Dan shares a little about his family, background, and hobbies, including his love of attending the college athletic events his children participate in, and his brief career in coaching college football (2:07)
Dan’s career path from college to today (including a stint teaching driver’s ed) (3:40)
When and why Dan made the decision to move into school administration (5:20)
Some of the struggles he encountered on his path to becoming an administrator (6:10)
How Dan kept going through the challenging early days on his admin career path (7:23)
How those experiences made Dan a better person and a better school leader (10:02)
The importance of the “big team, little me” concept (12:00)
How being a P.E. teacher and a coach helped prepare Dan for a career in administration (13:00)
Being chosen to help open a new high school is one of the greatest highlights of Dan’s career so far (14:57)
How the impact you make as an admin differs from the impact you made as a teacher (18:37)
How to maintain that feeling of connectedness you had as a teacher after moving into admin (21:21)
Dan’s tips for maintaining life/work balance (23:52)
How to stay focused in a demanding job during difficult times in your personal life (26:36)
Handling the negative people in your life and career (and a great way to look at anonymous critics on Facebook and Twitter) (29:36)
Some of the greatest leadership advice Dan has ever received (32:21)
Being able to stay focused, being able to find a way to win, a good personality, and a commitment to students’ success are some of Dan’s strengths as an admin (33:21)
Dan’s top book recommendations for school leaders (33:40)
Why Dan loves Excel spreadsheets (35:30)
Dan’s advice to school administrators on working with the students that you serve – adapt to meet the different needs of student populations (36:40)
Dan’s advice to school administrators on working with the teachers that you serve – stay focused on how to help others be a success and find ways to say yes (37:48)
Here’s the advice Dan would give his younger self if he could travel back in time to when he was just starting out in school administration (38:51)
Books mentioned in this episode
Connect with Dan McMinimee
[ultimate_modal modal_title=”TRANSCRIPT” main_heading_color=”#020202″ btn_size=”block” btn_bg_color=”#ffffff” btn_txt_color=”#020202″ btn_text=”SEE TRANSCRIPT” overlay_bg_opacity=”80″ modal_border_style=”solid” modal_border_width=”2″ modal_border_radius=”0″ main_heading_typograpy=”” notification=””]
Educators lead Ep 41
Show notes: http://www.educatorslead.com/danmcminimee
Welcome to Educators Lead where we interview leaders in education to offer inspiration and practical advice to help launch educators into the next level of leadership. I’m your host Jay Willis and I want to thank you for subscribing to our show.
Intro: Dan McMinimee joined Jeffco public schools on July 1st 2014 as Superintendent. He has spent his professional life of 28 years devoted to public education. Dan received his undergrad from Adams State College and his graduate degree from Oregon State University. In addition, he has successfully completed 54 hours of post-graduate work in the administrative certificate program at Portland State University and the Educational Leadership Program at University of Colorado Denver. Dan has experience as a teacher, coach, assistant principal, athletic director, principal and district level administrator working at all levels of K-12. That’s just a brief introduction, Dan, but tell us a little bit more about yourself.
Dan Mc Minimee: Well Jay I really appreciate the opportunity to share a little bit about myself with you today. I’m been married for 25 years; my wife is an attorney. We have two college age kids, one boy and one girl. For hobbies and things I do outside of school is I love going to high school, college, or pro sporting events and. Both of our kids are college athletes so we do quite a bit of traveling to go see them play as well, so we’re busy.
Jay Willis: Yeah. Yeah I guess so. So you said 25 years. Married for 25?
Dan McMinimee: Married 25 years.
Jay Willis: Congratulations.
Dan McMinimee: Thank you.
Jay Willis: I can’t remember what 25 years is. I know it gold at 50.
Dan McMinimee: I think it’s silver. I didn’t get hung up on that. My wife is so supportive and, you know, her being an attorney has created some challenges for us at times but I wouldn’t trade any of it.
Jay Willis: Yeah you both have demanding schedules I’m sure
Dan McMinimee: We do.
Jay Willis: Yes, tell us something interesting about yourself that most people wouldn’t know?
Dan McMinimee: Well I am a traditional candidate for superintendent but, with that said, I’ve also been a college football coach. I was a graduate assistant coach at Oregon State. And seeing the entire staff getting fired really encouraged me to look for a different path. People wouldn’t know that necessarily about me but I’ve coached a ton. And I love college sports.
Jay Willis: Yeah that’s neat. So tell us a little bit about your career path maybe from the point where you graduated from college up till now.
Dan McMinimee: Yes, so I graduated from Adams State College which is down in Alamosa Colorado and I fully intended to go be a teacher and a coach and do that for my entire career. I’ve always been involved in athletics and always wanted to be a teacher. And so I originally started out as a teacher up here in Denver. Went back down to Adams State and coached while working on my masters. Went up to Boulder Colorado and taught for a year. And then I had the opportunity to go be at Oregon State, so I took that opportunity in part for a couple reasons. First of all, I’m really wanting to get into college coaching. But secondly it was a way for me to get my masters paid for and finished. So I went out to Oregon State and did that for a year and like I said that whole staff was let go in November, when we first got there. And so, at that point, newly married, and made the decision you know what, I’m just going to go back into high school coaching and do a great job there.
So went back and started coaching and teaching at a high school and taught in elementary school and got my administrative degree. And then worked into assistant principal, athletic director, building principal. Decided to come back to Colorado (I grew up here in Littleton) and became a principal down in Douglas County, a south suburb of Denver. Did that for a few years. Became a Director of Schools. which is a district level position, Assistant Superintendent, and then had an opportunity to be Superintendent…So, with all that, I’ve also taught behind the wheel – driver’s ed, so I’ve pretty much done it all. (Laughter)
Jay Willis: So was there kind of a point in time when you made the decision to move into school leadership?
Dan McMinimee: You know there really was. I was an elementary PE teacher, and I was also coaching at a small college in, Oregon Willamette University, which is in Salem. And had been married for a couple years at that point and had a newborn son. He was born in 1994. And you know I just had some people come to me and go, “You know what? You’re a great teacher. Have you ever thought about being an administrator?” And that really got me to thinking about well what would that look like and is that something I’d be interested in. And so started down the pathway of getting my administration license. And it just kind of took off from there but the point was that there was somebody that I really trusted that came to me and said, “You know what? We think you have what it takes to be a quality administrator. Why don’t you think about this?”
Jay Willis: Yeah. So what were some of the biggest struggles – obviously just trying to juggle family life as you are pursuing school administration…that had to be a challenge but I mean what were some of the struggles that you encountered along the way?
Dan McMinimee: Well you’re absolutely right; it was a struggle. But you know now that I look back on it, in the heat of the battle, I didn’t really feel like it was a struggle. It’s just something I was doing. Like I said my wife is an attorney and she was at the very beginnings of her career, and we had a newborn son. And I was still coaching at the time. So I was teaching, coaching, and getting my administrative credential. You know my wife was working huge hours being a beginning attorney, being an associate at a law firm in Oregon. And so we just made the commitment to making it happen, and obviously supported each other. The other thing that was thrown in there is we were twelve hundred miles from any family. My parents still live here in Littleton and my wife’s parents are up in Wyoming and so we were a long way from anywhere. So it was kind of us against the world which I wouldn’t trade for anything.
Jay Willis: So what was…you say kind of at the time that you were going through it that it didn’t seem like that much of a struggle. What was it you think that caused that? Was it just kind of the passion for the position? Or was it all the support? Was it a combination of…what was it I guess that got you through some of those challenges and what most people, outsiders objectively looking in would say, “Man, this is intense – you have so much stuff going on.” Like what was it that made it easy for you to keep going through all of that?
Dan McMinimee: Well I think it was – what’s going to be the end result here? You’re going to get an opportunity to be an administrator somewhere and I’ve always sought leadership positions in everything. I mean I can remember in sixth grade getting an award at the end of sixth grade about leadership. So I think people always recognized that in me. But I do think that when you’re in the middle of it and you’re working hard to achieve something, if you really want that to happen, it doesn’t feel like a struggle. I never felt that way.
Jay Willis: Yeah that kind of reminds me of the Vince Lombardi has kind of a quote sort of about that. You may be familiar with it.
Dan McMinimee: Yeah I can’t name the specific quote you’re thinking of, but yeah, I can tell you this – I do think that people in the heat of the battle if it’s something they’re really passionate about they’re going to find a way to make it work. You know that’s really what we did and I say we because my wife was a big part of this is; we supported each other and did the things we needed to do in order to make sure both of us had an opportunity to move up in our careers. While at the same time attending to our kids because we had a daughter during that time, too, two years later, as I was very early in being an assistant principal, we had a daughter. So we had two newborns, you know, two young kids. We just made the time to make it happen and I think that goes to I think one of the last questions you have asked in the past has been something around “what are the most impactful quotes you’ve ever heard?”, and one of those was your kids are never going to say, “Hey dad, you were a great principal.” They’re going to say, “Hey dad, you were a great dad.” And you’ve got to make sure, at least from my perspective, you have to make sure that you attend to your family as much as you attend to your career, and that’s something that I’ve always held with me no matter what job I’ve been in. It’s important to honor people who have families and to make sure that they can take care of their families.
Jay Willis: Well so. Just discussing some of the challenges that you faced in the journey to becoming a school leader has what are some ways you think you grew through that experience.
Dan McMinimee: Well you know the other the other piece probably more specific to being an educational leader is I think there is this myth out there about PE teachers. And I am a K-12 PE credentialed teacher. Did a lot of teaching in my career early on, but the majority of it was elementary physical education. So I think that was something that was a bit of a challenge to overcome because I think you walk into a room and people go, “He’s just a PE teacher”, you know, and I know you’ve heard that if you’ve heard other people talking. It’s just something in our profession where people think that if you want to teach and want an easy job being a P.E. teacher is the way to go, and that is absolutely wrong.
I think one of the things I did to overcome that was, first of all, when I was talking with people about being a leader, I think there’s a lot of opportunity, being a PE teacher, to talk about what is it like to be a leader in a classroom. You know you have kids all across the spectrum with different skills and your job is to differentiate and make sure each one of the students gets to be successful. So you know through my coaching abilities through building winning teams differentiating for kids of my own classroom, demonstrating knowledge and application of other pieces…so I too had to sit in the staff meetings where they were talking about reading instruction and Math instruction. And taking the best pieces of instruction and folding those into your instruction as a teacher and being able to talk about those things are transferable across a building. Very rarely are you going to get a building principal that has knowledge of every single type of information being passed on to kids. You know usually they’re social studies teachers or English teachers or math teachers.
But I think what I was able to do is kind of transcend that and talk about, you know. what are the promising practices of education right now and how can we apply those in our classrooms. I think the biggest thing for me is always being able to talk about that big team, little me concept and. I think that it takes a whole school to raise students – we’ve all heard that quote you know it takes a village to raise children. Well I truly believe it takes a whole school to make sure kids can be successful. So you have to be able to meet the needs of kids all across the spectrum and you have to do it as a staff; you can’t do it as a single individual. So those are some things that I tried to do to overcome to get that first position. And then once you get that first position then it’s all about pouring yourself into that position and doing the best job you can, working with people and learning as much as you can. Asking questions and being genuinely intertwined in that building and showing people that you’re going to do whatever it takes to be successful. So that’s what worked for me was you know first of all demonstrating I could do the work and secondly, being able to do the work once I had the opportunity.
Jay Willis: You kind of talked briefly about overcoming the stereotype of you know, “Oh, he’s a P.E. teacher.” But how do you think, being a coach, being in that role and being successful in that role, helped you in school administration?
Dan McMinimee: Well I think you, first and foremost, have to be prepared. So I kind of think of it like you would as a coach preparing for a game. You know you have to understand who you’re playing against. And you have to understand what the strengths are of your group, and how you can use those strengths to put yourself in a great position, whatever you’re coaching, to be successful. And I think that transforms into when you’re a building principal you have to be prepared and know about what teachers do you have, and what skills do they have, and what’s going to be putting them in the best position to get the best results from students? That’s one piece.
I think another aspect is never giving up, finding a way to solve a problem. Is something that’s inherent in coaching. If the other team stops you from doing something you make an adjustment real time and you continue to try to win. I think you do the same thing as an administrator; you don’t necessarily take no for an answer or “we can’t do that because…” for an answer. You try and find a way to make good things happen for the people that you work with. I think the other aspect is thinking about how can you find those things that you’re really good at and exploit those at the very beginning to find some early wins and celebrate that to build the motivation in your staff and your students about, “Hey, we can be successful. We do have some great things going on here.” And I think lastly that what’s worked for me is being really positive about outcomes and being optimistic, but also looking for ways to get better every single day.
Jay Willis: That’s great. So you’ve been in school administration education for a while; I’m sure you have some amazing stories to share of the impact that you’ve been able to be a part of. But what would you say has been one of your best moments as a school administrator?
Dan McMinimee: I don’t necessarily know that it’s a “moment”, but I’m really proud of the opportunity I had in 2002 when I was hired to open up a brand new high school in Douglas County. When I got into town I was hired, and the first year I was there it was all about building mission and vision and we had a core team talking about what we wanted to do for and with students. So we didn’t have any kids. And that was from 2002 to 2003. In the fall of 2003 we opened Rock Canyon High School in the neighboring middle school with about two hundred ninth graders and a really strong vision about what we wanted to do for those students.
We went through the next 4 years and it was just great, because I’d already been a principal; I kind of knew what the end looked like. But I also had an opportunity to work with a group of people around building a culture in a climate of high achievement and high expectations for students and got the parents involved with this in doing that. So, the best moment from that for me is in 2007 – when that group of students graduated was also when I graduated down to the district office. And we were selected as the #2 in Denver’s Best High Schools by a magazine here in Denver that’s pretty highly respected. But that’s number two of all the schools in the Denver area, and we’d only been open for four years and had our first class. Including several high dollar private schools that we have in Denver area. And that was really a validation of the great work that we had done together. So an immediate validation of the work we had done together in planning and growing that school. But even twelve years later, now, that school is still one of the best in the state of Colorado. And many of the practices and procedures that we put into place are still alive there at Rock Canyon High School and their mission and vision is still the same as it was so that tells me that we built that school to last. Very proud of that work that we did at Rock Canyon High School. And I say we because it was all of us together that made that a great place – it was the students, it was the staff, it was the parents working together toward a common cause of having a great school.
Jay Willis: Yeah. Wow – there’s a couple things that I love about what you just said there. One is it’s very much team focused, like “it’s all of us, we did it together.” It wasn’t kind of showboating and saying, “Hey, it was me, man, look at me, how awesome I am.” And then the other thing is a lot of people have mentioned that the true measure of a great leader is what happens after you leave the organization. So for that school to continue to excel is a real testament to you as a leader in your ability to instill and leave behind other leaders who could carry the baton after you left.
Dan McMinimee: Well I believe that statement wholeheartedly. It doesn’t matter what you do while you’re doing it – it’s what sticks after you leave. I think that’s so critical and, again, I do support the whole team concept and it does take a lot of people to make great things happen for kids and I recognize that. And that’s something that you know I started out with that, being a teacher, and that’s gone all the way through my career…every single place I’ve been, every job that I’ve had, I’ve tried to develop and be a part of teams that deliver for students.
Jay Willis: So some of our listeners might be considering going into school leadership but they might be concerned about leaving behind that really close connection they might have, and going to, as some people affectionately refer to it, the dark side, going into school administration. So speak to that a little bit. I mean obviously you were coaching, you taught before, so…how is your impact now different than it was as a classroom teacher? And then why is it worth it.?
Dan McMinimee: Well I think the impact is just on a wider scale. So in that sense you have an opportunity to influence a lot more people than you do as a classroom teacher. Clearly there is a lot of satisfaction in taking a group of 25 or 30 students and getting them all across that finish line to be successful. But for me, I like having a bigger impact than that and I think the bigger impact is being able to work with groups of teachers or groups of leaders to help them have those things happen on behalf of kids in their classrooms every single day. So for me, I don’t think I ever lost track of what it’s like to be a classroom teacher. Or what it’s like to be a coach or that struggle of, you know, family time at home and still want to make sure you’re doing a great job teaching and coaching – I’ve never lost track of that. And so that’s how I keep connected to the system.
The other thing that I do…we have a huge system – here in Jeffco; we have 155 schools, about 86,000 kids, and 14,000 educators so it would be really easy to get lost. And my goal every single year since I’ve been here (this is my second, so I haven’t had a ton of experience here) – I want to make it to every single school at least once. And if people are calling and inviting me to different school events I make every effort to make sure that I’m there. Number one because I love to see kids performing. So plays, games and you know important things at each individual school. And number two, so I keep in contact with that. So what I would say to the person that thinks that by going into administration you kind of lose touch and lose track and you’re doing other stuff. You’re not. Unless you let yourself do that. You know let’s be honest – for me, your job as an administrator is to try to create the conditions for other people success. The only way that you can do that is understand what they’re working on so I try very hard to make sure I keep in connection with the system and my decisions are aligned with what the system needs. Instead of you know, “Hey, we’re way over here in the ivory tower and we have no idea what’s going on in buildings.” I don’t think that’s the way to be an effective administrator.
Jay Willis: Yeah. Well so what are some tips for still continuing to be effective and still feel connected as it scales? I mean because obviously when you have your classroom teaching you have 30 students. It’s got to be different. Trying to manage – how many students did you say total?
Dan McMinimee: You know we have 86,000 kids in August.
Jay Willis: And so that’s a completely different mindset I would think. I mean sure there are similarities but I mean how do you manage that effectively and like your mindset, trying to stay on top of all that and be effective as a leader over such a large organization if you don’t have…
Dan McMinimee: I think the most important thing for me is making sure you have great people around you that have the same focus as you so. I’ve tried very hard to make sure the people that I brought into the system – principals, district administrators – have this notion of, “We’re in this to make sure we make great environments for kids and our job from the district office is to support schools. The job from the principal’s office is to support teachers and kids in classrooms.” And so if everybody has that same focus it’s much easier to not lose track of what’s going on in your system.
Now I’m not going to lie to you and say that I know everything 86,000 kids are doing because I certainly don’t. But I can tell you this – we’ve set up our system so that our principals are one of the most important players on our team. And they are responsible for making sure that great things are happening in their buildings and when they are we celebrate that; when they’re not we try to adjust that. And we try to have our system be circled around principals to make sure that they have what they need to do that. When I was a principal (and again not everybody is going to go down to the district office) but when I was a principal I very rarely did paper work during the day. You know when kids were in the building, I was out in the building with them – I was in classrooms, I was at lunch time, I was at sporting events, I was at plays and all those productions. You know I made a conscious effort to be around the kids when they were in our schools. And I did the paperwork at other times so that meant that I would have to do e-mails at 5:30 in the morning or 9 o’clock at night. And that meant that if there were disciplinary things going on when I was a principal you know I let my assistant principals handle those and I trusted that they would do that but I made it a focus to be out and around to be visible and accessible to students and parents. I think that’s critical.
Jay Willis: So kind of talking about something a little bit different but it’s similar…you have a lot on your plate in the position that you’re in, and there is far more to do than what you could possibly get to. Like how..what are some things that you do to make sure that with all of the different things that you have going on that you’re juggling…what do you do to make sure that you’re still keeping your family first and making sure that they’re feeling that they’re there first in the midst of all this other stuff?
Dan McMinimee: Well I have to admit it got a lot easier when my kids went to college. You know even when I was an assistant superintendent down in Douglas County and my kids were in high school, I made it really clear that I was going to be at their events unless it was something critical I had to be at. And so it was a little bit different because they were in a different district than the one that I was in – I was in Douglas County but my kids were here in Jeffco. So it made it a little more difficult to make it to their events outside of school, but I always tried, my wife and both of us tried to make sure that we were there to support our kids. We thought that was really important. If not both of us at least one of us.
And the interesting thing that happened is when our kids were in high school they were at rival high schools. So there was times where we had to divide and conquer. We had rules; my son was a basketball player and their biggest rival is the school that my daughter went to school at and so she’d be on the front row of the bleachers on the opposing side chanting. We were like, “Emily you can yell at any kid you want to except your brother.” And you know at the same rule my daughter was a lacrosse player in the school. Their biggest rival was the school that my son went to. And so the same rules and so on but it made for some challenging times but by the same token I think our kids always felt like we were both going to do whatever it took to support them. I can probably count on one hand when I was unable to make something that they were involved in and that was also a tribute to the people I work with. You know if you’re going to talk to talk you got to walk the walk and when I was a building principal, everybody in my building knew that if they had something going on with their family that they need to attend to we were going to work through that. And that was never really a choice to me. You know making sure you’re at work or making sure you’re taking care of family business. Now, tjere were some places where we had to make some choices and had to do the work stuff. But those would be the places where my wife could make it work. So again you’ve got to make that a priority and it works out.
Jay Willis: What are some tips that you would have because you kind of have a bit of a sort of a fishbowl life like where everybody kind of knows who you are and you know even at the grocery store you probably see lots of people who maybe know you, but that you don’t remember their name or who they are. And also you’re obviously in a high level leadership position where a lot of people are looking up to you so how do you deal with it when you have some challenge in your personal life? How do you continue to be effective as a leader when you’re dealing with some of those things that happen like whether it’s a death in a family or just whatever struggles you happen to be dealing – with how do you still bring it every day and make sure that you’re effective as a leader?
Dan McMinimee: Well I think that’s an opportunity for people to see the kind of person you are I think all of us have those situations happen to us in our life. And it’s not necessarily what got you into that situation but it’s what you do when you’re in that situation that people will measure the kind of person you are. You know, I had to deal with the death of my brother a couple years older than me who had a very tragic and sudden heart attack and. That happened when I was still in Douglas County as assistant superintendent and we were right in the middle of negotiations with the teachers union. It was a really, really challenging time but I was able to compartmentalise that and work through what I was feeling personally and at the same time do my job.
It is tough and there’s no question it’s tough but I think what people saw was that here’s a guy that is dealing with this huge personal struggle right now but he’s still able to do his job effectively. And I think that’s the model we need to show to our kids – you know, bad things are going to happen to good people. And how we respond is what’s most important than…you know, even when I was a building principal, building assistant principal, dealing with kids on pretty high stakes disciplinary issues, one of the things I always tried to give them was hope that things were going to get better. And that the way that they responded was more important than what they did to get into that position. And I think that is so critical for kids in building that resiliency is, “Look -challenging things are going to happen to you in your lifetime. How you respond is what is most important…you know – what kind of thought process, what kind of words you use, how you treat other people when things aren’t going well for you personally.” And those are all really important things for kids to learn. And I think as a leader you get an opportunity to model that. Yes, I have a high profile job and you can google my name and see that there’s been some really challenging things here in Jefferson County. But I’m really proud of the way, number one, that I responded and number two, the way that we were still able to get some really quality work done on behalf of the students. Amidst the challenges that we’ve had.
Jay Willis: Yeah. So how do you deal with the naysayers – the people who are just kind of negative and maybe they’re on Twitter or whatever soapbox they decide to jump on to try to bash your reputation? How do you deal with that?
Dan McMinimee: Well I remember very clearly being in high school and playing sports and having similar stuff happen. You know being in college playing sports and coaching sports I think this is something that I walked away from….there’s always going to be people that are critical of the work that you’re doing. You’ve got to listen to what they’re saying because there may be a nugget of wisdom in there that could make you better. But at the end of the day the most important thing is to focus on the work that you’re doing. And all that other stuff is just noise. And so I’ve always tried to live by that and it is challenging and you know especially in this day and age in education there’s a lot of people that think they know how to do our job number one or number two they want to just drag you through the mud. I mean look at what’s going on with the presidential elections right now. Those aren’t positive. Those aren’t helping us get better.
And that’s what I try to go back to is, “What of this is going to help me to make this a better place for kids?” And I think you just have to have that message discipline and that focus around…do you believe the work that you’re doing is the right work? And if you do, you’re going to just continue to focus on that and try to be positive and move forward. All that other stuff….that reminds me of being in middle school where people just chip and you know call you bad names. For me, Twitter and Facebook, those are the twenty first century bathroom wall at the middle school.
I mean truly they are…and especially when you have the people that are anonymous that want to say nasty stuff or even not anonymous. There’s a lot of people that are angry with what’s going on in our world today, and I’m not going to let them drag me down or drag my organization down. I think that’s one of the biggest challenges that people have to be prepared for being a leader is there’s always people who want to pull you off the top of that mountain. And you just have to have the discipline to go, “You know, I respect your opinion but we’re really focused on doing X. So we’re going to keep doing X. until we’re going to go to something else but you calling me names isn’t making this a better place for anybody.”
Jay Willis: Yeah, that’s great advice. So I’m going to roll through some rapid fire questions if you’re OK with those. So first off you kind of mentioned it already but I don’t know that you actually shared the quote, so what would you say is the best leadership advice you’ve ever received?
Dan McMinimee: Oh you know what there’s actually a couple that I think are important. I think the first one is you’re not a leader if no one is following you. So I think that’s kind of something I’ve always tried to think about. You know the thing is, this kind of goes back to what we were just talking about you’re always being watched and judged. Do the right thing. Always. There’s always going to be…I mean I did this when I was a high school athlete, you know the little kids come down to the fence and watch you during a game. And our coaches were really purposeful about telling us, “Look at those little sixth graders over there; they want to be like you someday. Do the right thing.” And that’s a message that has always permeated with me – always do the right thing. Because you don’t know who’s watching you. And I think I said the other one earlier – 50 years from now when your career is over, you’re still going to have a family. You don’t want your kids to say, “Gee, Dad you we’re a great principal”, you want them to say that you were a great dad. That’s speaking to that whole balance piece.
Jay Willis: What would you say is your biggest strength as a school administrator?
Dan: Well I think number one focus. Finding a way to “win.” I think I have a good personality. I’m smart, realistic, and I’m committed to student success. I think those are my biggest strengths.
Jay Willis: Is there a book or two that you would recommend for other school leaders that have been influential for you?
Dan McMinimee: Yeah, there’s actually several that came to mind as I saw this question. There’s a lot of different books out there about education. You’ve got to find what fits your personality; what resonates with you. A couple that have struck a chord with me – there’s a book called Mentally Tough by Loehr and McLaughlin from 1986. It’s about winning in sports and winning in business but I think there’s a lot of applications to being a successful administrator. The Seven Habits work of Covey has been really good for me personally. The series First Break All the Rules and Now, Discover Your Strengths…they’re more of a business book but I think there’s a lot of application to education. And then really anything by Michael Fullan, Sir Ken Robinson, Daniel Pink… I think those things transcend what’s going on in education right now. But again it’s not tying yourself to one book. But it’s reading a lot. You know you have that quote read to lead. I think that’s critical. Read a lot and then take the pieces that fit your personality and fold them into the work that you do. I think you’ve got to try and find those simple messages that can be turned into talking points. You know like for instance. You know in Covey’s work there’s a part in there where he talks about “you make your own weather.” I think that’s critical. You know when you start talking about climate and culture is you can have the people sitting around chipping at you. But really as a school or as a person you make your own weather; you choose to listen to them or not. So that’s just an example of taking a little piece and saying “How does that fit what the work that I’m doing?”
Jay Willis: So is there a technology tool or anything that you would recommend or something like Twitter or Vox?.
Dan McMinimee: Actually I’d recommend not those. For me and this is going to sound really corny but the thing that’s really helped me in my administrative career is Excel. And the reason it’s helped me is because it helps me to see relationships between numbers and….when you start talking about doing a master schedule or doing budgeting, which are two of the key things that you do as a building administrator, that’s about putting people in the right places and having the funds to do what you want to do. For me it’s really good to be able to see those relationships between numbers and if I put this number here how does it change over here? So that’s probably the one that has made the most difference for me in terms of organization and being able to have the resources to make decisions on behalf of kids would be Excel and that’s not anything cutting edge, so sorry about that.
Jay Willis: You can get super complicated. You know with pivot tables and all those kind of things.
Dan McMinimee: Yeah you can and I’m pretty much an Excel 101 user. It has really helped me focus my thinking on how to use resources.
Jay Willis: So what advice would you have for a school administrator for working with students that they serve?
Dan McMinimee: Well you know we’re a little bit unique here in Jefferson County with 86,000 kids. We have every type of student you could ever imagine going to school somewhere in our district you know – urban, suburban, rural. We’ve got about 31% free or reduced lunch across our district. But we have schools that are 98% free or reduced lunch and we have schools that are 3% free or reduced lunch. So our systems really need to be agile and adaptable to different kinds of kids and so the one piece of advice for working with the student population I serve is “one size fits one.” How can you adapt the work that you’re doing so that those kids that you are trying to influence can be successful while ensuring rigor and relevance? So that’s the work that we’re trying to do is really….this notion of more autonomy in buildings to make decisions about the type of learners they have in their building. Because what one school needs in our district is definitely not what another one of our schools needs. So we have to have administrators that have that one size fits one mentality.
Jay Willis: So along those lines, what advice would you have for a school administrator working with the teachers in their building?
Dan McMinimee: Yeah you know. I would say that you’ve been given such a great opportunity to be a leader when someone entrusts you with the ability to be an assistant principal or principal or district administrator or superintendent. Someone said, “I trust this person is going to make great decisions on behalf of our students.” And so I would say that piece of advice is around making sure that you’re focused on what can you do to ensure that other people are going to have success. And try to find ways to say yes. I think in our society right now it’s really easy just to go, “Nah, we can’t do that.” When you’re an administrator people come to you and ask you if they can do things. Not to be told no. They want you to find a way to make it happen. And so I think as an administrator you’ve got to try to find a way to say yes. And I think that the more that you do that the more people see you as being a person that has the success of everyone in mind.
Jay Willis: So last question. If you had a time machine and you could jump in it and go back to the point in time when you first made the decision to go into school administration, what advice would you go back and give to a younger version of yourself?
Dan McMinimee: Wow that’s a great question. I’m not sure there’s much that I would…I’m actually really proud of the work that I do. And so that I think the advice would be, “Know there’s going to be some really challenging times and you have the right personality and the right focus to be successful, so hang in there and keep playing.”
Jay Willis: That’s good. So if one of our listeners wants to reach out to you after the show what would be the best way to connect with you?
Dan McMinimee: Probably through e-mail. They can go right to Jeffco Schools. (And that’s Jeffco Schools in Colorado because I think there’s two others across the nation but I’m at Jeffco Schools in Colorado) and they can go right to the superintendent page and e-mail address. Or I’m also on LinkedIn and I’d be happy to take any requests there.
Jay Willis: Great. Edu-leaders this has been a great interview today. For the show notes of today’s show and other resources go to EducatorsLead.com and type the word Dan into the search tool to find his show notes. Dan, thank you for sharing your journey with us today.
Dan McMinimee: Well I really appreciate the opportunity, Jay. I hope I can help one person; that would be a real testament to the work that I feel I’ve done.
Jay Willis: I’m confident it’ll be more than one but I’m sure at least one.
Dan McMinimee: All right I appreciate that. Thank you.
Jay Willis: And that wraps up another episode of Educators Lead.
This podcast is brought to you by Mometrix, the #1 test preparation company. Mometrix offers study materials for over 1800 different exams including the SAT, ACT, GED, and of course, state standards exams like the STAAR, teacher certification exams, Advanced Placement, CLEP, ASVAB, GRE, and so many more. Mometrix takes the mountain of information students could be tested on for any given exam and boils it all down to just the golden nuggets of information that are most likely to be on the exam. They get all that along with some great study tips and test-taking strategies to help students maximize their test scores. With our interactive tutorial videos and a layout that makes lesson plainly easy. Mometrix study guides, flashcards and practice questions are a great fit for individual or classroom use. To learn more about our products and our vault of hundreds of free tutorial videos, please visit educatorslead.com/testprep That’s educatorslead.com/testprep
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 three days a week 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.
Educate. Inspire. Lead.