Jennifer Cantor is a proud graduate of the University of North Georgia, where she received a degree in English with a concentration in Writing and Publication. She went on from college to become an English teacher at Rivers Academy (formerly known as Chalk to Champions) in the Fall of 2008. Jennifer quickly became immersed in the school and explored any opportunity that became available. Within her first two years at Rivers, she gained the role of Teacher Liaison and Admissions Coordinator. Jennifer completed her master’s degree in Educational Administration from National University in March of 2014. She became the Principal of Rivers Academy in the Fall of 2014. For the next four years Jennifer strived to create a school where students and staff feel valued and accepted. Rivers Academy has become leaders in their industry by providing students a high-quality college preparatory curriculum in just three school days.
At the age of 34, Jennifer became a co-owner in June of 2018 with her business partner, Debbie Beasley. During their first year of ownership, Rivers Academy joined the Georgia Independent School Association (GISA), where they have gone on to win three state championships in Golf and Swimming over the past three years. The school expanded by opening a new middle school building and adding eight new teachers at the start of the 2019-2020 school year. We currently have 240 students in 5th-12th grade and 32 staff members.
Jennifer has received the Greater North Fulton Chamber’s Women Influencing Business Rising Star Award in 2020. She has had the opportunity to serve on several external review committees for schools seeking accreditation, and she has really enjoyed being able to speak on various podcasts sharing her experience as the Principal and Co-owner of Rivers Academy. She loves any chance she gets to support her community and share her love and passion for the school with others. Jennifer lives in Cumming with her husband, David, and their two children, Reese and Margo. She loves camping with her family and spending time outdoors. Jennifer considers herself extremely lucky and blessed to have the opportunity to serve such amazing students, families, and staff at Rivers Academy!
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This Magical 3-day a Week School is Making a Ruckus!
Daniel: The pandemic has taught us a lot about the model of education, one of them being, does it always have to be in-person five days a week, somewhere in the ballpark from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., rinse repeat Monday through Friday. Could we do school in four days? Could we offer a world class experience in three days? Lucky for you, today’s guest does just that. She runs an innovative ruckus making school down in Alpharetta, Georgia, called Rivers Academy. You’re going to love Jennifer unpacking the story of her school and what I really appreciate about this show, too. This was a really cool moment for her. She was talking about how she’s listened to the podcast since the beginning and all the ideas she’s taking action on. That’s the best part of the podcast. When I get to connect with real Ruckus Makers on the front lines who are taking the ideas and the stories and the vision we present here on the show and turning that into a reality for real results. Jennifer, I’m proud of you and I’m so humbled that you joined me on today’s show. 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 some messages from our show sponsors. Learn how to successfully drive school change and help your diverse stakeholders establish priorities and improve practice in leading change. A Certificate in School Management and Leadership Course from Harvard. Leading Change runs from October 12th to November 9th, 2022. Apply by September 30th. Enroll by October 6th. Get started at betterleadersbetterschools.com/Harvard.
Daniel: Better Leaders Better Schools is brought to you by school leaders like Principal Gutierrez using Teach FX. Special populations benefit the most from verbally engaging in class, but get far fewer opportunities to do so than their peers, especially in virtual classes. Teach FX measures, verbal engagement automatically in virtual or in-person classes to help schools and teachers address these issues of equity during COVID. Learn more and get a special offer from better leaders, better schools listeners at 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 organizedbinder.com. Well, hello, Ruckus Makers. We are joined today by a very interesting leader who’s doing some innovative stuff for sure you’ll see in school. I can’t wait to tell more of her story in just a second. Jennifer Kantor is the principal and co-owner of Rivers Academy, a small private school in Alpharetta, Georgia. The school provides a college prep curriculum in just three school days. I didn’t make a mistake. Three school days. Wrap your head around that one. Jennifer has received the Greater North Fulton Chamber’s Women Influencing Business Rising Star Award in 2020, and Jennifer strives for students to feel valued and accepted while living a life of balance. Jennifer, welcome to the show.
Jennifer: Hello. Thank you so much for having me. This is quite probably the most exciting day I’ve had at this point in my educational career. I’m Excited when I tell you I’ve been listening to you for years. I have listened to this podcast and there are so many things that we do at River’s Academy because you stepped outside the box and had a Ruckus Maker jump on the podcast and share ideas and made it seem adaptable. From writing letters to kids on the first day of school to the way we do professional development, to the surveys, I mean, literally, there are so many things that have come from the podcast into the hallways of the school, an I still can’t believe I’m on the podcast that has truly impacted our school in my life. So thank you. Thank you for having me.
Daniel: it’s fun planting those seeds, telling the stories and trying to inspire leaders just like you. The real satisfaction of the work is to hear when people take action and create real results for their community. The community, the stakeholders at large benefit from that. I want to celebrate you for actually doing the work, making it a reality. Let’s dig into the story. You thought you had it all worked out. I remember you telling me that God had different plans for you. Tell us that story.
Jennifer: I went to college and I feel like most college freshmen, society has started asking the question of what do you want to be earlier and earlier? I hate that we do that at such a young age when kids can’t even decide what they want for breakfast yet alone. We’re asking them at the age of 15, what do you want to be when you grow up? I, like most of those kids, went to college not really knowing. I thought, okay, for sure, I’m going to be a teacher, but not knowing what that entailed in college. I got there and I started listening and doing these classes for education. Truthfully, I felt like while the teachers were incredible, they were asking us to fit into this box of teaching. I thought to myself, like all of the teachers I know and admired and impacted me the most, man, they busted out of that box. There was no box to be found. They were the ones standing on the table, reciting Shakespeare and making up raps to help us remember chemistry formulas and all of these things. And so I just said, Man, if this is what education looks like, I don’t think I want it. I want to be able to inspire and motivate children in a different way to where I have a little bit more autonomy. Little did I know that after much searching and interviews and an interview with an incredible visionary who had started this very small private school in Alpharetta, it was the idea that kids were going to go to school a couple of days a week, three days a week and get everything they needed in school. And then they would have some time to pursue their passion outside of the classroom. I remember my friend called me and said,: Hey, you have to come to the interview.” I was like, Well, that’s definitely a different type of education, so I’ll at least come hear what she has to say. I think within an hour, I was changing my future around the school, making all the plans. I have always thought growing up I wasn’t the best test taker, I wasn’t the best. I had to work hard as a student. I remember thinking, “Man, education can’t be the same for every kid.” We just were trying it and it’s just not working. There are hundreds of Ruckus Makers out there that jump on this podcast and those who listen and those who haven’t found it yet. They are the difference in that education. They might be at a smaller scale and they may have a four by four room and have their 33 students. But to those 33 students, they are changing education. I just felt like I was led to this path. I started at 23 years old as a language arts teacher. I did not have a husband, but I love seeing what giving kids more time did for these children. So I was all in. What do you have? What can I take? I have this free time. I will make free time. Let me touch anything that the school has and because I had the ability and had the time, I just grew with the school. I went from a language arts teacher to a director of admissions to teacher liaison. I was training and working with the new teachers. How to wrap your brain around from 180 school days to 108 days. I got to see the school through every perspective, through every lens we had, which was an incredible growing experience, especially for someone who didn’t go to college for those degrees and those classes, I got to learn firsthand. About three years into being at the school, the woman that started it said, hey, Jen, I’m not going to do this forever. You definitely buy into this vision. What do you think about owning the school one day? And I was like, Can I have that in writing? Where do I find the blood sample? Like, Let’s go, whatever you need, I’ll give it to you. So then I knew I was going to be shadowing her for a couple of years just to see it from a different perspective of an owner. And that was extremely beneficial to see how you solve outside of a school when a parent issue goes with you, goes home with you, or the plumbing doesn’t work, whatever it is, like, how are you handling those things? So I think getting to do that from the perspective of a potential owner was extremely valuable as well. That wasn’t something I learned in college, but getting to learn firsthand from her was important. And so then I had been with the school and in June of 2018, after being principal for two years, partnered up with a woman who was also with the school since our first day, and she was the controller for the school and did the HR part and the billing and everything on that side. And I was doing the operations. So we partnered up and we purchased the school and the operations and the brand and we had an incredible first year and then the pandemic happened. You’re now having to switch gears and doing a whole different learning curve. But it is everything I’ve ever hoped for, everything I didn’t know that I was hoping for. And just to be able to have the autonomy to know it’s what Spider-Man gets with great with great you have great responsibility with this job and that’s it. You get the ability to impact kids on whatever level you decide you want to. And that is for someone who wanted to be an inspirational speaker and write motivational novels. I mean, wow, like that’s it. But face to face, day to day, right in front of them, you know. So I think everything came full circle. I think not being an incredible student, I worked hard and I liked school. But if I said I love school, I would be lying. I like the social aspect of school, but I think being able to have the autonomy to get to make school something that kids love to do is probably the biggest gift I’ve never asked for, but I got for sure.
Daniel: Yeah, that was Uncle Ben to Peter “with great power comes great responsibility.” Spider-Man is my favorite superhero of all time. Of course I have that one memorized for sure. You said something in the intro story there that was well, a lot of stuff was really interesting. But what I want to dig deeper into, I don’t think I have the words perfect, but the idea was something interesting happens when you give kids back their time. I think that was the gist of what you said. So can you tell us more about that?
Jennifer: When we started the school year, back when farming was huge and we had this idea of 180 days because summertime was really hot and we weren’t going to do school during those summer months. We kind of kept the same schedule. When it used to be, kids went to school and they got their education in school. And then in a great addition, we’ve added the sports, we’ve added the organizations and all of the things, but they haven’t gained more time. We keep adding to their plate what we expect them to balance and what we expect them to carry and to go and do and give it your best shot and everything you do. I’ll be honest, those of us who work full time jobs, by the time we get home limping across the finish line and we still have to get dinner together and worry about our kids and get stuff ready for tomorrow. The idea that these children, because that’s what they are, are supposed to be able to go and attend school full time and then juggle all of these other things. They’re lacking balance. They’re lacking the ability to have that time. What we’ve been able to do at Rivers Academy is to take their full 180 days, and we do it in 108 and we have a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday schedule. But we don’t have a lot of the things that your traditional school has that does take up time and they are great for a lot of kids. There are a lot of kids that would choose to have the full traditional schedule over a schedule like ours. But there was a niche of kids that preferred to have a little bit more time to themselves and that’s what we saw. We realized with the rapid growth we’ve experienced and truly the calls from other states like, “Hey, have you thought about this in Nashville?” or “have you thought about this in Florida? We could really use this in California.” And it’s like, “Yeah, we’ve thought about it, but we want to make sure what we’re doing here in Alpharetta, Georgia, is the best it can be before we look elsewhere. “Giving kids balance is what it’s all about. You got to give them their time back because they only get to be kids once. There’s a lot of things they need to experience while they’re here.
Daniel: It’s really interesting point one, you got one shot at it and so why over pack the schedules? Why get people out of balance and it has a second or third order consequence because like you said, it’s the parents, too, Who then have to get dinner on the table, make sure kids are doing their homework, let alone connect as a family and all the other important stuff, too. So that’s really interesting. You’re the expert at your school, not me for sure. Three days, three days a week, that’s one thing that makes them different. What else makes Rivers Academy a completely different type of school?
Jennifer: The whole reason we came into existence was because we had a couple of students come up to the founder and said, “I have this passion in my sport, but I’m really limited with the amount of time I can miss school. Most states I think we’re at a ten day absence policy. Jemison, this golfer, we’re like, look, I want to go do these things with my gymnastics and I want to go do this with my golf tournaments and stuff but I’m limited with how many times I can miss school. I can only say, “Hey, Grandma Sick again before they start banging on my door.” The idea is our students have what’s called a travel accountability plan and it allows them to go pursue that passion without academic compromise. For example, it doesn’t have to be a sport. It could be something crazy. About eight years ago, we had a young lady where her father, his company, sponsored the Yukon Trail. He came to Rivers because he knew that she’d had the flexibility to go join him. She came to us in seventh grade and we created a plan for her that she could follow while she was on the back of a dog sled. She got to be absent for seven weeks because who are we to say that what you’re learning through this experience is any less important than what you’re going to learn sitting in our classrooms? We have a travel plan option, which, to be honest, it took a long time to get here. And that’s why I would say, being leaders in our industry for having a 14 year learning curve of getting here is a long time to say, “okay, well, you can miss school and physically not be here, but here’s what we need to do as a school to support you”. It took a lot of revamping and asking students questions. What didn’t ask teachers was this manageable was sustainable for you? And then we kind of hit a sweet spot and we figured out we have a couple of platforms that we use where kids can access their lesson plans and see what’s expected of them. With the pandemic, the silver lining for us was we started the virtual option, like most schools did, but for us, these students were able to log in and there was a live feed of a camera in a classroom so they could interact with the teachers, they could interact with their peers, the peers could hear their voices. So it was about as immersive as you could be to be a virtual student. We no longer do that because that wasn’t sustainable. What came from that was we were already equipped to start recording all of our classes. Every single teacher records every class each day. If I’m gone on a tennis tournament or a golf tournament, or if I am trying to land something in pilot season out in Los Angeles, I have resources to whack and tap into my class. I can catch up with my teachers and I can watch every single class recording on my schedule. We do these things that they’re very specific to each student. A student has to request and say, “Hey, I’m going to be gone or. Parents request and say, hey, this is where we’re going to be. This is what we have access to. Because like the young lady that was on the Yukon Trail, her accessibility was much different than somebody who is going to be working out of a hotel for a tennis tournament for four weeks. We make a plan that is specific to each student and what they have access to. This year alone, we’ve done over 115 unique travel plans for our students, which is incredible because these kids are going and getting to do their thing, but they’re not having to jeopardize their school. They still get to be a part of the classroom, have access to their teacher, but get to go do their thing, which is kind of a perfect pair for these kids.
Daniel: What to me is an experience. They’re still getting the academic piece that school traditionally offers, but then they have that time to be freed up for authentic and real world experiences, whether it’s competing at some sort of state world stage through athletics. But maybe they’re performing, maybe they’re hiking some trail or doing whatever. And like you said, that is an incredible education in itself. I know probably the most I’ve learned from life is when I lived over in Europe and then Scotland, for about four and a half years or so. Seeing how other cultures do everything about life and if I couldn’t have done that because I was stuck in a job or at a school or whatever, I wonder where I’d be right now. Would we still be talking together or not? I don’t know. But that was a very rich, rich time of my life. And so that’s amazing that you give that to your students. I have one more question before the break, and that is so you brought up states. I know states have different requirements for graduation or taking grandma can only be sick so many times you said and missing ten days of school and that kind of thing. Can you give us some context on what it’s like to work at the state level, I guess to get approval for this kind of innovative way of doing school.
Jennifer: Zoom became big the last couple of years, but I really wish I could have had a Zoom call with the accrediting commission. We called that very first time to say, “Hey, we know everybody else is doing this for five days, but can you come accredit us to do it in three? “Because you know that their voice has said it enough. But when we called and asked them, we had already tried to make sure that we were not hindering our students that did graduate from here. We had been accredited by the GAC, which was the Georgia Accreditation Committee, but we wanted to take it to the global recognition that most people everybody has, which was SATs, and they’ve kind of gone through the transition of SATS to advanced it and then advanced dead to now they’re known as Cognia. But this was in 2015 when it was an advanced ed and we had called them a couple of years prior and we said, “Hey, listen, we’ve got this crazy school, great things are happening, but we need you to come see and give us their accreditation.” They kind of were like, “All right, we’ll fill out the paperwork, let us know what this looks like and what you guys are up to over there.” And we did. The Advanced Ed Review team came out and we were all very nervous because we felt like we’re asking you to give us praise and recognition for doing something that everybody else is working twice as hard for. We had an incredible team and we put a lot into it and we were able to show and we had kids through those things. They look at everything. They ask for documentation, they ask for your executive summary, they do a ton of interviews. They came and sat in the classes and watched the students and the teachers. We were hoping we’d get great marks, but the feedback we got was so positive and so beneficial for us because it was finally on the big stage. You guys are doing what you said you’re going to do. All the legwork that it took to get there, we finally got to catch our breath and say, “okay, great.” We knew we were doing it. Students knew we were doing it. Parents were seeing these kids go to these incredible colleges and excelling. But now you guys know we’re doing it as advanced. Ed And so that was a great feeling. It was a lot of work. I felt like we probably had to work twice as hard because we had to show this is how it’s working for our students and this is how we’re doing it. But one of the biggest things is when we interview teachers or when teachers come to Rivers and we say, “All right, here’s your class, and this is what we expect, and you get autonomy. Here’s our curriculum book.” And so that was one thing that when you come in from 180 days and someone tells you you have 108, if you don’t cry at first, you start laughing. And you’re like, There’s no way. What we’ve been able to equip our staff with is because we’ve had so many years of this learning curve, we are able to save our lesson plans. Every teacher that comes in, they don’t have to worry about the pacing portion of it. We’ve already done this class for this many years in 108 days, and we hand over this pacing, this curriculum book or the digital version of lesson plans, and we say, “Here it’s done for you.” Because I remember doing that part. My apartment was covered with post-it notes and parchment paper to the wall like, “Oh my gosh, I’m trying to do this in 108 days. How does that happen?” We’ve taken that out of it, and I think that was the big thing of value that this accreditation committee saw was that’s the part where you can ensure it’s getting done. You can trust that these teachers are doing what they need to so that a student who graduates from Rivers Academy is above where they need to be. Or let’s say it doesn’t work. Let’s say we have a gymnast that comes to Rivers and benefits from the schedule but then hurts her shoulder. She can transition into a local high school if she doesn’t need this just as easily because we make sure that our students, if anything, are above the average in the other local high schools.
Daniel: Amazing. Wonderful. Jennifer, I’m really enjoying here in the story of your leadership and Rivers Academy. We’re going to break here for a short message from our sponsors. And when we get back, I’d love to hear about the hardest part about operating school in a very unique way. Learn how to successfully drive school change and help your diverse stakeholders establish priorities and improve practice in leading change. A Certificate in School Management and Leadership Course from Harvard. Topics include adaptive leadership, culture, equity and more leading change runs from October 12th to November 9th, 2020 to apply by September 30th. Enroll by October 6th. Get started at betterleadersbetterschools.com/Harvard. Are you automatically tracking online student participation data during COVID? Innovative school, leaders across the country have started tracking online student participation using Teacher FX because it’s one of the most powerful ways to improve student outcomes during COVID, especially for English learners and students of color. Learn more about Teacher FX and get a special offer at Teachfx.com/BLBS. 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 more at Organized Binder. We’re back with Jennifer Cantor, who is the principal and co-owner of Rivers Academy, who is doing school in a very unique way and when it comes to doing school in a unique way. Jennifer, what would you say is the hardest part about operating that way?
Jennifer: The misconception that if we’re all here for three days, then it’s going to be so much easier. Because if you’re physically in school for three days and you have that Monday and Friday outside of school, we have to get the point across on the front end. It’s not all you’re not off of school. You’re just physically not in this building. There’s a lot of onus that students have to take, they have to take ownership and they have to be responsible. So that was the hardest part, trying to figure out how we get students to understand mom and dad can want you to go here all they want to. But you missing one day of school here is like missing two somewhere else. You have to come knowing that you’ve got to be responsible. You can’t come in every day and say, “Oh, I didn’t want to do my homework” because we only have three times a week where we can check and make your comprehension checks. We’ve got to make sure you’re getting what we’re laying down in class so that when you leave, you have a heavier homework load than someone that goes to a traditional school. Because for us, our structure works, because from the time a student walks into class to the time they leave, we see them for 50 minutes. Our teachers know they have to be engaging. They have to be innovative because we have to make sure that what’s delivered to our students only three days a week is impactful enough to where they leave. They can take that and apply it towards their homework. So that learning curve has been tough. You want to tell every kid, yes. And this school isn’t set up to be able to work for every student. If you have a student that doesn’t do great with motivation or doesn’t really like to do homework, it might be tough for them. Finding and being comfortable with what we’ve become as a school, but also communicating that really well and our admission to a course on our website through every avenue we have as a school has been extremely imperative. And that’s been that’s been growth, that’s been hard to figure out how much homework is too much. How do you get these kids to buy in? You don’t want to scare them away at a tour and say, “Hey, guess what, you’re going to get massive amounts of homework” because it’s not. But I always tell them, “you’re physically here for about 15 hours a week.” And let’s say the higher end of the average for a high school student, we say, is about 13 to 15 hours a week for homework. If you take the 15 hours of homework that you do outside of school and the 15 hours of school that you have when you’re physically here, you’re hitting 30 hours a week and that’s to attend school and be done with homework. You’re looking at the same amount of time as other students who are only in school for 30 hours a week. That’s not including homework. You’re going to get some freedom, but you’re going to have to buckle down and take it seriously on the days you’re not physically here.
Daniel: That’s a great skill set to learn as they’re approaching college and that kind of thing in adulthood where you have to manage complex projects and manage your time, manage yourself. What a great skill set to be teaching them. How are you continuing to evolve school? Do you have some projects that you’re working on that you can reveal here on the podcast? Or if there’s anything that’s still in the laboratory, it’s top secret. That’s okay. We can pass.
Jennifer: To evolve our school academy. I think the pandemic was such a regroup for everybody to hit that reset button. Our physical location was built pretty finite. While most schools want to increase admissions, that’s their measurement of growth for us, I think it’s just really taking what we get back, the feedback we get from our parents and our students and our teachers and continuing to have that continuous improvement plan and checking off that the goals are being met. Only a few years off. Under my belt. I just want to see us continue to accommodate these students, their desire to go pursue these passions to the best of our ability, hone in on these travel plans and make sure that these students who are gone for two months at a time are still doing well when they get to college. And that’s been something that just happened organically. When we have students graduate, we always keep in touch with our graduates and say, how was it? And when kids say, Hey, Mr. Cantor, I got my freshman year of college and I already had the time management in the organization. My peers are going to school for the first time in their life, only a couple of days a week. I’ve done that for seven years since I started middle school here. Having some time outside of class doesn’t bother me. I know how to manage that. So just continuing to do that really well. We just had our accreditation in March, so glad that was over and advanced it or COGNIA has these schools of recognition and that’s our next goal to be on that list and to be to be noted as a school of excellence. And for what we do while we are one of the most innovative schools, I think we want to be up there with the other schools that have been doing this for twice as long or three times as long, and showing that you can do it, you can provide students balance. There’s nothing wrong with full time public or full time private, but one size doesn’t fit all, just like we all remember the teachers who shook it up in the classroom. We want to be a part of a school that shakes it up for everybody and gives teachers the autonomy to be what they jumped into teaching to be. I think every teacher, regardless of if they’re wearing a smile one day or not, I think every teacher has had a calling. Teachers don’t come to teach because it’s easy. Giving teachers a school where they can let that creativity shine and their passion for students and giving them time back, too. So magic happens when you give students the ability to do other things than just school. And the same for teachers. These are moms and dads and avid hikers and avid bike riders. When you give them the time back in their life too, and everybody’s more balanced, those three days a week are going to be far more impactful than if we’re all burnt out. I think that’s been the biggest eye opening part to me as a principal and as a co-owner to just say, man, these kids weren’t the only ones that needed balance. These teachers. I mean, you give them three days a week and it’s incredible because they are here on their off days. They’re just not required to be. But they are here on their off base prepping to make sure that those 50 minutes are 50 minutes that are going to mean something to their students. We have an incredible staff that does that day by day.
Daniel: My business coach pushes me to unplug a lot and he says you’ll grow the business more. His thing is about growing your revenue, making more money, too, he says. The more you take time off, the more you’ll actually make it. And that inspires something we do in the Mastermind called the Ruckus Maker Mindset talked about before but has five components: eating, sleeping, moving, meditating and unplugging. It’s about taking care of yourself and slowing down because then you can perform at a higher level than the school leader. Business coach, me and the Mastermind, but I’m reading this book called the Almanac of Naval Ravikant too, I think it is how you pronounce his last name. But he’s extremely likely to look up the definition of success, this guy’s success. I read yesterday, the year he made the most money. He starts businesses and does coding and tech type stuff, but was the year he actually did the least amount of work because you do get rejuvenated, recuperated. I think that I’ve told the story of writing my book and when it really came together is actually when I stopped writing the book and took over here, you know, for walks out in nature. There’s some to rest. Like that’s an important part to actually high performance. It’s not working harder, it’s not putting in more hours. I applaud you and Rivers Academy for being true Ruckus Makers , and really shaking things up. It’s very cool. So, Jennifer, what message would you put on all school marquees across the globe if you could do so for just a day?
Jennifer: When I knew that question was going to be on here, I was like, is it a digital one that I can change? Like on a daily basis? I know the answer to that, I picked one that kind of went along with what we do as a school. So it would say, Give it all you’ve got while you’re here so you can make the most of it when you’re not. If you can, just kids like to have fun and they like to be in a place where they feel safe. I’m confident. I think if you can create that for them, even if it’s just a few times a week, you’re going to get more out of them when they’re here. To to to put 120% of it when they’re at school. Once they catch on to Man, if I can, if this is how it is and I can pay attention while I’m at school, then while I’m at home, it’s not as hard it’s not it’s not going to be consumed with the thoughts of school all the time. But you got to let them know once you show up, we can have fun, but we’ve got to get to business. And then that way when you’re gone, you don’t have to be as stressed out as much for sure.
Daniel: You’re building a school from the ground up. In many ways you’ve already done this. But I’m still going to ask you the question. You’re not limited by any resources. Your only limitation is your imagination. I’m building this dream school. What would be your top three guiding principles?
Jennifer: I’m a huge believer in culture. I think school culture is to me, I think it’s probably the most important. I would love to see an organization or a group where students, teachers and our admin team meet on a weekly basis. Kind of like a weekly recap, but we do it at the beginning of the week and we say, Hey, here’s what’s going on, and we are able to to set aside some uninterrupted time for purposeful discussion to where we can get feedback from the students, we can get feedback from the teachers, and then they can hear why the administration has made the decisions that we’ve made. You know, a lot of times, I think, and especially in a school setting, they’re like, oh, well, y’all just said that because you have to or the administration doesn’t want us to have any fun and they don’t know. We went round and round, but this is the reason we came to this answer. I feel like if you can kind of have a roundtable and I call it the school roundtable and have those discussions on a weekly basis, I think that would be extremely beneficial. The next one is kind of crazy, but bear with me. When a kid grows up, you have their growth on like the inside of a doorframe or something and you make them. Mark Well, those marks may and you may have only done a quarter of a centimeter, but you feel so good when it’s a little bit higher than the notch is a little bit higher. Having a space in school where you could do that on a wall for each student different different parts of the wall, but instead of their height, you get to pick the milestones of things they’ve learned that have impacted them as a student. So it might be I failed my first Algebra one test, but I learned that organization is key and let them keep those marks for the duration that they’re in school. And that way, when you’re having a hard time, the administration can walk them by their mark and say, look, you’re Mark still in the school. You may not be right where you want to be, but look how far you’ve come. And these are things you’ve learned. We didn’t tell you to put these on the wall. You pick them yourself. So that’s a reach. You have to have a lot of wall space, but I’m here for it. So that would be one. And then an incredible student advocacy program. I’ve said it in society, especially in 2022, these kids have access to so much, everything is coming and it’s like a constant drinking from a fire hydrant. We’ve got social media, we’ve got the TV telling us how to look and how to dress and how to act. We have mom and dad at the dinner table. We have all these things coming at us telling us who to be. If we can just give students a great advocacy program where the students get input on what topics we discuss in homeroom, and the teachers can add tips on how to make the most of your time for finals week and ways to de-stress. Here are phone numbers for things like suicide prevention clinics that help with eating disorders and give them those tools in a non-threatening, very neutral setting. Having a student advocacy plan that reflects the needs of these kids, I think that would be incredible to just pump a lot of resources and a lot of money to where they could start each day knowing I’m safe, I’m valued and I’m loved. And then that just, you know, it’s the hype song right before they go out in the boxing room. So those are the three things that I would love to put in place.
Daniel: See, value and love. Those are good foundational principles for sure, and a good message for every kid to know. Staff members, too. Jennifer, we’ve covered a lot of ground. Thank you so much for being my guest here on the Better Leaders Better Schools podcast of everything we talked about today. What’s the one thing you want a Ruckus Maker to remember?
Jennifer: Ruckus makers? I just want you to remember you are just one person. You’re a lot of things. You wear a lot of hats as one person, but at the end of the day, your kids may only need to hear from one. Our son changed the trajectory of their lives. And you can do it. Just dig deep. Get creative. Don’t be afraid to be different. We all remember those teachers who were different for good reasons. So go out there and keep it up. Keep causing a ruckus for sure.
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 at better leaders better schools dot com. Or hit me up on Twitter at @Alienearbud. If the Better Leaders Better Schools podcast is helping you grow as a school leader then please help us serve more Ruckus Makers like you. You can subscribe, leave an honest rating and review or share on social media with your biggest takeaway from the episode. Extra credit for tagging me on Twitter at @AlienEarbud and using the hashtag #blbs. Level up your leadership and betterleadersbetterschools.com and talk to you next time. Until then, “class dismissed”.
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