Ben’s career and accomplishments (1:30)
Ben talks about his family and hobbies (2:09)
His career path, from college student, to teacher, to school administrator (3:40)
Getting married on December 16, one day after his substitute teaching assignment ended (5:50)
Should you go back and work at the same high school you attended? Ben’s thoughts (7:10)
Taking a big chance and making the move from teaching to administration (9:00)
Being offered the first administration job he applied for (10:30)
The factor that finally nudged Ben into moving from teaching to administration and why you should go for it (12:30)
What it was like for Ben working with some of the same teachers he had in elementary and high school (15:35)
The most difficult period Ben experienced as an administrator, and some huge challenges he had to face, and how they helped him become a leader to his teachers (20:20)
Some of the lessons and takeaways from that period, and how they’ve helped Ben become a better administrator (25:40)
Ben shares the story of helping turn a kid’s life around (the greatest experience he’s had as an administrator) (28:32)
Ben answers a question from a listener about how to stand out when you’re applying for a position (34:45)
The best leadership advice Ben has ever received (39:55)
A great method for making sure your teachers feel appreciated (41:37)
The importance of being transparent as an administrator (43:25)
Ben recommends some great books (44:22)
Ben’s favorite apps and tools (46:08)
Ben’s favorite educational quote (47:15)
Ben’s advice for administrators on working with your students (47:31)
Ben’s advice for administrators on working with your teachers (48:40)
The advice Ben wishes he had had when he was new to school administration (50:40)
Books mentioned in this episode
The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity by George Couros
Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times by Eric C. Sheninger
Shifting the Monkey: The Art of Protecting Good People From Liars, Criers, and Other Slackers by Todd Whitaker
David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell
Good Leaders Ask Great Questions: Your Foundation for Successful Leadership by John C. Maxwell
Apps and tools mentioned in this episode
Connect with Ben Gilpin
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Podcast Session #15
Be Willing to Get Your Hands Dirty | Lead By Example
Show notes: http://www.educatorslead.com/bengilpin/
This is the Educators Lead podcast with Jay Willis, Session #15. Let’s go!
Intro: Ben is the principal at Warner Elementary in the Western School District in Spring Arbor, Michigan. He is a student-centered educator that is focused on collaboration, teamwork, student engagement and leadership. Ben earned his Elementary Education degree from Tri-State University, his Master’s in Education from Spring Arbor University and his Educational Leadership Certificate from Eastern Michigan University. Ben was recognized as one of the top 5 elementary principals by BAMM radio and recognized as one of the top 100 educational voices in 2014. That’s just a brief introduction Ben, but tell us a little bit more about yourself.
Ben: Oh goodness Jay, I guess, I got to start with the family. I am married to my lovely Amy and we just had our 15 year anniversary.
Ben: We have two boys. Thank you. Yeah, we had a winter wedding so it’s kind of rare up here in Michigan. We had a snow filled wedding. We’ve also got two boys. My oldest is Drew, he’s gonna be 14 in the couple of weeks. And my youngest is a 10 year old Troy and he will be 11 in about three weeks. So that’s kind of something fun. You know I guess the other part about me would be that, I love to blog. I love to read and I am an avid sports fan. So, that’s just some just a little bit of a some tidbits maybe not everybody would know.
Jay: Awesome. So what’s your favorite team?
Ben: Well, it depends on the season, right now football, football I’m a Big Green Bay Packer fan.
Ben: Baseball, I am a die-hard St. Louis Cardinal fan. And I get to ask all the time especially being from Michigan, do I prefer Michigan or Michigan State and I have no allegiance to either one of those teams so I just however believed that I pull for both of them, even though I will say that the other day when Alabame crushed Michigan State. I had to cringe because that was quite disappointing.
Jay: Yeah. So I guess tell us a little bit about your career path, the journey that you took from you know teacher to school administrator.
Ben: Ok, well you know I feel like I got to go all the way back to my undergrad. I was a, I was very fortunate to get a golf scholarship to Tristate University which is now if you try to find tristate on a map or if you Google it, it would probably not come up because tristate is now goes by the name Trine in Angola, Indiana. It was NAIA back when I was there and now it’s Division 3 so I played the college golf for them and I had every intention of going into some type of a professional golf type of career and I found within about one year of my undergrad that it wasn’t for me and so as many people do, they sit down write out your pros and your cons, what do you feel you’re good at and you know I remember that back when I was in high school, I loved working with kids and I would often as a high school student volunteer a couple hours of my day in the elementary’s with different teachers and I that was the time that I looked back and in school and that’s probably the highlight to me. So at that time, my wife, who was my girlfriend at that time, she was going into English Education and she encouraged me to check it out. So I decided to take a few classes in Elementary Education. And I guess you could say, the rest is history and I just absolutely loved it. I worked in Fort Wayne, Indiana, with a phenomenal teacher. I also worked in Fremont, Indiana, I also worked in Lagrange, Indiana with different teachers as well and I loved the diversity aspect of being able to work at different levels but also different students in every single day was a new adventure. And I just loved being able to make a positive impact on kid’s lives. So then at that point, you know kind of to speed up the process, I got married on December 16th of the year 2000 and I finish my last day of student teaching December 15th, the day before.
Ben: So I still remember my last day of student teaching, people were also congratulating me because the next day I was gonna be getting married. Quite a turn around right there.
Ben: I then substitute taught for the second half of the year because obviously it was very difficult to find a job opening as a teacher in December and January. Finished up subbing and then I decided to do some interviewing. I actually was very fortunate, I did, I had 4 interviews and they were for a 1st grade, a 2nd grade, a 3rd grade and a 5th grade. And I had my choice. Every single one of them offered a position which I know for a fact that that’s very rare. I chose to go back to my alma mater and I taught 5th grade. I felt like that was, that was the best decision for me and for my family so at that time it was just my wife, but she was gonna be expecting shortly and it was a good move.
I will say for those people out there, that are teaching their alma mater or thought about teaching in their alma mater, it’s an interesting dynamic. Because in some respect, you’re treated as a professional, and others your they still remember you as the kid. And as a beginning educator, teaching with some of my former teachers was an interesting experience. And it took time to kind of develop my own unique style because I still felt as though I was the new kid I guess on the block. After a few years in going through some you now this, the normal growing as a teacher, I started to step up into some leadership roles. I was on an assessment team. I was, I was part of the, I took kind of position as treasurer of our union and I was also taking classes, my master’s classes and I was finding a real passion for technology.
So I started writing some grants and gaining some technology expertise. One of the things that was exciting for me is I was one of the first people in our district and I think probably in the state of Michigan that had a smart board. And back in the day that was such fabulous technology. And I absolutely loved the smartboard, I was able to bring students software and be able to have the students teaching and not just me up as the sage on stage so to speak. So I was really starting to transition from giving up some of that control as a teacher and give it back to my students. I have countless stories from my days in teaching that I just, I looked back and I just, you know the kids that impacted me, the families that made a difference. It was just, I still to this day, I love teaching and I think that’s you know when I finally decided – this was probably about my 7-8 year of teaching – I had I had several people say to me, “You know, someday you’re gonna be an administrator” and I thought, and I said, “It’s nice to hear but you know, I’m happy with what I’m doing” and then what happened was, I open up the paper one evening and in the paper, there was a little excerpt that said, “The Warner Elementary principal was leaving and headed back home to Lansing, which is about 45 miles away” and I didn’t think anything of it. It was early June and the deadline to apply was Friday at noon. It was Thursday evening, and I remember my wife saying to me, “Hey, do you think you’re gonna put your name in the hat” and I said, “No, I love teaching, I’m good at what I’m doing” and I thought about it and I thought about it and I went down and I quietly started to really doing my resume. And I end up working on it for a couple of hours. The next morning I got up, I put the boys, they were little and I put them on the car seat. Jump in my car, finish my, I had my resume all finished. At 11:55, I turned in my resume for as my application to be a principal at Warner Elementary. And about a week later, I interviewed and it was I don’t know if this is standard or not because I haven’t done a lot of interviews with administration but about an hour and a half, after my interview, they had finished up probably all the interviews, I got a phone call and said, and the principal on the other line, his name is Mike said, “We would like to come over and have a second interview at your house” and I still remember looking at my wife saying, “They’d like to come over and be here in about 45 minutes” and as you can imagine, the franticness of her, oh my, we have to clean up. You got to get out the vac….
Jay: Two small boys right and you said?
Ben: It was crazy but they came over and we talk for about an hour and a half. Maybe two hours, and they said, “We want you to be our candidate, we want you to go to the superintendent and if he accepts, he’s gonna bring you to the board” and that was, that was quite a whirlwind, so I went I literally went from you know I loved teaching and I don’t want to do anything else to you know, two weeks later, I’m possibly the candidate for the next principal of Warner Elementary and I would say to people that if you’re on the fence when it comes to teaching in possibly moving to administration, I feel like my position was the best situation because I had nothing to lose. I love teaching and if I didn’t even get an interview then I would have been fine. I’ve been perfectly happy with that if I got in an interview and they didn’t have me as a candidate, I would have been perfectly fine because I absolutely loved teaching. Sometimes people get in there that would they feel a little bit desperate, or feel as though they to have it and what I’ve noticed is you don’t realize you haven’t come across as your usual self. You can across maybe with a little desperation and that’s something that maybe it doesn’t portray the best you.
Jay: So what was you they gave you that nudge, I mean obviously, you kind of dismissed it and then you had, your wife mentioned something and you kind of decided to go ahead and apply, what was it inside you, like what kind of internal dialogue was going in there for you to decide to do that?
Ben: Well, you know how so often when we’re growing up and possibly even as teachers, you say to people who do you look up to or who’s your hero or the role model? Well, this is gonna maybe sound bad, but I really don’t have a role model, so to speak. I didn’t have someone that I looked up and talked up to and said, “That’s the way I want to be, that’s how I want to be when I get older” and even as, even as a teacher, I didn’t have what I looked at as a fabulous wonderful model and there was, my big motivation was I feel as though, I feel as though I can, I can be better. I feel as though I can, I have a larger impact and I can really make a difference. And not only make a difference for students but also make a difference for a community and for staff, for teachers. So there was a big push for me was feeling as though I can do better. And I know that there’s a lot of, there’s a lot of phenomenal teachers out there that some, that wonder what is it like, what it’s like on the other side. And I would just say, you know, if you’re curious, if you feel like you can do it better, you know put your name in the hat. Put your, put your, take a step, take a chance because I think what it ultimately came down for me and I even wrote a letter to the students that were gonna be in my class is, “If anyone of them had a chance had an opportunity to follow, follow a path that they were interested in, to follow a dream, I would unequivocally say, “Go for it” yet when it was me, and I was, and I was on a fence, I thought I finally thought to myself, “What would somebody say to me? They would say, you need to go for it” so I was basically trying to follow the same advice I would have given any of my kids or any of my own kids.
Jay: Yeah, a couple of things with that story, one: I can completely relate to when you’re talking about you know the last minute submission of your application, that reminds me of, I actually don’t know how many of my college papers. You know kind of running in to the very last you know 5-minutes before it was the threshold where you couldn’t turn it anymore. I just thought that was a funny story but then also I was wondering of you could dig in a little bit here because I know that there’s other people that I’ve talked to already on the podcasts who ended up either applying and trying to be an administrator or at least a teacher and the areas that they grew up like in the school’s they grew up and so I wondering if you could just offer maybe some advice for, how did you deal with that, like being a teacher, you know teaching alongside the people who used to be your teachers. Like what would be some tips you would have for working with those?
Ben: Yes. I looked at them from two perspectives. The first one is, it does take a bit of time to establish yourself as a professional. And so as a, you know as a beginning teacher and my mentor teacher was my 5th grade teacher. So, she was, she was my teacher in two different ways, she was my teacher when I was a 5th grader way back in the day and she was also the teacher to me as a 1st year , 2nd year, 3rd year teacher. She was she was the person I went to, to get some advice from, to get some support from but I looked back at her and her name was Janice. And Janice, what I am so thankful is, she had the mentality to ask me questions too. So it wasn’t just one way traffic. It was I felt it was the collaborative partnership and I still look back at with fun memories of my teaching career because the people I taught with treated me as a professional and not as a kid. Now there were a few at times especially in those 1st two years that you know, I could walk down the hallway and I could, I could get a glance from one person that I could feel that scolding eye of you’re looking at me like a kid and then I can look at the next person say, “You know what that person is treating me, like a peer, like a professional” and that’s the dynamic when you go back to teach where you grow up. You gonna have to deal with that and you got, if you got really good memories, you are probably gonna be ok with it. If your memories maybe aren’t the best, then you’re gonna have to just kind of expect and deal with it. I will say, I chose to apply to be an administrator at a neighboring district and not the district I taught in and not the district that I grow up in and I only have that experience but I got to say, I think it would be really challenging to be an administrator where I was a teacher. I think it would be, it would be very hard to be up here and then to also all of a sudden go and be the boss. I’ve never experienced that but I just all signs point to that would be a challenge. So, I would have to say that I’m glad, I’m really glad the path I’m on now because, it allowed to have a nice fresh start with everybody and they had to know me as I got to know them so there wasn’t any pre conceived that they know this about me or I know this about them, a nice clean slate sometimes is what people need.
Jay: Yeah. So for people that are teaching in a school that actually went though you would say just realize that it’s probably gonna be a mixed bag or you gonna get some people who recognized you as a peer and you can learn from each other and that the people who might still just for whatever reason, whatever issues they may have, have a hard time seeing you as a anything other than that kid who that you used to teach and just accepting that and just being willing to kind of you know slog through that and deal with it overtime I guess.
Ben: I think so, I think you’re also gonna have some people that you know, you gonna have the Janices, the Janices of the world that are going to view you as someone that can, the information can be give and take and it doesn’t have to be the one way traffic, those are the people in education that we need to work with more. We need to work with people that it’s gonna be a collaboration. It’s not just gonna be my way or the other way.
Jay: Right. So, just along the path from teacher to becoming a school administrator, I know that there had to be just in taking classes and just maybe even transitioning from one position to the other. There had to be some ups and downs. What was one of your more difficult, one of your biggest challenges I guess along the journey to administration.
Ben: (Heavy sigh); first year administrator. There’s almost no class that can prepare you as a first year administrator. My best advice for people getting started is make sure that you lean on your spouse. If you don’t have a spouse, if you’re single, have some friends that you feel that you can lean on because you’re gonna experience some ups and downs for that first year. My first year, I feel was more drastic that most and…so here’s what happened; at the time I had a 17 year veteran secretary, phenomenal lady. So she’s still here now. When I started, I remember within a couple of weeks, she came to me and we sat down. Her husband had Mesothelioma and he basically had been given weeks if not months before he’s gonna pass away. And that was really tough because I knew as a first year administrator; when it got pretty bad for him she was gonna go on a leave to be with him. And it ended up being at the end of September and she said to me she goes, “I’m gonna go on leave now” and I didn’t know when I was gonna get her back.
Ben: So if you think about that, as a first year administrator, I was also losing my secretary and those people that are in administration are probably cringing right now because that’s your right hand really, for so many people; I’m sure one. Right around the same exact time, we had, we’ve got a fairly busy area outside the school. A grandfather was bringing his kids to school and he had a car accident and the kids survived but the grandfather didn’t. So I was being contacted by the press and it was just, it was really an ugly situation and it was sad. It was heart wrenching and there again, there wasn’t anything that prepared me. There was no, there was no class that said, when you have a grandfather bringing their kids to school and get hit by a car and they passed away, this is how you’re gonna deal with it. This is something that you just do. And then the third aspect is, you know as the year was going on I had a couple of teachers in particular that did not like my style of management discipline. I’m more; my style is if a student is causing a disruption I want to get to the root of the issue. I just don’t give a consequence.
Well, the old school mentality is if they come to the principal’s office you need to be the heavy hand. And that just wasn’t my style. So I was getting some pushback from some, from some staff members as well. So you put those three things in place and they all happen at a very very very close time. I still remember going in to our staff lounge and I had all the staff members in there and I said, “You know from day 1 when I, when I came to Warner everybody said that Warner is tight, Warner is a family and together, you’re going into one of the best situations you can and I said to them all” I said, “You know, this is the; the chips are down. The hand that we’ve been dealt, with our secretary out, with and accident outside the school and you know with everything that’s going on, the chips are down. This is the time. What are we really about?” and I learned a lot about myself as a leader. But I had also had some veteran teachers that have been on staff for 25 to 30 years. They came up to me and said, “We now look at you as our leader” and that’s why I would say to everybody that in times of adversity, those are the times that you gonna see the true person. So oftentimes people flee from adversity or they get scared or they look at adversity as a bad thing. I learned early on, that adversity can sometimes be the moment that you can really state your claim that this is, this is what I’m all about. This is I feel like people learn more about my character and more about who I am in those trying first months. Then if everything would have been teaching great and I can’t say that enough when I talk other administrators. You can’t look at adversity as a bad thing. You need to look at it from that open limbs of, this an opportunity. This is an opportunity to find out the realness in people.
Jay: Yeah, so what have been some of the biggest take aways from that? How have you grown as a person as leader through that experience.
Ben: Well, it fueled, it fueled who I am and what I mean by that is first and foremost for me is relationships is 100% about relationships with people, you know and its every single kid that goes to Warner Elementary, I can tell you their name. I can tell you pretty much where they live and I know, I know my kids. They’re all my kids and every single staff member here at Warner I know every single staff member but not only do I know that, I know their spouse and I know their kids. And if that’s what you stand for. If relationships are what you stand for then that’s what everything needs to be rooted in. You know right now I was just having a conversation with a couple of my good friends Brad Gustafson, principal in Minnesota and Todd Nesloney in Texas. So I was talking with those guys and I say, “You know we just kind of need to step our standardized testing information back” And I want to dive in to that and I want to go over with that with teachers and really wanted to shift our, some of our instruction to more application base. But, I just had a teacher 2 days ago. Her dad passed away and I know that right now, I need to focus on relationships. I need to focus on what can I do for her and it’s not, it’s not about the number right now and so that’s where I guess that’s where I’m rooted. I’m rooted in relationships first. We’re dealing with people, we’re working with people and that’s to me, that to me where I stand for, how can I be a servant leader. How can I be there for my entire community and my entire building?
Jay: That’s great. Yeah, Todd and Brad have actually both been on the podcasts so they have both a guest here. Yeah so that’s great.
Ben: Yeah, we’re in Boxer group together. The Tech Ninja …
Ben: Actually came up to Michigan right around thanksgiving and the two of us Todd and I actually surprised Brad last year in Minnesota when he earned his doctorate.
Ben: We flew to Minnesota and hung out with him for a weekend and his family and Brad Gustafson, if he is listening to this, is one heck of a gourmet breakfast cook.
Jay: (Laughs…) Yeah. If I’m ever in the area, I’ll have to remember that. (Laughs…)
Ben: You will. You make great …
Jay: That’s great. So, you’ve obviously, you’ve been in school administration, you’ve been in education in general for a while and I’m sure you have some just amazing stories, just some really heartwarming, great stories of how you’ve been able to make an impact on your school, on the teachers or at least been able to witness that and feel as that you’ve been a part of it, so take us maybe to one of the most significant stories that you have and the impact that you’ve been able to make as an administrator.
Ben: That’s an easy one for me. I had a young man, we can all picture this. He had the mohawk. He was a 5th grader real rough around the edges. He you know, kind of that gothic look and most of us can visualize that you know some language issues; definitely had some learning issues as well. Transferred in as a 5th grader and this was it was basically we didn’t know him and he didn’t know us and within just a few weeks, I was noticing he was in my office all the time and there’s a lot of times that at Saturday, Sunday’s if I came in to the office, he would ride his bike and he would knock on the window and he’d want to come in and talk to me. And I started to form this relationship with him where he liked me even though he necessary didn’t always like I guess authority.
But he did like me, probably halfway through the year, I was getting a lot of push back from teachers that found him to be a trouble maker. And I decided to sign him up for this program called Boy Quest and Boy Quest here in Michigan is a running program, two or three times a week, you run and then usually its 15 kids or so you run and you’re trained to run a 5k. The young man Nolan, Nolan’s his name, he really struggled with the running but he stuck with it. And a lot of days, he could come down to the office and he was in trouble and we worked together and we read and he really struggled with his reading. There were even days that he was having such a rough day in school that I had to take him home. And you know what I would tell a lot of people out there if you’ve never gone on a home visit, when you started when you deal with students that are struggling, if you get a chance to do a home visit, it changes things. You start to see the student’s world and how things are in the world that they come into. In my heart when I went to Nolan, you know I helped him the best I could, I tried working with him here in school and there was a lot people that said to me “You know, you’re the principal you don’t have time to work with him” and I kept saying, “You know, that’s what I’m here for.” I’m making a connection with him and I kept thinking of be a person, every child needs a champion. And I wanted to be known as champion. I wanted, I knew that he respect me and looked up to me and so I got him in Boy Quest and we train and we train and we train.
And I got to be the, got to be Race Day and I got a message from his parents that they were out of town and no one was home and he was with his older brother but he wasn’t gonna make to 5k and he trained for this for 3 months. And I just kind of felt really bad and my wife then said to me, “Hey, why don’t we go and pick him up” so I contacted the parents again and I said, “You know, I can pick him up and take him home if that’s ok with you” and they said, “Sure” so we drove over, my wife and I picked him up and we went to the race, he ran his 1st ever 5k, he finished in about 27 minutes for those, for everybody who have ever run a 5k, that’s pretty good, pretty good for a, for a 11 year old kid and then we went home, drop him off and my wife looked at me and she said, “What a gentleman” he opened the door for me. He said please and thank you. He was respectful, he was kind, he looked me in the eye, he what a gentleman. And when I think about where he was, in September and October and then I see how he finished in May and June. Those are the stories, those are the stories that I hang on to because we’ve all got a student that causes that, causes grief, causes us to go home and scratch our heads and I would just, I would just encourage people. You know, do home visits, figure out what life is all about and be the champion that they need because that’s the, those are the impact stories that are gonna stick with you. Nolan, I’m never gonna forget Nolan. I’m gonna be I’m gonna be an old 90 year old guy and I’m still gonna remember Nolan.
Jay: Yeah. What an impact you make in his life, I’m sure.
Ben: He is still, he’s still he moved, he’s now in another school. He’s still contacts me. In fact, I usually get something from him every about 10 days and it’s as simple as “Mr. Gilpin, I’m going to school” I’m still going to the school. And it’s very simple and I know that life is gonna be hard for him but I want him to know that there’s somebody who cares about him.
Jay: Such a great story. Thank you for sharing that.
Jay: So this is a question that I wanted to ask that came in from one of our listeners. And it is, someone who is trying to, they have all of the education they need to become a school administrator but their question is what can aspiring school administrators do to help themselves stand out in the application process?
Ben: That’s a good question. And I have done several interviews. I think, I think right now there’s a shift in the way administration is taking place. It’s you know, a school administrator, principal, is not just a manager anymore. It’s become a spot of leadership. It’s also become a spot of trying new things, balancing a very full plate; coaching and I would say if you have, if you have some unique things that set you apart. For example, let’s say you’re strong with technology, if you have a video, if you’ve got a website. If you’ve got something that you can really highlight yourself. If you got a blog, I got to tell you, up here in Michigan, I’ve interviewed principal positions now two or the last three years, I hardly see any administrator blogs. I don’t see, I don’t see a lot of stepping out of your comfort zones. Possibly even being a teacher leader as far as are you going into as a teacher leader? Are you going into other classrooms and being a collaborative partner? Are you giving feedback to your teaching partner, to your teammate to help them get better because those are some of the things that you gonna have to do as administrator now. It’s not that you know, administration has changed, it is not moving stacks of paper from one side of the desk to the other, it’s not answering phone calls and emails and just sitting in your desk all day. It’s now getting into the classrooms and getting your hands dirty. It’s coaching teachers. It’s giving feedback that is helpful but also done in empathetic way because the majority of us have been teachers and we don’t want someone that’s not in the classroom and just saying, “You have to do it this way” Ok, this is this is a suggestion and this is this is some of my ideas on how to go about it. It’s being willing to, you know today, I went in and taught 4th grade at the end of the day. That’s, to me that’s administration. It’s not just simply, sitting in your desk, sitting at your desk all day and just, just working with the computer.
Ben: So, I think I guess my long ended answer to that would be how can you separate yourself with something innovative, something team oriented, collaborative and not the old standard. I think the old standard is kind of played out.
Jay: When I pull from that too, it sound like from what you’re saying, one of the themes is look for ways you can serve, why you’re in the position that you’re currently and serve the other teachers, serve the students but you know rather than being focused on self-promotion and how can I get this next position that I want, think about how you can better serve the people around you, where you’re at. And that naturally, if you’re doing a great job at that, then you probably be a more effective principal when you’re actually were able to get that position.
Ben: Yeah, I think so. I would agree with that and it’s you know being a servant leader you know, the funny thing is when I first, when I first wanted or decided to move towards administration, I probably had too heavy of a shift. Being centered around teachers and not enough centered around students, so maybe even another aspect is what are you doing, what are you doing for kids? Are you running an after school club? Are you during the summer, are you doing anything where you, where you working at a boys club or are you a mentor to kids in any way, maybe big brothers, and big sisters? So even some of the things that you’re doing outside of school or outside of the normal school day centered on kids can have a large impact in what that looks like on a resume and how you interview with people.
Jay: Yeah, that’s great. So I’m gonna run through some rapid fire questions if you’re ready for those?
Ben: I’m ready. I’ll be good, promise.
Jay: So first of, what’s the best leadership advice that you’ve ever received?
Ben: Oh goodness, probably Todd Whitaker and you know Todd had a great way of encouraging people this sidle up next to others and you know I often times remember talking with Todd and hearing him say, you know, saddle up and do it with them but the other thing that Todd has taught me is getting out in front of it so for example, if you’ve got, as an administrator, if you’ve got someone answering the phone incorrectly instead of saying you’re answering the phone incorrectly, it’s this is the way I’d like you to do it and then placing the blame more on yourself and saying, “You know I’m just kind of a quirky guy” this is the way I’d like it done. Todd has taught me don’t point a finger at other people, help them, support them and put most of it on yourself. Todd has also taught me and this is something that I think about. I know this is rapid fire but I got to get this one out …
Jay: It’s ok.
Ben: It’s Todd has taught me that support means making sure you do everything you possibly can for your best teachers. So often we focus on the teachers that are causing us maybe the headaches or some of the difficulties. But we need to focus on those teachers that are the true champions as well. So, good advice from Todd Whitaker.
Jay: So what are the ways you can make those teachers feel special in the midst of all the madness and chaos? You know because they’re doing what they supposed to be doing, right? They’re excelling at it so it will be easy to just kind of like focus your time on those, the higher need people I guess because you know that there gonna do what they need to do. So how do you, you know just proactively make sure that those people feel appreciated?
Ben: My M.O., I’m a card writer and it’s a hand written card. I’ve been told by multiple people that I’m pretty good with my words but I think the reason that I would say I’m pretty good with my words, this is because it comes from the heart. I try to lift up my people often, and I try not to sweat the small stuff … We just came back to school on Monday and every single teacher when we got back had a back to school grab bag filled with a Kids Deserve It by Todd Nesloney Adam Welcome, a Kids Deserve It wrist band. They had a card from me, they had chocolate, cannot not have chocolate, they had a Keurig coffee, instant coffee because we have Keurig machine in our staff lounge and they also have some …. Which you can never have coffee, you need to get something for breakfast as well, so you know just those little things constantly letting them know that I care and they matter to me.
Jay: Yeah, yeah that’s great. And these little things really do seem to make the biggest difference over time. You know, at least I’m learning that with my kids and my wife and in business as well. I mean it’s just this little things add up.
Ben: I hear you.
Jay: So, what would you say is your biggest strength as a school administrator?
Ben: I would say my transparency. I’m if you’ve ever read my blog, it would be easy to figure out what I stand for. The conversations I had with people, parents, with kids. There’s no secrets, it’s I even put our basically if you’re if you ever read my blog, you would notice there’s in there, next week at a glimpse, that were we doing that week at Warner Elementary and there’s just some highlights of the days, so even if you you’re, even if you’re in Montana or Arizona wherever it happens to be, you have an you have a window on the what going on at Warner Elementary and it’s an open book. So I would say, that’s my greatest strength.
Jay: Yeah. Do you have a book, or two that you’d recommend for other school leaders, books that have made an impact on you?
Ben: Yeah, man these are not simple questions. Ok, the book that made a big impact on me was The Last Lecture.
Jay: Who wrote that?
Ben: if you googled it, the Last Lecture’s fantastic.
Ben: It’s more about a real life and that was that made a tremendous impact on me. I guess, educationally speaking, there’s a there’s several, you know I’m just into the Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros. I’ve also read the Digital Leadership by Eric Sheninger. There’s also Shifting the Monkey by Todd Whitaker. There are a lot of those that are great books. The other one is, oh goodness I’m trying to blink. Let me … David and Goliath which is another that’s out there by. There’s also the John Maxwell, Good Leaders asked Great Questions. Good to Great is another one. I would say, I would say my number 1 is The Last Lecture and I would say probably number 2 would be the Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros.
Jay: Ok. Is there a technology tool like an app or software that you had recommend for other school leaders, something like Boxer or Twitter.
Ben: Twitter was game changer for me but if you want to take Twitter to the next level, Boxer is great. The other thing is, the other thing as a school leader or as a teacher leader, you have to meet your parents where they are. And if all of your parents are on Facebook, I think you should probably have a Facebook account for your classroom or for your school. I would personally say that Facebook is not my favorite but that’s for most of my parents at so if that’s where my parents are, if that’s where they quote unquote live then I need to find a way to meet them in those places to be able to share our story. My go to is Twitter, my second would be Boxer, my third would be Facebook but it’s most important to find out where do your community members, where do your parents, where they live and you need to meet them where they are.
Jay: It’s a good advice. What is your favorite educational quote?
Ben: Well, it’s a up in my office, Nelson Mandela when he said that, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.
Jay: It’s good. What advice would you have for an administrator or as an administrator working with the students that you served?
Ben: if you’re going to especially when you think about the so often in school, I think about ways to intervene or try to pull up some of our struggling students, the number 1 thing that I hear administrators struggle with, is a question, how are you pushing your highest kids? And that’s why I think it is crucial that we differentiate our audience, our students, to our people because we have students that struggle but we also have high flyers that need to be pushed. And if we spend 100% of our time just working on pulling students up, while missing those students that need us to really challenge them and push them forward.
Jay: What piece of advice would you have kind of along these lines, piece of advice would you have for working with the other educators in the school? You know the other educators that you lead like the teachers?
Ben: A big shift for me over the last couple of years has been empowering teachers, creating, trying to create more teacher leaders so I think that would be, and there needs to be a shift. It’s not about you and you know, really the mark of a good leader is to not be seen. You know if things are going pretty well and your staff, your teachers are really taking the bull by the horns so to speak, that’s the mark of a good leader in my opinion. If you feel like you have to micro manage everything, if it feels as though you have to be involved in every single situation, I would, I would be fearful that, that school can’t survive without you and really if we want to lead, if we want to leave a school in a better spot, we need to empower our teachers and other leaders so that they can make decisions and do things without us.
Jay: That’s good. What’s the best way if people after the podcasts, if they want to reach out and connect with you, what the best way to do that?
Ben: Ok, well there’s a few different ways, number 1 you could, you get in contact with me on Twitter. My handle is @benjamingilpin. It is a mouthful but sorry about that. People can also Box me, the same handle on Boxer, benjamingilpin. I also had my, I also have a website, it is bengilpin.com. It’s fairly new like I said. You got my blog down there as well. And those are probably the easiest ways to get in contact with me.
Jay: Ok. So last question, and it’s kind of unique question, but if you could, if you had a time machine and you could jump in it and go back to the point when you are a teacher and you had just made the decision to move into school leadership, what advice would you give to your younger self?
Ben: Wow. Wow. I think it would be, I think I would simply tell myself that it’s gonna be ok. It’s you know life, life is full of ups and downs and every single person on the planet has their own story. They have their own journey and nobody’s journey is this, straight up, fantastic, wonderful life that everybody would look at and go, “They have had a perfect life.” Everybody has peaks and valleys so if someone’s thinking about going into administration or maybe you’re in administration, and you’re in a tough period of time right now, that’s life and it’s gonna be ok. I would put my arm around my younger self and I would say, “Expect some ups and downs, it’s gonna be ok. Surround yourself with a supportive cast” You know whether that’s family, friends, whatever it happens to be. Take some risks and be honest, be open, put people first and expect ups and downs because that’s just, that’s just the way life works.
Jay: Yeah. It’s gonna be ok. I like that. Very good. Well, edu-leaders this has been a great interview today. And for the show notes of today’s show and other resources visit educatorslead.com and type the word ben into the search tool to find his show notes. Ben, thank you for sharing your journey with us today!
Ben: Oh Jay, you know I got to say, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect and you are a phenomenal host and it was a pleasure to talk to you so I actually feel as though I need to chat you up on Boxer or get a hold of you in some other ways because I feel like the conversation between you and I could go on for a quiet some time.
Jay: Well, That’s great. Yeah, definitely I would do that after the show. That’s sounds great. And that represents another episode of Educators Lead.
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Edu-leaders, thank you for joining us on Educators Lead. Visit us at educatorslead.com for everything we talked about today, free resources and much, much more!
Educators Lead is a podcast created to help launch educators into the next level of leadership. This show is for you if you are interested in educational leadership as an assistant principal, principal, superintendent, teacher or someone who hopes to be a school leader one day. Educators Lead offers inspiration and practical advice to help you lead more effectively. Jay Willis interviews school leaders weekly to discuss why and when these educators made the decision to move into school leadership, challenges along the journey, and stories that made it all worthwhile. Educators Lead is a great resource for any educator looking to make a greater impact.
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