Brad discusses his career path (2:00)
The nudge from his own school leader that set Brad on the path to administration (2:58)
Some of the challenges of furthering his education (4:40)
Often you’ll need to make some sacrifices to pursue your career goals (05:30)
Some of the lessons Brad learned through his career journey (07:42)
What you prioritize is what gets done (or, in Brad’s case, no more watching football!) (09:40)
The importance of having your spouse fully on board with your career goals (12:04)
Brad shares one of the most meaningful moments of his admin career (14:00)
Brad talks about his mobile office that lets him spend time with staff and students (16:48)
Adjusting to the new relationships with students when moving from teaching to admin (17:35)
“Get connected digitally” – the best leadership advice Brad has ever been given (20:25)
How to get started on Twitter for teachers and admins who aren’t on that platform yet (21:23)
The importance of laying the foundations of a great education early in a student’s life (23:10)
Brad’s book recommendations (25:28)
The four things Brad looks for in any education technology (26:50)
Why Brad is a huge fan of TouchCast and recommends it for educators (28:05)
The paramount principle that drives Brad’s philosophy of education (31:33)
Brad’s advice for administrators when it comes to working with students (33:20)
How Don and his students created a weekly podcast to keep school parents informed (34:05)
Brad’s advice for administrators when it comes to working with teachers (35:38)
Why Brad loves Edison Robots for helping students get engaged, as well as for helping teachers and administrators build relationships with students (38:00)
What advice Brad wishes he’d had when he was just starting his administration career (40:40)
Books mentioned in this episode
Apps and tools mentioned in this episode
Connect with Brad Gustafson
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Podcast Session #9
Show notes: http://www.educatorslead.com/bradgustafson/
This is the Educators Lead podcast with Jay Willis, Session #9. Let’s go!
Intro: Dr. Brad Gustafson is an elementary principal in Minnesota. He has pioneered efforts to transform pedagogy to reflect best practices in a digital age. He is committed to leveraging technology as a transformative tool that inspires creativity, connectivity, and innovation. Brad is a TEDx and keynote speaker, and exudes a passion for leadership that is palpable. That’s just a brief introduction Brad, but tells us a little bit more about yourself.
Dr. Gustafson: Alright well that sounded actually pretty good. The real Brad that loves his wife, he loves his 3 kids and he adores his job serving as a K5 principal in Wayzata Public School District where we have 860 students here and just really inspiring staff.
Jay: That’s awesome. So tell us a little bit about your career path.
Dr. Gustafson: Yeah, so in college I always kind of pondered you know what would it be like to be a student all the time because it’s not that I was the best student but I did like taking classes, whether it was so Sociology or Psychology or you name it, Philosophy, Education it didn’t matter. I did enjoy that. And I kind of inadvertently followed the path so became a 2nd grade teacher and just continue to be in love with I guess all elementary kids but I loved my 6 years as a 2nd grade teacher. I got a master’s degree; that was great. I went on and got an Ed Specialist degree so I could be an administrator and now I have my doctorate.
Jay: Yeah, so tell us, at what point did you make the decision that you wanted to move into school leadership?
Dr. Gustafson: Jay, I think I was probably lying in my bed wondering what just happened because here’s the story behind the story; my principal had come in and just said, “You know Brad, I think you’d be a good principal” or something like that. And it kind of floored me like what? You know I loved teaching and I had never honestly considered it. And she gave me the pamphlet to I forget what college course, …you know. And I just that you know honestly I was thinking, am I a bad teacher or what’s the deal? Why is she doing this? But now looking back ( actually maybe I won’t skip any steps) so then I went home and I was talking to my wife a little about it, whether it was a day or week later just kind of lying in bed talking a little bed and she just said, “Brad, don’t limit God, hey you love learning so just you know the classes that would be something you would want to do anyways” and then at time point I thought, “Yeah I do, I loved taking classes” as I indicated earlier so I did sign up honestly with no intention do become an administrator. I just took the classes because it was interesting to me. And then things started to shift a little bit from there.
Jay: Wow. So tell us about the journey along the way to becoming a school administrator?
Dr. Gustafson: Yeah, the journey has been rich and I think that you know the mindset and the strengths that I just bring to every situation is I love learning, I love talking, I love connecting to people so that whether something is hard or easy or makes me think or if it’s a little more out of my comfort zone, I just kind of thrive and derive energy from it regardless so the process was great. There were a couple of challenging moments I remember taking 1 class and I forget the class but I remember there was a Friday night class so I get my admin license and I get home around 9:30 or 10:00 at night and we had homework from that class and we have the same class Saturday morning and I just I still can’t believe that happened and I made it through but that was probably one of the more tricky part. Although of course, those things actually kind of make us stronger and it was fine but it was kind of a funny story.
Dr. Gustafson: I did like past homework and then you get up Saturday morning. You better have your homework done because its classes right away.
Jay: Yeah, yeah that would be intense. So at the time did you have children like as your taking the classes, what was going on with the rest of your life? So you were working fulltime? How did you juggle all that like all you know, keeping on top of your school work and then working and everything else?
Dr. Gustafson: You know one thing I had to give up, I was a varsity soccer coach and that I eventually stepped back from. That was a position that I loved – coaching and mentoring and learning from the high school guys but that couldn’t happen, it just didn’t work. There were days where I won’t see my kids because the classes, coaching, etc., and so that was one thing you know you have to make your choice and priorities the other thing is just a supportive relationship with my wife and figuring things out together and just doing everything as a team so there might be days where you know, we can or she might take the kids for 3 hours and go to a park or do something and that would help me get done what I need to get done and that’s just selfless on her part and it was just really wonderful. I remember driving to whether it was church or family vacations, I always had research and textbooks with me and my wife was gracious enough to drive and that’s one way where I felt like I didn’t miss out other than our car conversation. I was able to be with them and partake and still get my homework done so just little adjustments that made it work well.
Jay: Yeah, so what was it kind of more difficult times or maybe you know, was it an intense struggle all the time but in those times where it was a struggle, what kept you going? What kept you motivated to push through that?
Dr. Gustafson: If I’m being honest Jay, it was a great ride. It’s been a great ride and it just works. You just shift away, you keep going. I think if there were really hard times, it was once I had step back for a couple of weeks to take care of other things. It was honestly harder to get back on the bike so to speak.
Dr. Gustafson: That research and master’s classes and doctoral classes are not like riding a bike at least for me because if you’re a little rusty, if you’ve figured what you read two weeks later, it’s a little extra effort to re-learn so for me, what always worked in maybe it’s just kind of how I’m wired is you just keep going and you chip away and you make a difference and sooner or later your goals are met.
Jay: That’s good. So, you kind of alluded to it earlier when talking about some of the more difficult times but you talked about you know, you grow stronger and you learn great lessons from those challenges. What are some of those lessons that you’ve felt like you’ve learned through the journey?
Dr. Gustafson: One of the lessons I’ve learned that, well here is one, I probably learned more about being a principal by being a principal than by taking classes and preparing for it. Although I think some of those trials help prepare your mindset and they kind of condition you for being able to whatever multi task and you know teaching is an incredibly challenging job so if you’re a great teacher like I worked in a school that is packed with amazing teachers. The skills that you need to be a good teacher really translate nicely so that’s a tough question Jay. What are your other guests saying that’s brilliant? Let me learn from them.
Jay: Yeah, well anyway it’s kind of across the board but a lot of times you know there’s lessons about relationships or about just you know persevering, about goal setting, there’s just different things like that that maybe come to the journey because obviously it does take a lot to be a teacher. And it seems like it takes a whole lot more to be a teacher and also be pursuing school administration simultaneously so for you to take those classes and for you to be effective as you know if you’re married and have kids, to be effective as a husband and a father and as a teacher and still pursuing this goal that you have. So I don’t know if you feel like there’s significant lessons that you feel like came through that process.
Dr. Gustafson: Yeah, I suppose it’s all very personalized or you know it depends on the individual and there circumstances but for me what I learned was what I prioritized is actually what God done so the way it worked for me, was family was a priority, partnering with my wife and keeping that relationship awesome and then school and education and we were both on board. And I have to say, in that order. If there ever would there been a point where she needed a break or she needed to step back I would have done that because she would do it for me. It just so happened that we pushed through together and the way that we prioritized things that meant that there were certain things that maybe our friends were doing, or things that maybe we would have wanted to do. We just didn’t do that because that wasn’t the priority. Now I would give you one small example it’s gonna sound weird and for some it may sound like torture but football, I love watching football and in the last several years I have not watched that many football games. And same with when I was going to the program and it’s because I didn’t have time to do that. I prioritize other things. And when I was going through my dissertation I remember when I was finally done and earned that degree, watching that 1st Minnesota Vikings game, (as painful as it was) it was sheer joy and like I cannot believe I get to watch this but that just because the lessons that I learned in my way prepping to become an administrator was I just have to prioritize other things that’s why I get things done. And one other example that Jay is, I remember spring break, a lot of my people in my cohorts had plans or travel plans and important things that they were prioritizing but I literally said, I’m gonna take a week off work and I am going to write this thing. You know I’m gonna do the research and get it done. And I’m not talking about my dissertation and those can’t be done in a week, but in the specialist in master’s area, that’s what I did. And I think the 1st day I probably worked 12 hours and the 2nd day, my stamina wasn’t quite the same. I maybe worked 10. And the 3rd day I worked 8. And I knew each day when my breaks became longer than the work time… that ok, it’s I’m done for today and tomorrow’s another day but I walked out of spring break having what I needed to have done and I felt really good. And lots of my classmates made a little decision that really worked for them and their family. I’m not judging them but just how I prioritized it helped me persevere like you said.
Jay: Yeah, well one thing you’ve spoken to here that I don’t think has been brought up so far, very valuable just advice I think or insight, it’s just that when you made the decision to become a school leader it was more like a team decision like it was something that you and your wife had kind of discussed and made the decision together that hey this means were gonna make some sacrifices. Correct me if I’m wrong but it just from what you’re saying it seems as though, it was not something or you just kind of pioneered and said I’m gonna go off and do this on my own but you really need her buy-in and commitment to that as well. Is that right?
Dr. Gustafson: Yeah, without a doubt and yeah she is an encourager and she has great discernment in life and you know in everything. So yes and even in its process of earning my 1st administrative job, you know we would talk about where, I was just interviewing we would just do some preliminary research so we weren’t wasting the other people’s time too just looking at the community and things that were important to us and you know, could we pay the bills with this? How does family fit in. and what’s the cost of living and housing and etc, etc, etc but I remember going down to my first principal job. I interviewed and I called her on the way home and she said, “How did it go?” and I said, “It went a little too well” because I just sensed there was a great connection and yeah that was scary so we from then on I think there was a 2nd interview or maybe they, maybe they offered the position and then I said, I would like to have my wife, my wife and I would like to come and tour the community and town and check things out so we did that and the rest is history.
Jay: So, I actually had a chance to watch your TEDx talk and which I thought it was awesome. And it’s like whole other episodes I’m sure as far as how all that came about and all that. That was I really enjoyed watching. Then one of the things came out through that was just your heart for the students and I know that that’s kind of that was about you know the arms wide open. So, but so it just kind of knowing that your wired that way. I’m sure you have to have lots of just wonderful stories, meaningful moments that came about since you’ve become a school administrator? But if you could just take us, if you could think of maybe the most, one of the most significant stories of impact that you had and take us to that point in time and just share that story with us. I know our listeners would appreciate that.
Dr. Gustafson: Yeah, there this I just, it’s such a humbling and inspiring and to be able to connect to so many different hearts than minds during the day. It’s amazing I can’t really explain it. There’s one story that sticks out of many but there were…sometimes the pile on the desk is significant. There’s just a lot. You have to get that. Whether it’s from the state or from the district or just you know connecting with parents and stuff but I had felt like I wasn’t getting anything done and it was tough you know. Because you know that evenings can be somewhat long, sometimes, not all the time, but I was walking cruising down the hallway and I just kind of detached from my desk to build some relationships, help out and a little kiddo needed something and I was able to help him and I honestly I forgot what they needed but I was there, maybe it was tying a shoe or something but it was what they said afterwards that was just a revelation for me. They said, “Thank goodness you were Mr. Gustafson” and you know sometimes they can say my name and a lot of kids call me Mr. G or Dr. G but I just you know what, I kind of how dare I say I haven’t got anything done today. The most important thing had nothing to do with my desk because there are kids out here and I can get a lot done and even though it might not be able to do with my to do list, it’s just probably a lot more important so that’s been a great perspective for me and I’m guessing that you’ve heard this from other people but it is a joy and anytime you’re feeling like you need a pick-me-up, be in the classroom, talk to the teachers, watch the work they are doing, support them, have a conversation with students, go out to recess. There’s really nothing like having that flexibility to go out and support and encourage and be encouraged just by seeing in the work that’s being done.
Jay: Yeah. That’s great. I think I’ve said it in previous episodes but just one of the biggest things that stands out to me from other senior leaders who are further along in their journey than I am, is that they’ve said spend your time with people not paper as a leader. And that’s hard, I mean when you have so much stuff to do and you just look at your desk and there is just this big pile that seems to be taking over. It’s difficult but I mean the it’s just what you talked about, I mean the biggest impact you have is in the lives of those students. And you’re really not gonna have that by dealing with that stack of paper.
Dr. Gustafson: Yup, and there are strategies and there are ways to be with people more. Even if you have to do paper at school which is a reality sometimes, I have a mobile office. It’s a desk on wheels. Whatever you want to call it, it’s a nice looking cart, it’s not a junky cart and it can hold an ipad, a laptop and lots of stuff. To find or be called to an emergency or help somebody I can quick lock my stuff underneath if I need to do that. And that’s been really neat. Whether its observations or just connecting with people to cruise around sometimes, occasionally I plant myself in the media center and get some stuff done but just experience the culture and be able to greet people and they can see me and I’m not behind my desk. So obviously, you know I’d like to do that more but it is one tool that I try to use.
Jay: It’s great. So obviously, you’ve been a teacher and now you’re a school administrator, what’s the biggest difference in impact that you’ve noticed between when you were a teacher and then now the impact that you have as a school administrator?
Dr. Gustafson: Yup, the biggest shock to my system was the depth of relationships I had with my students and then getting to a level where you are with hundreds of kids. It’s different and it’s more difficult to go as deep with all of them. But that doesn’t negate the influence and what you can do and I found the way to feel like I have the, I still get fulfillment from the connections I have. And I still have the chance to visit kid’s hockey games, football games, after school evening events like I did as a teacher. You can still do that with families, just more. The other thing that surprised me was as a teacher you maybe work with one or two kids and families that are in crisis. Well, I guess that depends on where you’re working and your kiddos that you have but for me, as a 2nd grade teacher, I never had that many kids that had issues that might require county involvement and things like that. As a principal you’re with, you know maybe 30 or maybe 35 classes, so to multiply that out and you are aware of most of the need, so that was kind of a shock and sometimes I can be sad you know, due to empathy and just wanting to help all kids and protect them from certain things.
Jay: How do you overcome that?
Dr. Gustafson: I think you be present and you love them as best as you can so when they’re here you just show them love and grace and understanding and just by knowing some of their stories. That helped me; it feels better because I just try to pour on the love so that if they’re experiencing a difficulty when they’re not here at school, I know that they have us. I guess that’s the simple, the easiest way to say it.
Jay: Yeah, so regardless of what else is going on with their life at least you know you’re creating a safe zone for them at school.
Dr. Gustafson: Yeah, not only a safe zone but you I guess I go out of my way to make a difference for kids. It’s almost like personalized principaling where you try to make a difference for everyone, you try to have that connection, you try to challenge them and help, you know; even increase their capacity or their potential. But there are some kids where you go the extra mile at school because you know they need you to go the extra mile so in unexpected ways, making that connection.
Dr. Gustafson: That’s one way.
Jay: That’s great, so ok I’m about to roll through some rapid fire questions real quick if you’re ready?
Dr. Gustafson: Ohhhhhhh…
Jay: So first of all, what’s the better, I’m sorry what’s the best leadership advice you’ve ever received?
Dr. Gustafson: Get connected in a digital sense. Get connected and so what does that mean? And if you’re not connected yet, it means signing up for Twitter and attending conferences and beginning to talk about and share and receive information from people on Twitter, Boxer, reading blogs, starting a blog, that has been a life changing for me as a learner I would say because with what I’m learning in that connected sense I’m better able to support our team and then bring in some opportunities for kiddos that I might not otherwise be aware of.
Jay: Yeah, so just kind of expound on that anyway I said, rapid fire but I want to expound on this a little bit. So how would you suggest if it’s a teacher who has aspirations to becoming a school leader one day and they are just brand new to Twitter, how would they get started having it having conversations in that space.
Dr. Gustafson: Great. I would say pick a Twitter chat or two and if you’re not sure what a Twitter chat, they’re everywhere and there is a master list throughout there if you just Google it but there’s a hashtag and I just use #iowaedchat as an example so maybe once a week on Sunday morning or Sunday nights you want to participate and connect and you don’t have to be from Iowa to participate in #iowaedchat but they will have pre-framed conversations and questions that are available. They’ll tweet them out and you know every 5 minutes for an hour and you’ll actually have a chance to learn from people but also make connections during that chat because you’ll see the same people tweeting and visiting that chat over and over. I would say, Twitter did not make sense to me for the 1st six months until I started doing educational chats and then it really ignited my learning and helped cultivate deeper relationships from people who just seemed like far away avatars and numbers to me but now to me, it’s very real. And some of my best friends are people who I met on Twitter.
Jay: That’s great. Are there any other conversations that you mentioned like iowa hashtag, what was that again?
Dr. Gustafson: Yeah, I think it’s #iowaedchat, there’s #mnlead that’s Minnesota, actually that would really be a good one for your audience Jay.
Dr. Gustafson: I think that’s on Sunday nights too. There are so many, there’s a #stuconnect chat that we started and where kids and classrooms can connect and we have 4 plans throughout the year, our next one is coming up on January. That’s #stuconnect that be a way to learn with student.
Jay: Very good. What would you say is your biggest strength as a school administrator?
Dr. Gustafson: My biggest strength, I have and I’m gonna share this with you Jay but I just want, I just need to kind of prepack this and say that sometimes a person’s strength can also be a limitation or weakness so we have to be mindful of that so I’m gonna share this but I want you to recognize that I also know I have blind spots but I have a, I’m very committed to giving kids a relevant and connected and world class educational experience and I’m not talking in the jargony way. I’m talking in a very real way that pushes the envelope and would require a paradigm shift on how we think. So it’s using technology not just as a checklist item like “Ok, there is an Ipad in that lesson, well done”. I mean that’s, it couldn’t be further from that but it’s in giving kids experiences in school that sometimes will use technology to connect them to kids halfway around the world, but yet are grounded in the learning targets and standards. And kids are so on fire for their learning that they don’t want to leave or they don’t want to be done with that lesson. So thinking you know outside the box if there is such a thing as a box, is probably more of an umbrella. Like for I just give you a quick example, we have some educational drones where kids can do lots of crazy programming and design mathematical challenge courses. We have robotic droids her, we have kids who are coding their way you know I’ve done health lessons, language arts, math. They’ve even done morning meeting. I want kids to experience innovation and these technologies because the reality is when is the right time? It’s right now. It’s in elementary school because these kids are gonna be, they need to be able to change the world and have great discernment in digital leadership byy the time they get to middle school and high school. And if we don’t start scaffolding that in the elementary school, we’ve done a disservice to them. So my passion for giving kids that relevant and connected experience so they have a skills above and beyond of being able to do really well on a test is probably what I would consider a strength.
Jay: That’s great. That’s great. So I would, is there a book or two that you’d recommend for other school leaders that made an impact on you?
Dr. Gustafson: I love The Noticer by Andy Andrews and that’s not necessarily a school leadership book but it’s one we buy for all our kids’ teachers so I’m just gonna throw that out there because it’s one of those life changing inspiring books.
Jay: And what’s that all about?
Dr. Gustafson: That’s about somebody who notices things as the name somewhat implies and I think as school leaders and effective teachers we have to be noticers so it is very germane but it’s not gonna be about pedagogy or instructional leadership but it’s a, I would consider it a must read if you’re a human being.
Jay: Yeah. That’s great. You know it seems like in my own life anyway especially when it comes to relationships and my relationship with my wife. It’s really a lot of the little things added up that make the big difference. You know, and I guess it’s probably kind of along these lines. It’s just paying really good, paying really close attention to the details like so yeah that’s a good book, a good recommendation, I’m gonna have to check that one out.
Dr. Gustafson: Yup.
Jay: Is there technology tool aside from Twitter or Boxer or an app or software something like that, that you would recommend to other school leaders?
Dr. Gustafson: Yeah, first thing I wanna say and I’m sorry for derailing your rapid fire thing here because I know I’m talking. But I want to say the most important thing, the most important tool of any technology is the pedagogy it’s used in. So I am gonna give you a tool but I think we have to have a better understanding as emerging educational leaders and school leaders. There’s even some accomplished school leaders who are still learners of what we want technology to do for us and our kids.
Dr. Gustafson: I don’t think that, that’s out there so for me I have 4 things I look for when I’m talking about technology and then I will give you the apps. So consider this a longest teaser ever.
Jay: I’m just here to hear.
Dr. Gustafson: Ok. 1) Does it help me collaborate? 2) Does it increase learner ownership? Or student agency? 3) Is there a level of digital connectivity? 4) Does it create a learning experience as opposed to just kind of a lesson being taught, or is there something that kids are you know excited about? Like there’s something that they’re screaming for more or talking about this at the supper table? Those are the four elements that I apply to lots of different things whether it’s a communication I’m sending out, an experience I’m facilitating, a student assembly, or a staff meeting. So with that said, my tool is TouchCast. Has anyone said that before?
Jay: I don’t believe so, not up til now.
Dr. Gustafson: Ok. Yeah so it is, it’s like a, It’s almost like an app smash in enough itself. A combination of the web and video, so it’s interactive video and it’s very versatile and even novice beginner, first time users can create pretty polished video communications. But the reason that is so important is for the four kind of components or tenets that I just outlined. It can ignite new levels because of collaboration between kids, between teacher and kids. It can increase their ownership because instead of you know passively receiving information from a textbook, they can be creators or apply what they’re reading or learning or researching along with other friends. They can embed some, some really interactive tools and connect with others and share out their videos. Creating an experience, I’ll give you a quick, quick kind of 30 second example because I think stories are little more powerful than just a principal saying a tool that he thinks he is good.
Dr. Gustafson: So I remember walking down our hallway one day and we had a couple of boys creating a project they were planning with their teacher. And I stopped and talk to them because it looks interesting and I thought it was cool they were podcasting but they had researched how to solve a Rubik’s cube in less than a minute, I thought that wow it’s pretty cool and they are talking about some algorithms involved and I thought ok, cool. We went on our way. Later that day, the teacher had tweeted out a picture of them presenting their project and just said you know, “Way to go kids” presenting a near genius summer project. And then so they had shown their class a podcast that they created but then that digital connectivity and this where the pedagogy comes in, it wasn’t just about the podcast they created, but because they connected in the digital sense, a school in the east coast saw what they did and they invited and said, “Hey can you teach us how to that?” so then, a week or two later, our kids did a GHO or a Skype with this school in the East Coast and taught their students how to solve the Rubik’s cube in less than a minute. That was an experience and I was actually in the classroom for that part but it took a lot of different pieces – it took student ownership because the kids were given the autonomy to pick an area of passion, to research it, and then create the digital product. Teacher blasted it out on Twitter, using social media as learning media. Somebody else saw it and just created this thing where our kids became the teachers. That’s a tool, the tool facilitated something greater than, than an app really could. It took an amazing teacher to facilitate the next steps and our kids were the benefactors.
Jay: Yeah, what was the kids’ response to that?
Dr. Gustafson: It was really cool. It was really really cool. Obviously the two kids who were facilitating in teaching were totally into it and did an amazing job, but the thing that I was most struck by, was the rest of the class as they were watching this video conference happen, it was palpable and you could just see that they were feeling like our work matters. What we’re doing here matters above and beyond these walls. It’s not just gonna go home and be hung up on the refrigerator. Other people care and we have value that we can add to this world. It was – you really had to be there to experience it – but it was amazing, it was amazing.
Jay: And what was that tool again?
Dr. Gustafson: TouchCast and we use lots of different videos apps but TouchCast is the one I definitely prefer.
Jay: What your favorite educational quote?
Dr. Gustafson: So I have, I wouldn’t called it a quote because it’s something that I said but it’s more of just something I firmly believe. And it’s, I consider it educational malpractice to limit student opportunity based on what we refuse to learn. So any aspiring administrator, current administrator, if we are setting up artificial barriers whether it’s our mindset, thinking I’m not techy or I’m too busy or whatever the excuse is, that doesn’t seem relevant. We don’t need to do that, our kids, you know, we can do, keep doing the literacy thing. Well what if kids need more and what if it’s just a different lens and you can still do the literacy thing really well and have kids learn at a high level but yet it’s very relevant to them because you’re learning. I believe that to my core; I think we owe our kids more than what we’re giving them as a system so I just think that we just have to set the bar higher from a pedagogy standpoint. And I’m not faulting anyone. I think teachers have incredible barriers that they’re up against and haven’t even been given you know personalized professional development and support in many cases to be able to think like this. So in many cases, administrators have to model this learning mindset instead of being knowers and experts. We have to be in the mix and I could tell you right now some things that I’m learning because how am I gonna expect my teachers, our teachers and our kids to learn these things if I don’t have skin in the game, if I can’t be the support.
Jay: That’s great. I love that. Don’t let your unwillingness to learn and grow keep your kids from learning and growing. It’s kind of the takeaway I got. That’s great. I really like that. So, what advice would you have for a school leader for working with the students like one piece of advice that you’d have for them working with the students that they serve?
Dr. Gustafson: Seek ways to do it in all you do. Putting kids first is critical but find ways, identify ways, talk to other people, get connected because there are strategies and practices out there where people are doing this but you could kind of do it two ways; you could do it the traditional way, how you think it’s always been done and try to get out and about and do the cafeteria supervision and connect with kids from time to time. Or you could totally knock it out of the park and form deeper relationships with kids by for example, I used to do a weekly email newsletter that I don’t know how many people, I don’t how many parents read it but it took me several hours to write the thing. Now in a third of the time. I work with kids. We do a working lunch. Almost once a week they come into my office, we have a blast; I get to know them very very well. And we create it and edit this podcast that features kids. And then we pump that out as a learning update for families and then weeks later there’s a special connection that I have. That’s just one little kind of a microcosm of what I’m talking about how you can change what you’re doing, be in the mix learning with kids, if you just reinvent the position a little bit to be more child centric and leverage some of the tools, digital and otherwise that we have. Another quick example. We have a couple of flat screen TV’s in our school that stream tweets. We have a school hashtag. That’s #gwgrades and there’s this community and we’ve always had it before the TV’s were out. It’s not about the TV’s but the TV’s enhance our connectedness. That’s because now I can’t be in 35 classrooms all the time obviously but I can follow the Twitter feed and see what kids and teachers are sharing, what’s important to them. Theree have been times when I see them tweet something I’ll run down and participate. I ask questions or high five or whatever the case maybe so that’s another way to stay connected and stay in the mix and it’s just leveraging a digital tool to actually enhance relationships instead of, instead of supplant.
Jay: That’s great. What one piece of advice would you give to a school administrator for working with the educators that they lead. So in other words, the other teachers that are in the building?
Dr. Gustafson: Listen to them. Listen, listen, listen more than talk and I try to be really clever and collect feedback and for example our professional development, our team has created a model like I consider just to be an exemplar in the country and it has you know little to nothing to do with me but what it if, I guess the only thing I have done is listen to them because they will tell me what they need and we will build it so we have professional development breakout sessions and a cohort model to help people go deep, and there are even sessions that are optional to them. But this is what people are asking for we’ve given it to them so we’re meeting their need and if you apply that strategy if you will or that common sense to lots of different areas, people will feel heard and they’ll be empowered to speak and their ideas are 9 times out of the ten, if not ten times out of ten, better than mine Jay. But thank goodness I do listen.
Jay: Yeah, that’s great. What’s the best way to connect with you?
Dr. Gustafson: I think Twitter is probably the easiest. I’m @gustafsonbrad so @gustafsonbrad g-u-s-t-a-f-s-o-n-b-r-a-d and if they can send me a direct message if I’m not following, hit me up and I’ll follow them and we can talk offline.
Jay: Ok. I think one of the biggest thing I’ve gained from this conversation, I know a lot of times probably if you’re a teacher who’s considering moving into school administration you can probably think, well you know I’m gonna miss that connectivity that I have with the students and I feel like what you’re, just the message that you are conveying here is that if you’re just creative and you’re committed to have that connectivity and I think an important component to that, correct me if I’m wrong is being willing to listen to this educator or to other teachers who are in there with the students all day. So you can still have a high level of that connectivity even when you move into an administrative position.
Dr. Gustafson: Yeah, it kind of goes back to this schooling thing if you prioritize that and if you want it, you can make it happen. If you don’t want it, you can make excuses. I was, I was in an observation, I think it was 2 days ago. And in the back of my mind I knew I wanted to learn about this Edison Robotics. They’re Lego compatible, codeable little vehicles that kids can engineer with and I noticed we have this fleet of mobile maker’s bases on our school with lots ofe high tech, low tech thing these kids can create with. That was a cart that hadn’t been checked out often if not all and I thought, I need to learn this. So that I can see if it makes sense for people to use and recommend it, so I’m kind of thinking when am I gonna have time to figure out how to use and Edison robot and create. There’s some really cool stuff. Well, I went down and started putzing around myself and then when I was in the observation I was talking to a kindergarten teacher and somehow it just came up where I was telling her about it. She does some really cool stuff and said, “Hey, it’d be really cool for your kids. Maybe you could try this Edison robot. I don’t know how to use it but we could learn together”, and she was very excited and she invites me in a lot and you know when teachers invite me in I always try to go in and it’s like a highlight of my day but she invited me in for this and we co-planned a lesson and we’re gonna go in and we are gonna knock it out of the park first week of January. Now the neat thing is I connected with another teacher ahead of time because these Edison’s and the model is very, it’s complicated. It’s a higher level stuff so we have some 5th graders that are gonna pre-create, not a 3D printer, but they’re building using this Edison’s. If you put multiple Edison’s robots together, you can create drawing machines if you can picture that where they draw stuff for you and they feed the paper in using pulleys and stuff but kids are making that and they were doing that today for us. So then I’ll go in the Kindergarten class. I’ll show them what the 5th graders have engineered and these are, it’s very cool stuff. But then the kindergarteners will make a more age appropriate model based on that so they’ll just try to find using Legos and these robot little droid vehicles find a way to affix a marker on their robot and then do some programming where they just a marker that’s very basically attached, can do some drawing on the paper so they’re seeing what in a couple of years they’ll be able to do but they are empowered to invent. And we won’t have the answer right away but I guarantee we’re gonna see some really cool stuff but the reason I bring that up Jay is that was me in my lens that I bring to these observations even as being really open and interested in being a learner collaborating with staff and then you know I’m lucky enough for them to invite me in from time to time and we can do some really cool stuff together.
Jay: Yeah, kindergarten that’s amazing. That’s great.
Dr. Gustafson: Yeah.
Jay: That’s great. So last question, if you could go back to when you were a teacher and you just made a decision to move into school leadership, what advice if you could go back and speak to your younger self what advice would you give yourself?
Dr. Gustafson: Yeah, I would say, “You probably don’t want the first job, the first administrative job that you apply to. I know you’ll be super excited for it. You think it’s perfect. It’s your dream job and then you may be disappointed when you don’t even get a call back or you don’t even get an interview but it doesn’t pan out, you might be devastated and that’s ok. And it’s just part of the process and you can keep sticking at it.” I think if I would have got my 1st job that I applied for, I would be a high school dean and that’s not me Jay. I’m in my area of passion right now. Also, that would be, and I’ve talked to other aspiring administrators on Boxer, and they get very excited about interviews and even if they’re in their district and kind of feel like this is meant to be or close to my house but it doesn’t always work out. And that’s ok. People will still support you. You’ll get through it and that perfect job will come along.
Jay: Awesome. Well, thank you so much Brad for sharing all of these today! Edu-leaders this has been a great interview today. For the show notes of today’s show and other resources visit educatorslead.com and type the word brad into the search tool to find his show notes. Brad, thank you for sharing your journey with us today! And that represents another episode of Educators Lead.
Dr. Gustafson: Great to connect. Thanks Jay.
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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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