How Jerry got into education (1:45)
When and why Jerry decided to make the move from teacher to administrator (3:45)
Juggling a job, family, and a master’s degree program (5:30)
Why finding (and getting hired for) the right job is one of the biggest challenges of an education career (6:50)
The importance of trusting your gut feelings in the job search process (8:49)
Jerry’s favorite moment of his career so far (11:30)
The joy that comes from making a profound impact on a student’s life (13:25)
The satisfaction that Jerry gets from working with his teachers and staff to provide the best education possible (13:45)
How an administrator’s impact on a student is different than a teacher’s, but complementary (14:35)
The best leadership advice Jerry ever received (20:08)
Why developing great communication skills should be a top priority for administrators (22:08)
Jerry’s thoughts on some great books for education leaders (23:05)
Jerry’s favorite quote about education (25:26)
Jerry’s top advice for administrators on how to relate to students (26:00)
His best piece of advice for administrators on how to relate to staff (26:55)
What Jerry would tell someone who hopes to become an administrator (28:55)
Books mentioned in this episode
Connect with Jerry Pritzl
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Podcast Session #6
You Are Shaping the Leaders of Tomorrow
Show notes: educatorslead.com/jerrypritzl
This is the Educators Lead podcast with Jay Willis, Session #6. Let’s go!
Intro: Jerry is originally from Park Falls, Wisconsin. This is his second year as the Middle School Principal in Poynette, Wisconsin. Prior to becoming principal, he was the Poynette High School Assistant Principal and Athletic Director for 3 years. Before that, he taught 8th grade Math at Poynette Middle School for 7 years, and coached several different sports. Jerry’s focus on standards-based grading has helped their district become one of the best districts in the state and his administrative team will be presenting at a number of state conferences about this topic over the next year. Jerry is currently writing his dissertation to complete his doctorate degree from Edgewood College. It’s just a brief introduction Jerry but tell us a little bit about yourself and your career path.
Jerry: You know I went to school a college at a UW-Stevens Point then it was my original interest to get into business and as I went through my first year in college and really thought about the people in my life that I admired and liked their lifestyles. I kept telling back the teachers, my respect and that really had an impact on me so I decided to change my major and go into teaching and I followed through the elementary education degree and then through that application process, I wanted to teach in the Middle School and apply for a Math job in Poynette then I was able to get hired and here sent it’s in a so it’s been, it’s been falling in love with the place. I’m from Northern Wisconsin but I kind of find a home down here. And that’s all central part of this state.
Jay: Yeah. So tell us a little about your personal life whatever you’re willing to share, you know any hobbies or what keeps you busy but aside obviously being an administrator keeps you pretty busy but what else besides that?
Jerry: You know I’m married to a beautiful wife. We have two kids, so there my son is 5 and my daughter is 2. So at this stage of life then all my free time consists of working with them and playing with them and spending quality family time other than that I’m really into sports. I like and enjoy watching the basketball, football, baseball. What’s next I like either in golf course and exercise and go and have trips and going back up to Northern Wisconsin to visit family and get down the lakes and enjoying the you know, the wilderness out there.
Jay: Yeah. So you have a 5 year old and a 2 year old is that what you said?
Jay: Wow. Yeah. That’s crazy. We have a 9 year old, a 4 year old and a 2 year old. So I understand that is your hobby, right.
Jerry: Yeah. That’s what that’s what we do pretty much.
Jay: Yeah, pour into them. That’s great. So at what point along your journey did you decide to move into school leadership? Was there like a specific kind of event or moment that you made that decision?
Jerry: You know Jay, I remember I do remember it pretty clearly and I was early in my teaching career I decided to pursue my master’s degree probably because it was you know you can get a raise and move up the pay scale and through that process I started to learn really how much of an impact you know teachers can have on, students are learning and the life of students and then what we do really matters in the classroom. And then a lot of my professors in one of those classes made a comment that, you know, teachers are the most important part, most important factor whether their students enjoy learning or not. However, the building principal can have an impact or has a greater, an even greater impact on student learning and the students’ experience. And the superintendent has an even greater impact because of all the decisions that they make and that really struck, struck with me so I finished my master’s degree, a 2-year program in professional development and then a year later I enrolled in a principal licensure program because I was struck by that and I love teaching and I love being in the classroom but I often thought that I wanted to you know, I wanted to take that next step and see if I could have an impact like they said, and it make you know as I’m finding out, it’s very true.
Jay: So tell us a little bit about the journey to becoming a school administrator? I mean just; just kind of the process, I mean obviously you have to take more classes. And so, you know did you have kids at that time. How did you find time to pursue that goal along with everything else you are juggling?
Jerry: You know, you’re never really ready for raising kids and you’re never really ready for grad school you know, but I would say in my opinion but I think you just you decide if that’s your goal you signed up and you make it happen. My master’s degree program was pretty intense so it was a Cohort model and we had classes on Saturdays and Sundays for me, at 4:30 both days. So those one weekend a month, those weekends are pretty tough.
Jerry: Then when I did the principal licensure program, I found the Cohort Model which was really nice because I was able to connect with them. A group of people who are in the same time period of their life, have the same interests, for a 2-year time, times spend as we went to class together and you know it was a weekend thing and then when it comes time to do your homework, you just do it you know, and and due dates were there I was you know working hard to meet those. And it makes things a little hectic but it sure feels good when you’ve accomplished that and finished it as well.
Jay: Yeah. So tell us tell us, take us what was the most difficult part of the journey like if there was you know, one specific point in time you know along that path from the moment you decided that you want to become a school administrator to where you actually achieve that. Just take us to one of the most difficult moments and tell us about that story.
Jerry: So you know I think applying for jobs is and trying to find the right fit and trying to make a career decision of do I want to move my family. You know and really balance, balance that process. And then kind of wants to get your mind made up and you find that opportunity that would be the perfect fit. Then you know going through the process, getting an interview and then doing well on the interview and getting offered the job or not, you know I went through many interviews and application process who were and I wasn’t chosen so, you know that’s kind of the tricky part. And I think that mental struggle is one I continue to deal with. You know as far as what do I want my career to look like. What’s best for my family, all those different factors that yeah you know it’s pretty comfortable being a teacher and being comfortable with the people you work with and being comfortable in that school that you work with too. So, make any change and that’s stress that is involved with that change is pretty difficult. And that’s I would have to they say for me. That’s one of the things that, that is challenging in the different, different part of the process.
Jay: Yeah, was there any one of those particular rejections like when you’re applying for jobs and you wanted them to set out above the rest, as far as being more difficult?
Jerry: You know not really. You know, I kind of look at it as if you know every interview I go into, this is what I’m about and we have to be a fit you know, you have to knew me as the candidate you want. And if I, if I don’t end up getting selected then I feel good about that thing because you know that’s not the one that worked out anyway. And it’s gonna be mutual or if I want is that, I want them to think I want this guy and this is the right guy. And if there’s not that feeling then I’m ok with that.
Jay: Right. So let’s now talk about some of the challenges along the journey. What did you do to overcome those?
Jerry: Oh you know I think you just keep a, I think, in my opinion you keep a level head and I believe that you know things fall into place you know, Oh how they should and you know if there something that feels right in your gut that you want to follow and pursue, you follow and pursue it and if it works out; it works out and then you just continue to give it your best every day and work towards you know doing your best in getting through that process, so you know I think it’s just to study up in my mind and it really helps to have a job that you like so you if you don’t get a job then it’s ok, you know I really like what I’m doing now. That could have been a different opportunity. But, you know I think it’s your mindset in how you look at things.
Jay: Yeah. What kind of lessons did you learn along the way, like it’s your pursuing this goal and to the challenges that you went through, what kind of things did you learn?
Jerry: You know I learned that prior to becoming an administrator I really had no idea. You know about how to answer the interview questions. And then I was fortunate enough in my early years as an administrator to have really had a good mentor. So I learned so much through that process and being able to bounce, bounce things off that person. And it’s truly you know one of the lessons I’ve learned throughout my whole educational careers. It’s a team effort and it’s even as the building leader, you know we all need to make collective decisions. And if I don’t know the answer right now, that’s ok, you know. I just need to say that. Then we’ll work hard to find out the answer and find out the direction we should go and trying to make that as collective and everybody point in that same direction as possible. You know I think that’s one key lesson. Another is you know just being able to just as a teacher you have to build relationships, you have to establish; in order for people to listen to you, in order for kids to listen to you, in order for anybody to buy into what you’re saying. I think that they have to like you and then you have to understand where you’re coming from even if you have to make difficult decisions you know, you’ve approached that decision with empathy. You have empathy for the impact that it’s gonna have in somebody’s life and then you talk to him in that manner. And give, be as transparent as possible but you know why, why things are the way they are and people respect them.
Jay: Yeah. So you’ve been then in school administration for how long, total like between assistant principal and principal?
Jerry: This is my 5th year.
Jay: 5th year, ok. So if you were to just think of one event, one time when like what has been your best moment as a school administrator, do you just share just a story of one specific moment that was really meaningful?
Jerry: You know there’s are a lot of them Jay but I think one that first things that came to my mind was a, just two weeks ago I was leaving, leaving my office and I saw a kid walking down through the campus and he was a student that I taught and then I was working with him and he was in high school and you know he was one of the difficult students, a difficult student to work with and you know had an IEP and things like that, I spend a lot of hours working with that young man and he was coming back, he was actually coming back into the school to meet with his Special Ed teacher because his graduating class graduated even two years ago but he was coming back after school to finish up what he needed to do to get a diploma. You know there were sometimes where you know he wasn’t always happy and things like that with but ultimately we had a good relationship throughout but then when I see him you know, he was genuinely excited to see me, you know the hand shake and he is excited about his, what he was doing to get back to get this high school degree and the job that he had and the goals that he had in mind to pursue after this job so, its moments like that you know we don’t often get to see the impact we had but sometimes we’re fortunate enough for students to come back and say “Thank You” and to see them progressing, to see some of the messages you tried to get across actually coming through and had known with them.
Jay: Yeah. So is that kind of one of the examples when you talked about how it’s, you know the effort that you put in, you found that it’s really worth it? Is that; is that kind of what you’re talking about stories like that?
Jerry: Yeah, I think so. You know I think it’s those kind of moments were you have an impact to an individual kid and you were able to you know, talk to them about that, it’s kind of see the smile on their face. After their having some success in life and I think the other piece were I find my job really rewarding is really working hard and really using you know, research based practices and working with our staff too to implement things that are proven to work with our students and then keep in track with our student data and watching, watching that girl or that watching their students achieve in really spreading. And I get the chances of principal too, to spread a culture of excellence and a culture of success and try to build that in every interaction I have with kids and every interaction I have with our staff. That’s the place that we need to be. And that’s the place were where going to be if we continue and our staff has taken on the sense of pride in the work that they are doing and that they become the leaders in a lot of areas of educational best practices.
Jay: Right. So kind of contrasting the two like what would you say; what’s the difference in impact that you have in the classroom when you’re a teacher versus the level of impact that you have now as an administrator?
Jerry: You know that’s a great question; you know with my, as a teacher, you know I interacted with the students I had in class. You know for a year, you know 86 kids in a year about or 90 kids a year. And I feel I was able to impact them you know in I taught of Math and I tried to establish a good relationship and a positive class environment. And you know, but I have them for an hour a day, you know and I could see them in the hallways then interact with them for lunch but now as an administrator I feel like, the areas that are successful for, or the things that teachers and people working in schools do to make students successful is something that we focused on and we worked on and we discussed and I’m able to give feedback on them and I can spread those best practices and I see them happy in that classrooms every day. It’s a, we’ve been able to establish a culture were we continually trying to get better at our practices and it’s not like that any teacher is doing it wrong. It’s just that they are doing their best they can. But we can always look to improve on those practices and try to see how long can kids get more connected. You know I think a lot of times, you know I was the same other teachers, if somebody has feedback or something for me to work on I take that as, kind of took that as personal. That it’s kind of an attack on me, whereas if you really fostering and developing a culture where hey at every given point in somebody’s career you’re doing the best that you think you can do. You know that you know how to do. I have no doubt in my mind that 99% of people who get in this profession want to do their best, and they want their kids to learn. It’s just sometimes they might not know how to do the best practices or we all might not know how so we just continue learning and add tools to our tool chest and then bring them the classroom and ultimately the kids are the ones who benefit and you know if you keep track of the data and you monitor and you use that data to make decisions about what kind of programming kids get or what kind of interventions they get that they’re gonna grow and were gonna moving forward and get better prepared for life after school.
Jay: So really sounds like the biggest difference that you’ve noticed is the scope of the impact. Right, so instead of just a classroom where you mainly have a group of kids for maybe an hour a day or maybe an hour a week or who knows how much versus kind of an impact on a larger scale where you have a chance to actually make a difference in the entire school. Is that kind of what you’re saying?
Jerry: Yeah. Yeah and I think you know our school’s small and friendly, little. Let’s talk to and sit down with every one of our staff members for at least once every two weeks you know and we can have one on one conversations you know where we’re continually talking and challenging each other to you know to do better. But along with that, I also you know as the principal, I make it a point that I’m on the playground every morning before school you know, I get a chance to talk to every kid and get to know every 6th to 8th grader that we have. And I’m at every lunch duty opportunity for me to where most of the times where I can connect, I’m in the hall. I make it a point to be in the hallways because when I have to work with the students and maybe a behavior issue. Or they’re not complying or things like that you know, as a principal I have no chance of getting them to truly reflect on their own and what they’ve done or you know. I have no chance of really having a true reflection, or true learning experience if I don’t, if the student doesn’t like me, respect me, or you know or have a relationship with me. But once I have that, it’s kind of like you have been given the keys to a Cadillac.
Jerry: You can move on. You can have a conversation that makes an impact on their thinking. And you know, you might not sitting really well but the wheels are turning and actively listen where even as a young teacher I didn’t realize the impact of relationships and some kids I you know, tried to yell at you or you know or laugh at you and talk to and you know you can just tell that it’s again one you’re at the other.
Jerry: You know, so that’s kind of like the key to the whole thing in my opinion.
Jay: Yeah. Yeah, there’s a quote I’m sure you’ve heard it. That I’ve heard several times throughout my career people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. And I’m sure that that applies to I mean that applies to anything but especially I’m sure in teaching like once, once they feel or once a student feels as there were teacher in your case feels that actually you care about them as a person, I’m sure that that information or whatever it is your trying to share with them, they actually internalize that more than if they feel like you kind of lecturing them but you don’t have that relationship.
Jerry: Absolutely. And I think if your, you keep goals in mind of what, what we’re trying to accomplish and why we’re doing what we’re doing or why we’re working on this you know, let it a collective effort to move us forward you know.
Jerry: But that’s absolutely true, you got to be, you got to feel you care for, you know.
Jay: Yeah. That’s great. So I’m gonna go through some rapid fire questions real quick if you’re ready for those?
Jay: Alright, so what is the best leadership advice that you’ve ever received?
Jerry: Best leadership advice that I’ve ever received, I think; listen, listen and pay attention to every you know body language and everything that people say to you or that you hear within your staff, and if you feel things are need to be addressed then address them in the manner that you know, so there’s more specifically leadership advice. You know; if there’s an issue don’t send the mass email that’s directed at 5 of 30 people, you know, talk to those 5 people individually, if they need, they need be but do it in a manner that you know, is cordial but at the same time, you have to get your, you have to get your point across of what you know needs to be said if there’s something that needs to be said but don’t handle those things via email.
Jerry: And along, and along with that you know, never send an email that, it sure better be a conversation you know, if I get an email from a parent that has a question about something; I’m always calling him back. It’s just that, I think you know I’m not the best typer and sometimes I’m not, I don’t trust my proofreading skills and things can get so misinterpreted that I’m always more confident in how I can express what I’m trying to get out, get out through a phone conversation.
Jay. Yeah, yeah and sometimes they just email the you know, an email could just be taken in so many different ways and it’s hard to judge what tone and usually if an email can be, you know misinterpreted, it will be. I mean if there’s any room for misinterpretation whatsoever, people on the other end of it that are getting and are probably gonna assume the worst, you know.
Jerry: Absolutely, and it can can be used against you, you know, “You said this right here”, you know what I mean.
Jerry: To me, you know any kind of controversial or any question of anything you know, it’s a phone call. And it’s definitely well worth the time.
Jay: Yeah. That’s great. That’s great. So what is, what would you say is your biggest strength as a school administrator?
Jerry: My biggest strength you know that’s a good question, I think, I think I’m a pretty good communicator. I think I’m cognitive of all the different methods that my staff liked to be communicated with. I think every, all of them wanted to know you know, what’s going on and I, it’s really important to be transparent of all what’s where working on you know as far as curriculum wise what we’re working on as far as you know, behavior intervention and support systems in the building and if there’s a decision that impacts certain people to, they try to find time to connect with them and talk it through. So I think, being a communicator is probably one of my; the things that I do well and if I don’t you know, I’m really kind to settle that and I know the important of this.
Jay: So, what one or two books would you recommend to other school leaders?
Jerry: You know, the one that I remember even from when I was a teachers, it’s what you know it’s What Great Teachers Do Differently and What Great Principals Do Differently, you know they’re short books, they’re quick reads. And it really you know has an impact, it’s really simple and straight forward, you know. One book that we worked on and we hope in our district has been the centerpiece of our initiative efforts for the last 4 to 5 years is a How to Fix Broken Grades by Ken O’Connor. For us that’s kind of a you know it’s kind of been the centerpiece so that we can focus to all our efforts and student achievement and we don’t have to have discussions about, you know, things like extra credit and averaging and things like that. But in at the same time, one of them, I just read that the spring of last year which some of my teachers did a book called Data Driven and Instruction, I’m don’t have it in front of me right now but you know, really put kids at the heart of you know, how my students, their issues and struggle and you know it’s it there simplest terms. How are we gonna address those needs, you know whether, you know in next year instructions and this week’s lesson plans.
Jay: Right. Great, do you have a, an app or some kind of software tool or something you’d recommend to other school leaders?
Jerry: You know, we used, you know, we have Google for everything you know, for Google mail or Google drive or Google classroom, you know so, as far as what I used at school on a daily basis you know, it’s a free communication tool, you know the blog that Google has, I used that so that’s one of them I used. And twitter for connection with other principals and preference for development. A lot of times there were chats going on, in different times, in different topics so I used that but overall I think you know Google is overtaking our school and it’s really efficiently free communication purpose.
Jay: Ok. What is your favorite educational quote?
Jerry: Favorite educational quote, that’s a great question. I think the one that you said earlier, about you got to be able to touch, let see, you can…
Jay: That people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care, that one.
Jerry: Yeah. It’s one of my former coaches who I have a great respect for, he used to say that all the time that you can’t teach a kid unless you touch the heart or something along those lines. It really gets said that, you have to show the kid that you have to care about them before you can teach them anything.
Jay: It’s good. So what advice could you have for working with the student population that you serve as an administrator?
Jerry: My advice for an administrator will be to be visible and get to know the kids and you can’t see, you can’t get, show an interest to them all the time, when you have to discuss behavior, when you have to discuss an issue; you know I always talk about a couple of things prior to that you know, and get the kids relaxed and they used a little bit and have a conversation about you know the issue and then for the targeted solution. So I guess my biggest advice to be, be visible, be present and connect and ask kids questions, talk to them all the time, you know, they love it. And it’s a lot easier to work with them when you have that in place.
Jay: Yeah, kind of along these lines, what piece of advice could you have for working with the educators that you lead, like the other teachers?
Jerry: You know, it’s a, I think it’s the same thing I think, as a leader of teachers I think the teachers know, you know what your goals are. What you’re passionate about. Why we’re doing the things that we’re doing. Why you know, why we’re working at or spending staff meeting time discussing this topic or working on this and then you don’t waste your time. You know, time is so valuable, everybody’s been stuck in meetings that it kind of like watching the clock wondering why you’re there. You know, we don’t have meetings like that. Having meetings that are productive then everybody knows the agenda, everybody knows why and what the goals are and when we accomplish the goals, we’re done you know and just being real with people, understanding the challenges and telling them all the time that, “Hey teaching is one of the hardest jobs that there is”, to teach well is one of the hardest things that there is, one of the hardest jobs that there is and you know the work that they do on a daily basis needs to be commended and respected. So if you’re gonna take your time, you know, make it meaningful, work well and that they know why we’re doing what we’re doing and they see value in the efforts that we’re doing to improve on our practice.
Jay: Yeah, that’s great. So what’s the best way to connect with you? To people, they are listening and they want to connect after the show?
Jerry: You can email me; my email address is jeromepritzl(at)gmail.com, all small and no space. I’m on twitter, my handle is @jerrypritzl. So those are two pretty good ways to connect with me.
Jay: Ok. Awesome, what’s you final piece of advice for a school administrator or someone who wants to become a school administrator one day?
Jerry: You know, I would say, for a school administrator would be you know, connect with kids, get to know them and you know I think if you do that you know I really haven’t thought of coming to school as a job for one day in my career. It’s been a really rewarding experience. It’s been something that there’s no job like it, you know it’s really hard, it’s really challenging, it’s really time consuming but at the end of the day you know we had an impact on the lives of who’s gonna be our leaders in the future so as far as advice goes you know, when you’re looking for a school, you get into a school that has strong leadership where you can grow and ask questions and continue to build and never ever tell them that you know it all and be willing to you know, let them know that you know, I might be the know it all but I’ll find out what it is and I don’t know if anyone is gonna work harder than me.
Jay: You know it seems like a consistent theme and the people that I interviewed so far for this podcast is just that most innovative leaders, the ones that would probably be considered the best leaders or the ones who just continue to learn and they are constantly trying to become better at what they do. And part of what comes with that is being willing to admit that you don’t know everything, you know.
Jerry: Yeah, it’s impossible to know to not, to know everything you know, that we think about it and it’s impossible for everybody to expect that you know everything and if you pretend that you know something when you really don’t, you know your credibility takes a hit.
Jerry: And then, you know that has impacts on everything else that you say and do. Or you can respect somebody who’s said, “Hey, I’m not sure”, you know, so it’s an honesty thing as well.
Jay: Yeah, and I’m sure that transparency and that vulnerability by you being honest makes you kind of like what you are talking about earlier, makes you more approachable, more real to them. So…
Jerry: Yeah, I think so, I think that a big part of it.
Jay: That’s great. Well, Jerry thank you! 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 jerry into the search tool to find his show notes. Jerry, thank you for sharing your journey with us today! And that represents another episode of Educators Lead.
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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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