Dr. Steven Weber is the Associate Superintendent for Teaching and Learning. He brings more than 20 years of experience to the district having previously served as the Executive Director for Curriculum and Instruction with Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools (NC). During his career, he has served as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, director of secondary, and executive director of curriculum and instruction. Weber’s professional experience includes serving as a curriculum director with the Arkansas Department of Education and the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

Dr. Steven Weber has served as a district leader in school districts in North Carolina and Arkansas. He currently serves as a district leader in Fayetteville Public Schools and provides leadership by working with teachers, administrators, and staff. He works with teachers from each of the district’s sixteen schools to review programs, develop curriculum, and analyze district inputs and outputs. Weber leads the Office of Teaching and Learning and works with building principals to support continuous improvement. His areas of leadership include academic achievement, instructional strategies, formative assessment, leadership development, professional learning, continuous improvement, and collaborating with families to support students.

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Show Highlights

Burning a bridge with a parent helped to create strategies to build empathy and respect with people we don’t agree with.

Tips to navigate the turbulent waters between confidence and the imposter syndrome.

Leadership is about customer service.

Prioritize dialogue and conversation over conflict and disrespect when facing highly energized people.

Steven’s instructional leadership program that builds a pipeline for leaders.

Schools are in a service industry. Make sure your first touch point is a welcoming experience.

The message you need to remember when communicating to an audience.

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

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Read the Transcript here.

Rookie Mistakes And The Wisdom of Experience

Daniel (00:02):
As a baby, a novice, Ruckus Maker, how’d that go? The first challenging conversation with a parent or a colleague? Pretty good. I know for me, I have messed up so many difficult conversations. I still do it till today. I have to work really hard to navigate them well. But here’s the thing. As a Ruckus Maker, as a leader, we are going to have challenging conversations consistently. It’s something that we have to figure out how to do. Now, the key to navigating these conversations not easily, but maybe being better equipped to handle them would be focusing on empathy, focusing on service, focusing on curiosity and questions. Today, I unpack handling difficult conversations and challenges at board meetings. We talk about leadership and education is the service industry. I have back a friend of mine who’s on the show for the second time, Dr. Steven Weber, you’re gonna love this conversation. I sure did. Enjoy today’s episode. Hey, it’s Danny and this is The Better Leaders Better Schools podcast, a show for Ruckus Makers, which means you invest in your continuous growth, you challenge the status quo, and you design the future of school now. We’ll be right back after a few introductory messages from our show sponsors.

Daniel (01:39):
Deliver on your school’s vision with Harvard’s certificate in school management and leadership. Learn from Harvard Business and Education School faculty in self-paced online professional development, specifically designed for pre-K through 12 school leaders. Courses include leading change, leading school strategy, and innovation. Leading people and leading learning programs run from February 15th to March 15th, 2023, apply by Friday, February 3rd, enroll by Thursday, February 9th for our upcoming cohort at BetterLeadersbetterschools.com/harvard. Teachers have the power to impact children’s lives in almost immeasurable ways. As an instructional leader, as much as you’d love to provide every teacher the support they need to learn and grow, you can’t be with every teacher in every classroom. Teach FX is a whole new way to provide instructional leadership at scale and in a way that’s teacher centered. Teachers use Teach FX to record a lesson and automatically get personalized private feedback to guide their own self-reflection. See Teach FX for yourself and learn about our special partnership options for Ruckus Makers at teachfx.com/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 (03:19):
Well, hey, Ruckus Makers. I am joining for the second time, Dr. Steven Weber is joining me on the podcast. He has so much wisdom and experience with leadership. You’re gonna love this conversation. Now, Dr. Weber serves as the Associate Superintendent for teaching and learning in Fayetteville Public Schools. He has served as the executive director for curriculum and instruction with Chapel Hill, Carrboro City Schools, if I messed that name up, sorry folks in North Carolina, and the Director of Secondary Instruction for Orange County Schools in North Carolina. Now, during his career in public education, he has served as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, director of secondary instruction, and executive director of Curriculum and instruction. Dr. Weber, welcome to the show.

Steven (04:08):
Thank you so much. Great to see you again, Danny.

Daniel (04:11):
This is a blast. Steven, I want you to bring us back, back in time to a moment where you told me you burnt a bridge with a parent, and you were a young 22 years old. You knew you did it too, because when this parent left the school, she slammed the door. Will you tell us that story?

Steven (04:32):
I was a first year teacher. As a first year teacher, you have parents come in and they have issues with the way you handled student discipline, or they have issues when you send a note home saying, ‘my child is disrupting your class and that’s embarrassing that you’re gonna talk about my child this way.’ So it wasn’t really that big of a discipline issue, but it was one of those issues that had kind of been persistent, and I needed to address it and let the family know this is going on in class and it’s disrupting class. The issue wasn’t really that big, but when the parent came in, she was pretty hot. She didn’t have an appointment to see me. She just came in at the end of the day after I’d been teaching all day.

Steven (05:12):
She let me know that, this is how it’s gonna be, and this is not the way you’re gonna talk to my daughter. I looked her in the eye and I said, “Well, you can do whatever you like with your daughter and raise her how you like when she’s at your home. But when she’s in my class, these are my rules.” As soon as it came out of my mouth, I thought that was the wrong thing to say. But I’m 22 years old and she’s probably 45 or 50 years old, and she’s looking at me thinking, you just graduated from college. You’re not gonna talk to me that way. It wasn’t a very customer friendly approach, and it wasn’t the right phrasing to use, but at the moment, I felt a little backed in a corner. I felt like she came in, my class stormed in here without an appointment, and was upset about a very small consequence. We’re not talking about a suspension or an ISS. It’s a small consequence, and she’s upset. But instead of having empathy, or instead of listening, I jump to this is my class. She’ll act the way I need her to in my class. And she’s thinking, my daughter, that’s why I’m here to talk to you, Mr. Weber.

Daniel (06:14):
I wanna ask you, can you talk to me about leadership confidence? because as a 22 year old teacher with a parent twice your age it’s easy to be intimidated. You said even in retelling this story you felt a little bit backed into a corner. These days I’m 44 years old, and there’s times where I get intimidated when I’m around leaders I look up to, or people that I hold in high regard. How do you navigate the turbulent waters between confidence and what some people call the imposter syndrome?

Steven (06:47):
It is very difficult. You have to learn, and I had to learn over the last 25 years of different examples. Working as an administrator, working as a teacher, hopefully I’m better now than I was then. I lead with questions. Maybe I would’ve pushed back with some questions instead of with a defensive answer. Maybe I would’ve asked how would you prefer that I address this in the future? There’s nothing wrong with asking questions, putting the ball back in the other person’s court. There’s nothing wrong with showing empathy. But I think it is very difficult at 22 years old to show vulnerability. At that point, you’re thinking they won’t be doing this to the 30 year veteran across the hall. Why are they talking down to me? When you are younger, it’s difficult to have strategies.

Steven (07:32):
It probably was the first time that had ever happened in my career where someone had come in and challenged me and they’re challenging your class rules or your integrity. Why would you say my kid was wrong? My kid’s never wrong. And this is a parent that I was friends with. I think when the parent has a positive relationship with you already, it catches you by surprise the first time they’re upset. But we are a public school system. We do serve the community. And over time I’ve realized that it’s more about being a servant leader than it is about being right. At the end of the day, some families will be upset with our decisions, but we need to be partners with families, and we don’t need to create a divide. And the way I handled that situation that day has resonated with me the rest of my career. Hopefully the next time I have a difficult parent meeting I can look back to. I didn’t listen and I didn’t ask enough questions, and I didn’t show enough empathy in the moment.

Daniel (08:28):
I wanna get to sort of the servant leadership and customer service side of things in a second. I do want to ask you to drill a little bit deeper into being challenged. You talked about using questions right, as one way to have empathy and to navigate these difficult conversations. I can’t imagine as associate superintendent that you get challenged ever these days. But if you do, Steven, what are some other things besides asking questions in terms of handling conflict and challenge?

Steven (09:05):
I can share one thing that’s more difficult now than ever before for educators and that is social media. That parent came to my school, didn’t have an appointment, but just stormed in and said, we need to talk. Usually, in the old fashioned days, you could have a conversation. Now, the typical go-to for some families or some people is to go to Facebook or Twitter and say, “this is the worst teacher I’ve ever had. This teacher’s an idiot. How can they not understand my child?” So now you’re embarrassed in front of the whole world and all your community, and if you read social media yourself, it may really upset you. So now you have an emotional reaction before you ever have the parent teacher conference or the phone call, because a lot of people now, and it’s kind of generational, but we show our frustration on social media. So it is becoming more and more difficult. But you ask me what is my preferred preference? My number one preference is a face to face meeting where we can sit down, hear each other’s sides, and have an adult conversation that works best for me. If that doesn’t work, a zoom meeting where it’s still face to face or a phone call, but I like face to face conversation versus email, you can lose the tone in an email. They can think that you’re being defensive, and a lot of times your email can be a screenshot that then goes on a Facebook post. I like having conversations where you can just show that you really do care about the child, and that’s what we can agree on. You love your child, and I care about your child, and we’re both here to help your child succeed.

Steven (10:31):
When you can get to that point, most families will come to the middle or come to a consensus that, “Hey, you care about my child. And that was really hard during the last two years during the pandemic, a lot of school districts did not have face-to-face parent teacher conferences or open houses. We currently have second grade students whose parents up until this year had never been in their child’s school and that’s true across the United States. Several school districts due to Covid shutdowns and different regulations and different school districts, families have kind of felt pushed away. We have to roll out the red carpet more than ever now because some families, their only experience has been an email, it’s not been a face to face conference. We really have to work hard to build relationships and to show that we truly do care about their child.

Daniel (11:20):
I think that sets up the next question quite nicely. I know you believe in servant leadership and that leadership is about customer service, and I would agree with that. What are some things you’ve seen leaders do really well that says, we are as educators that we are in the service industry?

Steven (11:38):
I was at Al Creek School this afternoon, and that’s a school I enjoy visiting in our school district here in Fayetteville Public Schools. When I go to Al Creek, every time I go there, you think, well, the principal’s, the leader. I would say the leadership starts at the front desk. All of the staff that support and secretaries, bookkeepers, receptionist, everyone who sits at the front desk and when they take turns, there are different people there, but it’s a consistent greeting at the front door, whether it’s me or a parent. It’s consistent, positive, and welcome to our school. And it’s a consistent response to students who come in and have a need. It’s never, you’re an interruption of my time. If the English language is a barrier, they communicate with the families and find ways to communicate. If there’s a barrier for the family, maybe it’s socio economic barrier, they find someone to support the family.

Steven (12:28):
But it’s a customer approach and it’s never an interruption. I mean, if they’re 500 interruptions during the day and the phones are ringing, they still treat people with respect and dignity. Then you go down the hallway and the custodian is positive, the parents in the hallway and teachers are positive. And so, maybe the fifth or sixth person you run into as the principal by this point, you’ve already made up your perception, I like this school, this is a positive culture, or this is a toxic culture. When I go to Al Creek School, I think this is a very positive place. Would I want my child in this school? You immediately are thinking these things as an adult and you’re making your perception based on how people treat you. So I would say a shout out to Al Creek School and customer service is not just the principal, it’s every adult in the building.

Steven (13:16):
And how do they treat students and how do they treat guests? And I’ve watched it because I used to think, well, they just treat me that way because I’m assistant superintendent, but the next 10 people that come in get treated the same way I get treated. I have a lot of respect for all of our schools in the district, but that’s one school in particular that really gets it on a consistent basis. A restaurant or when you go to the airport and you know you have issues with your baggage, how are you treated? Are you treated with respect? Do people listen to you and do you matter? Do they treat you like you’re the most important person in the room? And that’s how this school treats their guests.

Daniel (13:54):
Well, thank you for highlighting them. I think you said Al Creek Elementary. So what a fantastic place.A few things I wanna pull out of the story. And two things to add, consistency. So that’s really important. And it doesn’t matter who you are. You could be the president of the US, you could be Dr. Steven Weber, or you could be a parent or whatever. Everybody’s getting this awesome service. I really appreciate that. And then you highlighted something too. The fact that your front office is the first touchpoint, what do people experience? I just wanna point out to Ruckus Makers the other day, by now it’s been out for months. But I did a live video, which you could find on YouTube or Facebook, whatever.

Daniel (14:38):
And it was on design thinking. And what is your entry way of your school saying right to your community? What’s that mess? Do they feel like they belong? That they matter. The second that they step into the building and that’s even before they get to the people, and then the front office staff. Important. The thing I wanna add there is that most Ruckus Makers listen, I’m sure you’re already doing this, but there’s a few of you that aren’t in anyways. Are you meeting with your front office staff regularly? When I was a principal down in Texas, I was surprised by two things. Nobody, no principal before me, held regular meetings with the front office staff as a collective and they didn’t do that with the custodians or the cafeteria staff either.

Daniel (15:28):
I’m thinking, what a missed opportunity. The quick story is with the front office staff, I started talking about like, what’s your vision for this school. What do you value? How is it based on what you do each day? That connects to our bigger picture, what we’re trying to accomplish as a school. And the interesting thing there, Steven, is that I didn’t hire any of these people when I came into the school. One of ’em was the wrong fit. And I’m thinking, man, I’m gonna have to fire this lady. Like, imagine the worst person you could have. She made people feel bad when they walked into the school. Like, this is not a good look. I’m thinking, “Oh my gosh, I’m gonna have to fire her and fire her quickly.” When I started having these front office staff meetings regularly asking for vision, asking the team, how do you plug into this? What’s the experience you wanna create? This person resigned because she said, “Based on what you guys are all talking about, I don’t wanna be a part of a school like this.” I’m like, “Awesome, because we don’t want you here.” I didn’t say that, but that’s what I was thinking.I really appreciate you highlighting all those sorts of things.

Steven (16:38):
As you were talking about your design moment, it reminded me of a book. I know you and I share a love for some of the same leadership authors. Chip and Dan Heath wrote a book, the Power of Moments, which I know we’ve talked about before, offline, and in the Power of Moments, it talks about how you can design those moments in your school or in your business? How can you design moments that make the customer wanna come back tomorrow? How can you make it so exciting that the kids go home and say, I can’t wait to go back to school tomorrow. The Power of Moments is a leadership book that really has a lot of applications to schools,

Daniel (17:11):
Definitely. We read that within the Mastermind and thought about how that applies to our work. So we definitely recommend that to all the Ruckus Makers listening. Steven, I’m loving our conversation as I always do. We’re gonna pause here just for a second to get in some messages from our sponsors. When we return, I would really like to ask you about difficult board meetings, because like it or not they’re just happening. Our leaders and listeners and Ruckus Makers need to know how to navigate those. We’ll be back in just a second.

Daniel (17:44):
Get professional development without leaving your Home. Harvard’s online certificate in school management and leadership helps you establish your legacy and deliver on your vision for your learning community. Learn from Harvard faculty as you examine case studies of leaders in education and business since 2018. We’re proud to have served over 6,000 school leaders from over 125 countries in 48 US states. We are honored to welcome you to our July, 2022 cohort. Apply today 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 is right, and how much talk they have in a classroom impacts student learning. Now, don’t just take it from me that TeachFX is awesome, and it surely is, but check out what some real educators have to say about using Teach FX in the classroom.

Daniel (18:50):
What I love about Teach FX is it lets me see how myself and my students are interacting. Who’s doing all of the talking? Is it me or are they interacting with each other? It lets me see a snapshot of what’s happening in my classroom so that I can improve what I’m doing. When you have the ability to see the question you asked and hear the responses, and it’s that immediate feedback right there from Teach FX, it allows for teachers to really dive into their instruction.

Daniel (19:19):
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]. We’re back with Dr. Steven Weber, who’s the associate Superintendent for teaching and Learning at Fayetteville Public Schools. And as I mentioned before the break, I wanna discuss board meetings, which have become very challenging, especially with some highly energized parents. Now, of course, we don’t really wanna discuss if teaching this or that is wrong in terms of content and getting political, but I’m interested in how we can show respect to people that we actually, we don’t agree with. Or maybe a hundred, they violate a hundred percent of like, actually our core principles, but we’re still in the service industry and they’re still humans and deserve to be treated with dignity and even if they’re bringing strong disrespect towards us. How have you been navigating that these days?

Steven (20:34):
It’s been challenging for public schools over the last two years. You’ve seen more and more public comments in some school districts, and in some cases, people don’t want to have a dialogue. They actually wanna come and say the school’s wrong. The district is really wrong. In cases where the district is wrong, we should listen and we should make changes. Sometimes we are wrong as a school district, but what I see a lot is people become very frustrated at board meetings because some districts give three to five minutes per person to speak, and then there’s no conversation because most school boards are not going to have a public conversation. It’s called public comment. And so you have the right to comment. And then when the school board chair, the superintendent or someone doesn’t give feedback or show, “Yes, we’re gonna move in that direction,” they become almost more frustrated.

Steven (21:20):
Like, I left work early to come speak this evening, and you’re not even gonna talk to me. I think for families and community members, the biggest thing is to have those conversations with your district leaders. If it’s a school issue, speak with your principal or with your teacher. If it’s a district issue about curriculum, speak with an assistant superintendent for curriculum, someone like myself. But find ways to speak with people. I think people are very open to conversations because like I said earlier, a face-to-face conversation. I can hear your side, you can hear my side, we can agree to disagree, but we can have a conversation in school board meetings. In some cases they’re on YouTube or they’re recorded live on tv. And what some people are seeing now is, here’s my five minutes of fame. I’ll just go on there and I’ll scream and yell, and I will create a scene, or I will tear down the school and say it’s worse than it was when my kids went there.

Steven (22:13):
The school’s falling apart. Nobody should pay taxes for this school. As a community, we should embrace our schools and embrace our teachers and our principals, and we should embrace the positive impact that a school can have on a community. So we don’t need to destroy our schools through public rhetoric, but we do need to have conversation and dialogue. And that dialogue is hard to have at a school board meeting, which is only designed for public comments. I certainly wish there would be more emails or more face to face conversations, whether someone says, “I have a concern, could we speak?” And I think most school districts would be open to the conversation rather than the public lashing in front of everyone, which really doesn’t leave the school district room for a follow up conversation. So there is room for public comment.

Steven (23:01):
It’s a very important thing in city councils and in school districts. But if we’re just going to tear down, that doesn’t help the students that we all serve and want to succeed someday. And it really hurts teacher morale. A lot of teachers across the United States are really starting to wonder if they’re staying in this profession because rather than being an honorable profession, a lot of the rhetoric has shamed teachers or said, “You didn’t do enough during Covid or your kids’ scores have gone down nationwide. Look, teachers aren’t teaching hard enough. So the negative rhetoric from adults should probably be more of a constructive conversation held in private, in an office or in a school and not in a public meeting. But you can’t tell people what to say. There’s freedom of speech and people have the right to say what they wanna say, but I think in the way we respond to it, we can respond in a more conductive, professional manner, constructive manner if we have time to sit and listen in an office meeting face to face.

Daniel (23:57):
You can really set yourself apart as a leader too, if you can prioritize dialogue and conversation over conflict and disrespect. I didn’t even feel the energy but somebody was messaging me on Facebook. They’re like, I could take the comments down and this kind of stuff. They were just totally disagreeing, I guess, with what I was teaching on a video, this kind of thing. But I actually just asked a lot. Like you bringing it back to the beginning of our conversation. I asked a lot of questions. I was curious about the person’s viewpoint, just wanted to hear the perspective, what wasn’t gonna change mine. I don’t think less or better of this person, but he was so taken aback that I was just asking questions and not trying to like, just be some jerk about it. He’s like, I really appreciate the dialogue. We don’t have that anymore. I’m like, well, it’s the best thing. I love what you just shared there. And speaking of things

Steven (24:52):
I give a lot of public presentations like you do. And I work with teachers and principals in our district. And so I give a lot of presentations. And recently I was speaking with Andy Cor, he’s a professional speaker outside of education. I was speaking with him, and he’s a parent in our school district, and I was just asking him for some communication tips and he said, when you go on stage, or before you go out to speak at your next meeting, he said, ask yourself, am I here to serve others or am I here to be served? He said, quite often our message, we get so wrapped up in our PowerPoint, or in our message, or in our talking points, that we deliver a message and it kind of falls on deaf ears because it doesn’t feel like we’re speaking or communicating to an audience.

Steven (25:33):
It just feels like we’re delivering a keynote speech. He said, if you ask yourself that question, you’ll have a different mindset. You’ll be more present with your audience. And I think the same thing could be applied in a one-on-one conversation in my office with a parent. When I was 22 years old, it was like, this is my class. You’re not gonna store me in here and tell me how to teach. I think I could look at the parents and in my head think they’re really upset, am I here to serve them or be served? As a public school administrator, my only role is to serve our students, our staff, our families, and our community.

Daniel (26:07):
Definitely. I’m here to serve? Hey, I did something in Adams 12 district, which is in Thornton, Colorado outside of Denver. It’s a speaker tip, it’s a service tip too. So I wanna share it with you since we’re here having a conversation. But it’s for Ruckus Makers listening too, especially if they find themselves speaking at a conference, that kind of thing. And so here’s what I do. Am I here to serve? But I thought about all the things that I can talk about and what I think fall into what I would call my zone of genius. I show up, I’m there to do a three hour workshop and do my intro as I usually do, and build up my credibility and stuff. And then I pause and I say, okay, here’s a menu. Here’s eight things that I’m awesome at, talking about and helping leaders develop.

Daniel (26:54):
What do you want? Where do you wanna take it from here? I don’t care. I could talk about, and I’m prepared to discuss any. The director of leadership development there said, I had never seen that before in a workshop where it’s not like, we’re to cover these three points. It’s like, what do you wanna do? And that really impressed her. If you could use that or the Ruckus Maker listening it makes it fresh and fun for me too, because I never know. I don’t know where we’re going. I could talk about any of it. I don’t know what they’re gonna pick. Anyways, I just wanted to share that with you really quickly.

Daniel (27:30):
I think before I get to the last few questions I ask all my guests, I know you’re really invested in coaching, multiplying leaders and building the leadership pipeline. I don’t know if you have a framework or some kind of approach, but when you’re thinking about developing leaders How do you do that? Do you have a framework? Do you have an approach?

Steven (27:50):
I don’t know if I have a framework, but we started a brand new program just this week. We call it the Instructional Leadership Program. So it’s open to all certified staff in Fayetteville Public Schools. The very first session was called Leading from the Middle Sweet. So you don’t wanna become an assistant principal. We have an aspiring administrator program, and several people said, I’m a leader. I just want someone to recognize my leadership strengths and know that I don’t wanna become an administrator, I wanna be a teacher, or I wanna be a counselor the rest of my career. But I also wanna be recognized as a district leader. And so sometimes when we say leadership program, we mean principal assistant, principal pipeline. We’re trying to build that pipeline. I told the superintendent, I said, if three to five people sign up for this, it’s from four to 6:00 PM I’ll be shocked. I had 80 people sign up in the first three days and I had to turn the registration link off, and then people started emailing me after number 80 saying, I’m trying to register, it won’t let me in. We were thinking eight to 10 people and maybe 20 at the max. And so the first session, the first cohort this week had 42 people. And we’ve got a waiting list of over 50 people that I hope to do the same four sessions again in the spring. But another session is leading in a VUCA world and so much is disrupted in education. The last session is writing an instructional leadership manifesto. Well, they will each write a statement where they say, this is who I am as a leader, this is my circle of influence in my school or in the district. And these are ways that I can continue to grow as a leader and lean into my own leadership strengths. So kind of just a personal growth, like what you do with Ruckus Makers and with Mastermind, it’s a personal growth here in the district for no cost for certified staff.

Steven (29:37):
And that’s something that we’re doing now. And so we’re very excited about that. And along with that, I think, it’s just handwritten notes. When you see somebody doing something, well, it’s going over and having lunch with someone and just sitting down and having a lunch conversation. A couple of weeks ago I met with some fourth grade teachers in our district and I said, I’ll get you lunch from anywhere in the community. Where do you want lunch from? And I thought they were gonna go to an expensive restaurant because if somebody asked me for free lunch, I’d pick somewhere nice. And I was taking lunch to their classroom during their planning period. I chose Chick-fil-A.

Daniel (30:12):
I knew you were gonna say Chick-fil-A. I knew it. I

Steven (30:14):
Said, are you serious? I said, you don’t want more barbecue or Mexican food or a restaurant? And they said, no, we want Chick-fil-A. That’s what we all want. And I said, well, that’s what we’ll get. So we had Chick-fil-A and we spent an hour talking about teaching and learning and lessons learned this year from. Kids trying to recover from the last two years of education and just kind of having those conversations. So I think sometimes we can have a great big institute and a leadership program, and other times we just have to go to where teachers are and meet them in their classroom. And whether we’re a principal or a central office person, we have to have conversations in the hallways and we have to just ask people, how is it going? Where are you now? Where do you wanna go?

Steven (30:56):
How will we get there? How can I support you? This is leading with questions. And the other question that I like to ask people is, what’s missing? Just what’s missing is a real open-ended question. But somebody will tell you, well, here’s what’s missing. We need training in this, or Here’s what’s missing. We’ve got five kids in our class with behavior issues we’ve never seen before, and we need some training on how to support these students. So if you just say what’s missing, a lot of people can either solve their own problem or they can help you address an issue in the system. So just leading with questions and being present and asking people what their needs are. And it’s, it’s really just fun being an educator during this time. You can look at all the negatives and you can look at all that was disrupted. But kids need us more than ever now. So I love hearing the conversations about what teachers are doing to support their students.

Daniel (31:47):
Yeah, that’s great. What a profession to be in. It’s the best. Steven. So if you could put a message on all school Marquis, around the world for a single day, what would your message be?

Steven (31:57):
Oh, he got me there. That’s a good one. Let me come up with a message real quick. I think the most important thing is to treat each other with respect. Yeah. Staff treat each other. Respect staff, treat students with respect and dignity. Treat families with respect and dignity. And going back to when I was 22 years old, I gave her an answer, but I should have been more respectful. So no matter how hard the conversation is, treat each other with respect.

Daniel (32:27):
I know I’ve asked you the building Your Dream School question before. I’d like to ask it again because it’s been a while since you’ve been on the show. If you were building a dream school, Steven, and you’re not limited by any resources, your only limitations, your imagination in building this dream school, what would be your three guiding principles?

Steven (32:47):
I think the first thing would have to be problem based learning. I’d like to see more PBL just hands on learning and problem based learning. I don’t know if I’m saying that right or not, but I know the PBL is correct. Problem based?

Daniel (33:00):
Yeah. Well, some people say problem based for sure. Other people project, say project based,

Steven (33:05):
That’s the word I was looking for. Project based learning. So project based learning would be my dream school. More project based learning and more hands on learning and inquiry and less sitting in desks and more creating. So my second principle would be less consumption and more creation. And that would be a project based learning school. You have students who are creating, and I’d like to see more creation in schools. And the final thing that I’d like to see in a school, this is going old school, so this is not new, but I think we need to bring it back. I’d like to see more habits of mind from Costa and Ka. Habits of Mind have not gone away. Some people now have blended it into social emotional learning and other, other instructional strategies or frameworks. But I really would like to see a school.

Steven (33:51):
And there are schools around the United States that do this well. And I think when we talk about employability skills, the habits of mind is something we could do a better job of. But we, after the pandemic, we thought kids are so far behind, we need to teach more content. But if we had the content and the habits of mind, I think we’d produce a college graduate who is really ready for college, career, military, or any option. And so I think there are a lot of things we could do better in schools, but project based learning, creation versus consumption or, and, definitely a student who contributes. And the final thing is a school that operates around habits of mind.

Daniel (34:30):
Sweet. This is great.

Steven (34:32):
That would be my dream school. I would love to, if that school’s out there, call me because I’d like to come visit your school

Daniel (34:40):
That’d be awesome. And I’m gonna connect with you after the podcast. And this is for the Ruckus Makers listening to Kyle Wagner [email protected]. He’s a great friend of mine and he really does incredible stuff with PBL and certainly encourages you to check him out.

Steven (34:58):
Yeah, I’d love to talk to him.

Daniel (34:59):
Yeah, for sure. And he has this idea of called the 12 Shifts, In pbl, like from a traditional classroom to a PBL focused classroom. What are those 12 shifts you need to make? Again, that’s Kyle Wagner and he’s at transform school.com. Well, Steven, we covered a lot of ground and this was another awesome conversation, I think of everything we talked about. What’s the one thing you want a Ruckus Maker to remember?

Steven (35:26):
I think the biggest thing from today’s conversation is that you have to seek first to understand. And I know that’s not my original, that’s Covey, but you have to seek first to understand whether it’s a coworker, a parent, a community member. The nation seems to be divided right now more than ever, whether it’s education, politics. We recently had elections. There are topics in the world right now that are just more divisive and it seems like it’s hard to talk to your coworker or best friend because you don’t know which side they’re on and you don’t know if it’s gonna create tension. So just seek first to understand and listen and be empathetic and try your hardest not to get the final point. Because that’s what got me burned at the beginning of this podcast, was trying to get the final word and let that parent know this is my class and not having a servant leader mindset.

Steven (36:13):
So hopefully I’ve matured and grown over the years. I still make mistakes, but I want the customer to always be first. And, in public schools or in any type of school system, if we don’t embrace the customer service and the servant leadership mindset like Al Creek School does our customers are gonna walk. They’re gonna go to other school systems and they’re going to find other places that do provide the system that is customer friendly. So we have a lot to focus on in education and it’s a really hard job, but it’s also a very rewarding job to know that we are serving other people’s children just the way somebody served us when we were eight years old.

Daniel (36:54):
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 alien earbud, and using the hashtag #BLBS level up your leadership at BetterLeadersbetterschools.com and talk to you next time. Until then, “class dismissed.”



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