher FX by using a special code just for Ruckus Maker nation that’s at teachefx.com/BLBS. Finally, today’s show is proudly sponsored by Organized Binder, a program which gives students daily exposure to goal setting, reflective learning time and task management, study strategies, organizational skills and more. Organized binders color coded system is implemented by the teacher through a parallel process, with students helping them create a predictable and dependable classroom routine. You can learn more at organizedbinder.com. And we are back with an amazing Ruckus Maker , Dr. Donna Marie Cozine. We’ve talked about launching a charter school. Everything that went wrong could go wrong, but you did not give up, which was amazing. I previewed the second half of our conversation, kicking that off with how your “mess is your message. “What a beautiful idea. Bring us there. Talk to us and unpack that.
Dr Marie Cozine: I’d like to say first that I didn’t think of it. Someone said it was saying, “our mess is our message.” It’s really, really true that sometimes we have to be very transparent in order to help people understand that you two can achieve what we achieved. Most recently, my message is around how I’m helping teachers. I’m sorry, leaders, because in the midst of creating this school one day and I was on my computer after school working, working, working, and my husband said, we didn’t sign up for this. I was like, What are you talking about? We didn’t sign up for a credit card. We didn’t like what? What are you talking about? He was like the kids and I didn’t sign up for this. You said you were going to start this school. You had a partner. He’s gone and he went through the whole thing. It was like a car screeching to a halt. And I listened and I was like this man who literally is the wind beneath my wings and is supportive of everything, is calling me out. And he should call me out because he’s right. I started making changes and I said, “I really have to figure this out because I don’t want to lose my family.” I still want to be my partner and have my children and all that. But I still love this school. I mean, the school is like my dream come true. I started coming home and I didn’t open my laptop and I would put the kids to bed and all that, and then I would get in bed with my laptop and then I would start working. My husband said, He’s a saint. ” He said, “You’re making some progress, but now you’re not here for me.” So I was like, okay. And in doing that and establishing those boundaries because really. Danny, it’s about boundaries, right? As leaders, we have a hard time setting boundaries. We feel like we need to be accessible to everybody all the time. And that’s just not true. It’s just not healthy and it’s not true. But with establishing some boundaries, I was able to do that and in learning what was working for me and working for other people that I have coached in the past, I created my first book, this one up here, and I outline my leadership drivers for leadership development and those are really how I was able to effectively lead my organization and also live the life I was meant to live and deserve and be with my family and be with my children. And if I didn’t stop and I didn’t reflect, my mess really could have been even more of a mess. But instead, it has allowed me to help so many other people.
Daniel: Thank you so much for sharing that and being vulnerable and authentic. It really helps and not these stories we hear. It’s almost like you have to experience it for yourself to take that step. One of the things your story illustrates, too, and I’m happy to have you riff on this some more, but it’s not like this either or like you can have a family and lead effectively. And it’s some that you need to address because like you said, you still wanted your partner, you still wanted your kids. And those things are at stake if people don’t wake up right and establish those boundaries. So any other advice for the Ruckus Maker listening? Maybe they’ve had that moment. They’ve ignored it. Maybe they haven’t had the moment yet. But what could they do?
Dr Marie Cozine: I think for me, what it came down to was very simple. The people who deserved the best of me were getting the rest of me. And when I got home, there wasn’t much left. I really think what you have to do is you have to look at what are your priorities and what’s important in your life and what is your mission and is that align with what you’re currently doing and in the organization in which you’re doing. The beauty of my driver’s method and in the book, it walks you through all of these things to help you by the end, have clarity around what you want, how to get it, and create this map for you, right? This is what you want. Backwards map. This is what you need to do. What I would say is it’s not impossible. There are many of us who are doing it. I know that there are days that you think, Oh, I can’t do this another day or, Oh, I want to go to bed at 6:00 or Oh, I can’t wait until the weekend. Or You wake up in the morning, you don’t want to go to work. I know that because I was that person and I don’t want that for people anymore because it’s not like you said, Danny, it’s not one or the other. You can have both. It’s just a matter of knowing where to focus your energy, your priorities, how to develop other leaders within your organization and not feeling like you have to do it all, all the time.
Daniel: Yeah. So you’ve referred to your books and I think you give them a way, too, which is incredibly generous. Amazing. What a contribution. So I know some Ruckus Makers will want to connect with you and get their hands on your book. Books? Excuse me? Like, how did they do that?
Dr Marie Cozine: Yeah. So I give away PDF downloads of my book for free. This book. So you want to be a superintendent, become a leader you’re meant to be. It’s actually about leadership in general and that’s at Get Donna’s books and my second book, which I love both of the books. This one is about how to have more joyful schools in this outline, something called the School Joy Method, which I’ve had a lot of success with. And this one is you go to joyful teachers and I’ll give you the links and you can put them in the information. But yeah, I give them away for free because I want people to just better their lives and better the lives of the people around them. And these are things that I’ve seen work. I’ve made work and can work for you too.
Daniel: Amazing. So generous. So I highly encourage Ruckus Makers listening for sure. Connect with DMC, go to those websites. We’ll have them for you in the show notes and get your hands on those books so DMC, you can put one message right on all school marquees around the world. What is your message?
Dr Marie Cozine: Say standardized assessments are a must. I’m kidding. I’m kidding.
Daniel: That’s about like steam was coming out of my ears.
Dr Marie Cozine: You’re thinking, who is this person? What does she do with Donna Marie? I know. I see that you are loved. I truly believe that as educators this has come through transition. I’m 48 years old. I started teaching at 20. I’ve been in this business 28 years. This has been my own growth and revolution to realize that everything we do in education should be stemmed in love. And if children don’t feel loved, valued, appreciated, if we don’t develop relationships with them, we are not taking them anywhere. And I think so many times it’s like the teachers are here and the kids are here and don’t let them see you smile till Christmas. That was what someone told me when I started teaching. But my core would be you are so loved because when children walk into a school and they feel loved, they will do their very best.
Daniel: Absolutely. Which brings us to the last question. And you kind of have done this, but this is a thought experiment, so you won’t have limitations this time. And I promise you’ll have your building right out of the gate. Okay, so you’re building this. You’re building a school from the ground up. You’re not limited by any resources. You’re only limitations, your imagination. So, DMC, how are you building this dream school and what are your three guiding principles?
Dr Marie Cozine: I love that. I really do love that because I had an opportunity to build my dream school. But of course there were things that were necessary. And one of those, unfortunately, are the standardized assessments. I do believe in assessing students. Absolutely. But I think what I would do differently the first thing is how we assess students. I think I would do more of an authentic project based assessment. We used to do something at our school called culminating events. We would have thematic units and culminating events. I would. The first guiding principle would be we assess students to find out where their gaps are. Right assessment isn’t about gotcha for students. It’s not about what I taught. You didn’t get it. It’s about what I taught and I’m seeing these gaps and let’s fill those gaps. So it’s changing the culture of assessment. So it’s not scary. It’s just a data point, right? It’s just a data point. And we need to move past that. The second one is Joy, and that’s why I founded the first school, is we need joyful schools. We need schools where kids come in, people are smiling, people are hugging them. People are saying, we believe in you. It looks joyful. It feels joyful. You know, like you see what Paul Clark has done at Paul Clark. Paul Clark Academy.
Dr Marie Cozine: I know a guy named Paul Clark. That’s my Ron Clark Academy. Like, you see that type of thing, which he’s able to do because it’s a private school and lots of funders. So that’s the type of school I would want to create, one that just joy abounds, which I actually did create, and it’s still like that. And then the third thing is. Every decision, and this costs nothing. And this can be done by every single one of your Ruckus Makers . Right now, every decision that is made in your organization is on what’s best for children and what’s developmentally appropriate. Because so many things we do in education, assessing students. I was so angry last year when they made us assess our students in New York State. I think it was all the states because if you took federal money, you had to do this. Our kids have been home for six months and then some of them were home. Some of them are away. We had to drag them into school to take them. What’s the point of it? What was the point? The data wasn’t even valid. I mean, we gave tests that we had given before so stupid, it just made me angry. And it’s because the decision wasn’t made on what’s best for students. So those are my three assessments. So people understand why we assess and make it authentic and meaningful. The second is joyful. Just create joyful schools. And the third one is every decision. Regardless top down, every decision should be based on what is best for children and what is developmentally appropriate.
Daniel: Yes, so we covered a lot of ground today, BMC and everything we talked about. What’s the one thing you want a Ruckus Maker to remember?
Dr Marie Cozine: I want Ruckus Makers to remember that you are an educator and what you do matters. But if you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t give to others. I use with my leaders a metaphor of a watering can. You have a watering can? And you go around and you water all of the teachers and you water all of the students and you water all the families. And when it’s time to water yourself and your other families so you can bloom in your family, there’s no water left. So what you have to do is figure out how you can do both. And I’m here to tell you it’s possible people will say, oh, it’s the job. Oh, work harder. Oh, yeah, I only sleep 3 hours a day. Well, that’s wrong. None of those things have to happen. It can be different. And it has to be different because we can’t leave. We can’t lose good leaders from our schools and districts.
Daniel: 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 Leader Better School 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. Better leaders, better schools . com and talk to you next time. Until then,” class dismissed.”
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