Justin shares a little about his background, founding and operating the online Principal Center, and how much he and his wife enjoy traveling and hiking (1:50)
What the Instructional Leadership Challenge is all about, and how it greatly improves the teacher evaluation process (4:45)
How to easily get rid of desk clutter (6:30)
Justin’s career path from being an economics major in college to where he is today (10:41)
When and why Justin decided to switch from teaching into administration (13:52)
Some of the challenges Justin faced during that transition and in the early years of admin (14:45)
How to distinguish between run of the mill griping and serious complaints that need to be addressed (22:00)
Some of the ways Justin grew as a person and as an educator after moving into admin (23:35)
A great way to use Evernote to become a better administrator (24:55)
Justin shares a few of the most meaningful stories from his career in education (25:51)
How your impact on a school will change when you move from teaching into administration (29:51)
The best leadership advice Justin has ever received (32:06)
The importance of habits for doing your best at work during difficult personal times (32:35)
Why you should always have a notebook and pen when you walk around your school (33:44)
Justin’s top book recommendation for education professionals (34:57)
Justin’s advice for school administrators on working with students (35:32)
His advice for school administrators on working with the teachers in your school (36:39)
The advice Justin would give his younger self if he could travel back in time to when he was just starting out in school administration (38:08)
Books mentioned in this episode
Connect with Justin Baeder
[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 45
Developing The Right Personal Habits Will Help You Consistently “Bring Your ‘A’ Game” As A Leader
Show notes: http://www.educatorslead.com/justinbaeder/
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: Justin Baeder spent the first 10 years of his career as a teacher and principal in the Seattle Public Schools, and in 2012 transitioned into a new role to become the director of the Principal Center where he now helps school leaders build capacity for instructional leadership and their organizations. His online program, The Instructional Leadership Challenge has helped more than 5,000 school leaders in 50 countries make a habit of getting into classrooms and providing evidence-rich feedback for professional learning. That’s just a brief introduction Justin but tell us a little bit more about yourself.
Justin Baeder: Well thanks Jay. My career path has been as you described from teacher to assistant principal to principal and now I get to work with people from around the world in supporting their capacity for instructional leadership. I think like a lot of people I kind of started my career as a teacher not really fully knowing what I was getting into but I was a science teaching major, went into that and taught middle school science for several years, and then I got on the administrator track and the rest is history.
Jay Willis: Yeah so what kind of hobbies keep you busy, in all that spare time you’ve got right? (Laughter)
Justin Baeder: Well I’ve always been kind of a web person. I’ve always done websites, and I had a blog network at one point, and did web hosting, and I had some previous podcasts. And that was always kind of on a hobby level, but when I became a consultant and started the principal center that experience actually translated very nicely into kind of the requirements of running an online business like the principal center so we do online courses and webinars and a lot of that depends on a good online presence. So that was a nice kind of unintentional preparation from a hobby.
Jay Willis: Yeah. So what would be something interesting about yourself that most people wouldn’t know?
Justin Baeder: Well my wife and I really enjoy traveling and hiking and one of the things that we get to do at this point in our careers is travel around the country. Whether it’s for her consulting or for my speaking we’re often on the road, and we take some pretty epic road trips and try to bring the kids whenever we can, and take little hikes and little museum visits. We really try to get outdoors whenever we can.
Jay Willis: Yeah so any mountains or just kind of trails that kind of thing?
Justin Baeder: I think our biggest ever was a kind of base trail around Mt Rainier so not the summit trail at Mt Rainier, but getting up there into the snow and camping for a couple days was the most we’ve ever done. But we’ve got kids under six now so we keep it pretty short but still try to get out there frequently.
Jay Willis: Yeah, I’m sure that was beautiful though.
Justin Baeder: It’s an incredible place. Living in the Pacific Northwest was definitely an adventure and I try to enjoy the mountains whenever out that way.
Jay Willis: Yeah I know what you mean I have a nine-year-old, a four-year-old, and a two-year-old. So I used to hike a lot and so I’d visit Phoenix and anywhere I went where I travelled I would try to find some trails to hike – no technical climbing but just kind of some nice hiking trails, to get some good exercise. But of course I completely relate once your kids are in the picture especially when they’re young you just don’t really do a whole lot of that at this point so.
Justin Baeder: Yeah I try to find hikes that I can carry my kids on if they’re if they’re going to be joining us.
Jay Willis: Right so no Everest tracks.
Justin Baeder: We’ll put that off for a few years.
Jay Willis: Right. So, of course I want to dig into I guess your career path and what brought you from college to where you’re at now but kind of before we dig into that, I’m interested in hearing more about this instructional leadership challenge.
Justin Baeder: Yeah so that started with a partnership between myself and Teach Boost which is a company out of New York City that developed a teacher evaluation platform. And I realized that one of the challenges with providing high quality teacher evaluations is getting in the classrooms in the first place. If principals are hardly ever in the room, if they come in once a year and write that up and then do an evaluation based on one observation, there’s going to be a limit on how good that observation can be, so we really wanted to challenge administrators to get in the classrooms really on a daily basis. At least get into a couple classrooms and practice providing higher quality feedback, practice doing more than just that final evaluation. But really talking with teachers and trying to understand what they’re accomplishing in the classroom and how that ties into your instructional framework. So we did a kind of a thirty-day challenge initially and kind of did that with some live webinars and ultimately converted that into a self-paced instructional leadership challenge that’s the current form and we’ve had over 5,000 people go through that over a period of twenty-one days just on their own schedule. We’ve got people in 50 countries who have gone through that and the feedback has just been great. People continue to refer their colleagues, and writeback and say it’s freed them up to get into classrooms and learn from their teachers. So it’s been very exciting to hear from people how that practice has been transformative for them.
Jay Willis: Yeah. When I was checking out your website before we jumped on this podcast and one thing that really spoke to me was the solutions to desk clutter. Actually watched a few those videos. So tell that for some listeners, just talk a little bit about that and maybe the impact that I guess kind of minimalizing and getting rid of some of that clutter like the benefit of that.
Justin Baeder: Yeah, absolutely, and those videos are I think the shortest videos I’ve ever made; I think they’re all about a minute long. And that really is the strategy behind it. I think any system that we put in place to keep ourselves up to date, to keep ourselves organized, has to be easy. The problem isn’t that none of us have big enough file cabinets – I have the huge file cabinet the lateral file four drawers, the if it fell over it would kill you kind of file cabinet in my office as a principal, but I realized that every time I was putting something in that file cabinet I was having to decide where does this go and where am I going to find it later if I needed? And I think well this is about teacher evaluations or no this is about assessments or no this is about our strategic plan…Just making those decisions was really slowing me down, so I thought I’ve got to come up with some ways to keep my desk clear, to keep myself focused on what matters right now that don’t take so much effort. It just has to be easier on the front end so one day, I just had this stack that said “to file.” You have a stack like that on your desk stuff, “the file”?
Jay Willis: Yeah.
Justin Baeder: and I said I want this out of my, out of my life. I know I might need to get some of this back later if I need to look for it. So I went and got a copy paper box and stuck it under my desk and said OK from now on anytime i need to file something I’m just going to throw it in this box and maybe I’ll file it this summer, maybe I won’t; maybe my secretary will look through it and file it, or maybe not. And it turned out that I never had to file it and I hardly ever had to look at it, and if I did need to find something I just went digging in that box and pulled it out, and there it was, because the newest stuff was always on the top and usually, after a few weeks you don’t need anything that’s gone into a box like that so that was the beginning of developing some of these really simple systems for just streamlining that flow of paper, and I was able to come up with similar systems for e-mail and things like that. But just having a very low overhead way to very quickly process things and move on to the next thing…I think as administrators we have so much coming at us that the volume of it is really a critical issue. I think we have more volume coming our way than just about any other profession, so I think we’ve got to have systems that are lean and simple enough that we can just turn the crank quickly and move from one thing to the next.
Jay Willis: Yeah. Well so I noticed on your site you mention a future file and a chronological file. So what’s the difference between those two?
Justin Baeder: Yes so the chronological file is – that’s actually kind of a joke name – the chronological file is just that cardboard box under my desk. So anything that I toss in there is filed in chronological order with the new stuff on the top; it’s really just a pile of paper and we may never need to dig into it. And if we do it’s pretty simple. The future file is also called the tickler file – if anyone is a fan of David Allen’s Getting Things Done you’ll see he talks quite a bit about the tickler file. My friend Dr Frank Buck who is an education consultant who helps school administrators get organized, he talks quite a bit about the tickler file in his book Get Organized. What it is, is just a system of 43 folders you got one for every day of the month so one through thirty-one and one for every month of the year January through December. And it’s a way of kind of mailing something to yourself in the future, so every day you just check the folder for that day. So if today is the fifteenth you check the fifteen folder, if today is April first you also check the April folder. And you keep them in order so that the current folders at the front. And any time you have something on your desk you think OK I’m not going to fill this form out today, but I need to fill it out before…I’ve got a form for a doctor’s appointment on my desk right now that I need to fill out, and I’m going to fill that out before that appointment. So I’m going to put it in the folder for a day or two before that appointment and until then it’s out of my way. So it’s kind of a snooze button for paper. And as a result, nothing gets buried under other stuff. Only what’s current for today can be on my desk for that day.
Jay Willis: Yeah I like that. So backing up a little bit tell us about your career path. I know you kind of briefly mentioned it, but at what point in time did you make the decision you wanted to go into education?
Justin Baeder: Yes I think I was probably a freshman in college and had checked out a few majors; I started as a business and economics major and took some classes and kind of enjoyed those. College is a new experience for everybody so you never know how to how to quite compare different options. But I took some classes in a lot of different things like some science classes and ultimately changed my major to get a chemistry teaching degree and decided really kind of jointly with the woman who had become my fiancé and wife that we were going to go into teaching together. She taught English and biology and I taught science with emphasis on chemistry, so we kind of decided that together, and applied for jobs in Seattle. And we went to school in Arkansas so those were phone interviews, and we made a few visits out to the west coast. But really got hired kind of remotely. And then moved out after college and spent ten years in Seattle.
Jay Willis: So what was your first role after college?
Justin Baeder: I was hired as a middle school science teacher teaching sixth and seventh grade which I was sure was about the same as teaching tenth grade chemistry when I started but it turned out, actually quite a bit different. So I had a pretty steep learning curve on the front end and really figured out what it meant to be a successful middle school teacher, how to work with different populations of students, and did that for about 4 years. And kind of started to get on the administrative path in my
fourth year and then made a move for my fifth year to be a head teacher at an elementary school which is kind of an assistant principal type position.
Jay Willis: And so from head teacher to… how long were you in that position?
Justin Baeder: Yes ,the head teacher position, which is kind of a teacher in special assignment serving as an administrator,I was in that role two years and that was during my admin cert program so I did that in fourth program for Educational Leadership at the University of Washington. And my first year, in that role, and then continued for a second year, continued to apply for principal jobs and then became an elementary principal after my second year.
Jay Willis: And then in 2012 – that’s when you made the transition to where you’re currently at?
Justin Baeder: Yeah I started doing webinars. After school evenings things just like that just on the iPad and other topics that I was interested in and that actually became kind of a sizable business that I realized was getting to where it couldn’t be a hobby anymore and we had our eyes on this house in the town where my wife grew up where we got married in Arkansas. So we bought that 130-year-old house and had big plans to fix it up and move back. We had one child at that point and a second on the way and we decided that it was just time to go home. We didn’t have any family in Seattle so those things aligned – we had the house, we had the family, we had the career opportunity, and made the move.
Jay Willis: Yeah. So in what point in that journey did you make the decision to move into school leadership?
Justin Baeder: I think it was as a result of taking on some additional responsibility as a teacher. It was never really explicitly a career path choice but I just kind of took on some responsibilities and a couple people told me, “Hey, you should really think about becoming a principal”, and I think it was just that encouragement and some experiences that I enjoyed – going to certain types of professional development and taking on certain responsibilities at the school level that got me out of my classroom a little bit, and seeing how I could make a difference at the school level and at the system level, all just kind of nudged me in that direction. So it was definitely not something I set out to do. I was not a teacher who said, “OK I want to teach for 3 years and then I’m going to be an administrator.” And I ended up teaching for 4 years before leaving the classroom but never really thought I would do that in advance.
Jay Willis: Yeah. So what were some of the biggest struggles that you encountered along the journey to becoming a school administrator?
Justin Baeder: Yes, I’d applied for the Danforth Program for Educational Leadership, which is probably the most competitive program in Washington state. It was a cohort based program, and I was very fortunate to get into that program. So I think the most difficult aspect of that was just the decision to make the leap because it was a one-year program. Most admin programs are two years because in Washington state you have to do a 1,000-hour internship and it’s extremely difficult to do that in your spare time so it really was a full time commitment and I learned kind of after being accepted that I did not even have the option to to continue in my classroom role. So I had to come up with another way to to get those internship hours in and continue to work so I actually made the decision to leave my classroom without a job to leap into and that was definitely the scariest part and probably something that I would not recommend. And a couple weeks later, just landed what I think was just the perfect job at John Hay Elementary, worked with the fabulous team there. My friend Dan Warren was the principal and a principal in Seattle just a terrific guy and was a great mentor. And really helped me along that path to become a principal.
Jay Willis: Yeah. Well so what were some of those biggest challenges that I mean between just I guess juggling the I’m sure time management was a challenge but , between the journey to school administration then also maybe your first year or two in that position, what were some of the biggest challenges you encountered?
Justin Baeder: I think in that in the role of head teacher, that was a position where I found that I was a very good fit and I think some of the biggest challenges that we face in the profession were not challenges that were really bearing upon that position. So I guess that’s a nice way of saying that it was a job that I found to be pretty easy to succeed in just because it was such a good fit and because it was such a high functioning school. I think some of the major learning challenges for me were, “How do I do a good job that I have while also gaining the experience I need for the job I’m moving toward?” Because no matter how much I wanted my internship in that job to count as my internship, no matter how much I wanted that to parallel the work I would do as a principal, the reality was that there are a lot of things that my principal was dealing with that I was not involved and wasn’t my role to play. And I think just figuring out how not to be a pest and not insert myself into situations where I didn’t need to be there…just figuring out how to gain that experience, because it is very different to actually be in that role versus being the intern of the person in that role.
Jay Willis: Yeah. Now when you moved into the lead teacher position it was at a different school than you’d previously been at.
Justin Baeder: I’d been teaching at a middle school and moved into an elementary school.
Jay Willis: Yeah because I know sometimes people that stay in the same school and even if you switch schools…it is a different role, right, so your mindset has to be a little bit different than it was before. Where maybe as a lead teacher, you’re not quite a peer and so was there any challenge at all adjusting to that new position?
Justin Baeder: I think it was easier because I moved to a new school and I definitely can see how it would have been much more difficult to stay in my current school, because when you stay in the school where you start your career, everybody else who’s been there longer than you kind of perpetually sees you as the new person. It’s kind of like how you always say your little brother is your little brother even when you’re both adults, so I think there can be some value in starting over somewhere else, and I certainly felt a huge bump in how people looked at me because I got that for a start versus if if I had stayed in the same school, where I was the rookie.
Jay Willis: So what were some of the biggest challenges you encountered in your first year or two in administration?
Justin Baeder: Well I think overall, one of the biggest challenges in that first year is just figuring out what needs to be done and what kind of the big opportunities problem, strengths and weaknesses are. The military does SWAT analysis. Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, and you never get a list nobody sends you an envelope with a list of exactly what you need to be worried about and what you need to be focused on. So I think there’s a certain amount of just kind of natural fear…is there something that’s going to come up that I don’t know about? Is this issue that I thought was under control, really not under control? And you really have to be vigilant and figure out what sources of information to really pay attention to.
So I think one of the the biggest ongoing issues that I will say presented the most challenges is just figuring out how do I get everybody rowing in the same direction. How do we deal with staff conflict, how do we figure out what people are saying that is just a little bit of grumbling and nothing to worry about versus something that we really need to act on? And I think one of the best features of the school where I was principal is that people were willing to exercise leadership on things that they thought were priorities, rather than complain and say, “Hey, I don’t like this! You should fix it.” It was a shared responsibility and I really got to see some terrific teacher leadership take on areas of positive behaviour, interventions, and supports, and just see some tremendous things happen for our students because teachers realized, “Hey, this is what I’m seeing with my students in my classroom, and what I’m seeing with other students in the hallway – let’s do something.” And we really were able to bring in some terrific resources…went to some conferences and hired a new staff member with a particular vision, because people were sharing that information and not just kind of grumbling to themselves or complaining about their neighbours, but really talking openly with me and saying, “Hey, here’s what I’m seeing. I think we really need to do a PBS thing to support our students.” And to really get consistent as a staff and really respond before there was a serious problem because they were exercising leadership.
Jay Willis: What would you say…like what’s the litmus test for you to determine the difference between somebody or a statement that someone’s making that’s just griping and they’re just being grouchy and maybe it’s not something you should look into versus something that maybe you should take action on?
Justin Baeder: Well I think it depends on the nature of the problem and how well the person understands it because I think there’s a legitimate value to griping; it’s just not very helpful. If you’re responsible for solving the problem, you really have to dig in a lot more. And I think just that analysis of the problem – where is this coming from, what are the root causes of this type of behavior or this level of student achievement that we’re seeing? And what are other schools doing, to respond to similar circumstances, maybe similar student needs, that we’re not doing, that’s working for them? So like I said we took about six or eight people to a P.B.S. conference (positive behavior interventions and supports) and from that point on it was really a no brainer. We said, “Yes, this is exactly the set of issues that we’re dealing with – what they’re talking about at this conference is exactly what we need.” And we hired a new staff member with that vision in mind and it was a huge success and really put in some great supports for our students who maybe were kind of on the edges in terms of both behavior and academics.
Jay Willis: Yeah. So comparing your first year as an administrator to the last year that you’re an administrator…what are some ways that you feel that you grew through that time?
Justin Baeder: Well I think a lot of it comes down to judgment. Just knowing what to listen, to what to pay attention to, which alarms to pay attention to and which to kind of ignore, It’s like being in an airplane where there are always lights flashing and sounds going off – it’s never quiet, there’s never just an all systems clear, nothing going on kind of status in the principal’s office. So I think just an awareness of what types of things come up and how to respond to them was my biggest growth. And I can’t pin down a specific manifestation of that, but I think it just comes down to experience. And I don’t know that I had a breakthrough but I think it’s something that we all kind of make continuous progress through. But also one thing that really helps me reflect is looking at those times when I did make a mistake or when I did wait too long to respond to one of those alarms and say, “OK, well this was a time when I heard it from two people in the same day and that’s a good sign that there’s really something to take a look at here.”
Jay Willis: So now did you regularly carve out time to have that kind of reflection did it happen kind of in real time whenever an event occurred?
Justin Baeder: I tell you what I did was anytime someone would come and talk to me I would fire up Evernote. And I would actually have a note for every day just called a daily log or daily notes and then I’d put the date, and every time someone would come and talk to me I’d take notes in that note and often after they left or after I went back to the office or whatever I was doing, I would do some writing about that and say what as a leader what do I need to be thinking about how do I need to respond to this. And sometimes that response is a task, sometimes I need to make a phone call. Sometimes that response is bumping that issue up in the priority queue. Sometimes we have to think about things before they really show up as a mandate because we’re the one who’s making it a mandate, we’re the one who’s putting it on the agenda. So I think that private reflection and writing and really just monitoring what are the issues that are starting to bubble up and do we need to do some more investigation? I think that was probably the most helpful practice that I had.
Jay Willis: Yeah. So you are see I mean you obviously you’ve been in education for a while and I’m sure that you have some great stories to share of just the impact that you had a chance to be a part of and witness. But what’s been one of your most meaningful stories that you’d be willing to share as a school administrator?
Justin Baeder: Well I think I’d have to turn my mind back to a particular family that we had that had a total of I think 3 kids go through our elementary school. I was there for the bulk of the time that they were there and they were a family that just went through a lot of hard times with parental substance abuse and kind of dad carrying a lot of the weight for the family and mom being in and out of the picture. And just a terrific family, terrific kids. Just so loving and so eager to learn and to be there but really just needing a lot of support. And I think one of the funniest memories that I have of being a principal was seeing how the school could come together to help the family. And seeing how that partnership unfolded between us to support kids through everything, for whatever they needed, and sometimes that took a lot of patience on all fronts. I mean we had some situations where the school had loaned the kids the instruments so they could be in the music program. Normally kids have to provide their own instruments. We’d go to get the instruments back at the end of the year and they’d be in the pawn shop and we’d have a conversation about it and we’d ultimately get the instruments back, but just kind of going on the journey that that family went through and trying to keep their family together and stay housed and work through various situations that they were in, it taught me a lot.
And it taught me that we are in a partnership even if we’re not always able to do all we would like, knowing that the parents are there to do all they can and to really watch out for their kid’s even if the best they can do is at that moment pawn an instrument and then try to find a way to get it back after the rent is paid. That taught me that there’s a whole world out there of challenges that people face that as a middle class person, as a person who’s always been fortunate to have the the bills paid in the lights on, I really had to learn how to to develop that empathy and to work with families who really did have the best interests of their kids at heart.
Jay Willis: Yeah. So what about your current role? What would you say is one of the biggest stories that you would have to share about the impact you’ve had a chance to make?
Justin Baeder: Sometimes I find out long after the fact that something I said in a webinar or something that I put into one of our courses made a difference for people. Oone thing I’ve been talking about a lot recently is the job search process and I know you have a lot on your Facebook page about looking for that next position in your career. And just kind of helping people talk through some of the situations they’re in for interviews, for moving on to that next level, that’s been a very rewarding thing because there’s an immediate result and people can say, “Wow, before I was the principal and now I’m the superintendent” or, “Before I was a classroom teacher and now I’m the principal.” Seeing those transformations as people’s careers progress is very exciting. But also I think some of the most meaningful to me are when people write to me and say, “Hey, I was on the verge of burnout or I was not feeling like I was making the impact that I wanted to, I was stressed, and I did this one thing that you said and got that area of my work under control and it made a huge difference.” And what’s funny about that is often when people come back to us and say that we don’t even realize that we said that. I don’t have a bumper sticker that says that – it was just an offhand remark that I thought would be helpful at the time and it turned out to be. So that I think is the most rewarding aspect of what I do now is just hearing back from people where they had a change of course that made all the difference for them.
Jay Willis: Back to the administration role…I know that that some of our listeners might be considering making the transition into school leadership. But I know that a lot of teachers affectionately refer to it as the dark side. (Laughter) The school administration is kind of the place where teachers shouldn’t go . And they’re kind of worried about losing that connection that they feel with the classroom students and I’m sure some of that happens but speaking to that concern, how would you say your impact is different as a school administrator than it was as a classroom teacher, and then why is it worth it?
Justin Baeder: I think the impact is definitely one of just a different set of influence pathways. When you’re working directly with students you have that relationship, you have that care that you provide for students, and you have the direct influence on what they learn and how they learn. And certainly when you move into the principal’s office you are dealing more at the policy level, you’re dealing more at the systems level, and I think you have to kind of enjoy fixing systems, you have to kind of enjoy making things happen that you might not get to see the smiles on the kids’ faces when those things happen. So I think you have to kind of be satisfied with knowing your impact in different ways and feeling it in different ways. If you’re making a change – one change we made was to implement recess before lunch. So that kids would get some exercise and actually be hungry enough to eat lunch when they got to the cafeteria. And that was never something that kids came up to me and said, “Oh, Mr. Baeder, thank you so much for implementing recess before lunch!” But teachers would come and say, “Hey, kids are a lot better at this now. They’re eating their lunch, we’re not throwing away their food, they’re coming back to the classroom ready to learn.” So I just think understanding that it is something that might show up more in numbers, might show up more in second hand reports. And I think a lot of what fuels us as educators is our feedback, the feedback that we get from the people that we work with directly. So when your primary group of people that you work with directly changes, you just have to understand that the feedback is going to change with it.
Jay Willis: So I’m going to roll through some rapid fire questions if you’re ready for those?
Justin Baeder: All right let’s do it.
Jay Willis: What’s the best leadership advice you’ve ever received?
Justin Baeder: I think it’s the idea that we have 2 ears and one mouth. And they should be used kind of in that order and that proportion. So just hearing people out first and listening and not…you often get this as relationship advice, when you’re listening you’re not just there to solve the problem you’re there to listen first, full stop, and then decide where to go.
Jay Willis: So kind of along those lines, as an administrator you’re kind of in this prominent position and then of course with what you do now you’re in a prominent position where you kind of need to be “up”. Because you are the leader you’re kind of the captain of the ship so to speak in some regards. So what kind of practical advice would you have for just a school administrator or leader in any position really to be able to effectively bring it, to really bring their A game each day, even when there’s crazy stuff going on with your personal life?
Justin Baeder: I think habits are a big part of it and I saw the other day someone referred to exercise as kind of a keystone habit. Charles Duhigg has a great book called The Power of Habit where he talks about the habit loop and developing keystone habits that can really set you on a good path. So I think having a good routine for sleep and for exercise and just physically taking care of yourself I think is huge because we get tired very easily. If we’re not doing that it’s a very demanding job. So I think the more we can bring our A game at the habit level the more will be in a position to bring our A game as leaders.
Jay Willis: So what would you say is your biggest strength as a school administrator?
Justin Baeder: I would say the feedback that I got was that it was around following through and one of the things that I started doing when I became a head teacher was I would just carry around a little Moleskin flip notebook with me. And if someone asked me to do something and usually I was doing fairly supportive kind of low level things there, they weren’t, I mean I wasn’t adopting a new curriculum or anything like that. If people asked me to do something, make a phone call, or look into some supplies, or whatever they needed, I would write it down. And I would do it and I would get back to them and when people actually saw me writing things down, several people said, “Hey, I’m kind of surprised that you’re actually writing that down. Why did you do that?” And I said, “Well, because I want to actually make sure that I do it.” So following through I would say is something that I place a lot of value on.
Jay Willis: Yeah that’s probably surprises people early on, right?
Justin Baeder: It did.
Jay Willis: Yeah I mean just that you actually did it. Not just that you wrote it down but you actually did it.
Justin Baeder: Yeah and that’s…sometimes we deal with things that take place over a very long period of time so that circling back and checking back to actually do what I said I was going to do…I think that’s very important for actually getting things done but also very important for your reputation as a leader.
Jay Willis: Yeah. Yeah and gaining their respect on your team I’m sure. So do you have a book or two that you would recommend for other school leaders that have made a big impact on you?
Justin Baeder: One that I read a long time ago as part of the fourth program my principal sort program was The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge. And that introduced to me the concept of systems thinking which I think is a really critical concept for anyone moving up to the administrative level where you’re not just dealing with people and relationships you’re also dealing with systems that are bigger than any one or two people. So that’s a great book to learn about systems thinking the Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge.
Jay Willis: So what advice would you have for a school administrator as far as working with the students that they serve?
Justin Baeder: I think as a lot of middle school teachers will tell you, you have to appreciate the students for who they are, the students that you actually serve. And I think we probably all have some frustrations with our particular student population, but I think we’ve really just got to commit to appreciating our students for who they are, for what’s unique about them and when we’re hiring for new middle school teachers we said as a committee one of the things we said that we’re looking for was you really have to love middle school students. If you’re going to be a good middle school teacher you can’t just tolerate them and wish you were actually teaching tenth graders. You have to actually love them for who they are accept them for who they are and meet their needs, where they are.
Jay Willis: Yeah and that takes a certain kind of person to love that age group right?
Justin Baeder: I think so and I think it takes a commitment to…just a decision that you have to make in your own mind that this is the world as it is, these are my students as they are. And I’m going to do my job to help them where they are.
Jay Willis: Yeah. So kind of along those lines what one piece of advice would you have for a school administrator for is working with the teachers?
Justin Baeder: One thing we’ve got to do a better job of as a profession is really appreciating the realities of the teachers that we work with and sometimes administrators deal with a lot of complaints and a lot of grumbling about just anything that has to be done that infringes in any way on teachers’ autonomy. Any requirement, any paperwork, and anything we all commit to doing together seems like it’s a big imposition. And there’s going to be a certain amount of that and we do have to ignore a certain amount of it as administrators just because there are and there will be grumbling. But I think when teachers are telling us what their job actually entails, what the reality is, I have to solve this problem while simultaneously solving this almost opposite problem…you’re asking me to do two things that are taking me in very different directions. I think we’ve got to listen then and we’ve got to help people decide OK what’s going to be the priority, or if people are actually given conflicting goals and aims, how do we resolve that, how do we make sure that we’re not telling people things that are impossible to do together? And really I think the buck does stop with school administrators when we’ve got all different departments, different mandates, different government agencies telling us all the different things that we have to do. We’ve got to help filter that for our staff and keep those expectations from pulling us apart from pulling us into many different directions.
Jay Willis: So last question, if you had a time machine and you could 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 that younger version of yourself?
Justin Baeder: I think I would read up quite a bit more on working with people, on management styles, on learning how to listen and just how to be more proactive on those issues that maybe are below the surface. So I think that is definitely the biggest leadership transition that we make; that job transition is learning how to work with adults because as teachers often we collaborate with our colleagues but we don’t have to manage the difficult aspects so much. We can we can kind of leave other people alone if they’re being difficult when we’re teachers. But if you’re the boss you’ve got to deal with everybody in the school, even people who might be giving you a hard time or might not be telling you the whole story. So I would definitely work on my repertoire of skills in that area as well.
Jay Willis: So did you discover any great resources for that along your own personal journey?
Justin Baeder: One book that I remember reading, I was in Hawaii when I read it which is probably why it stuck with me, it was a great trip. But Robert Evans has a book called The Human Side of School Change which is probably more than 10 years old now. But it’s a great book that really just helped me understand different generational issue when I was going into administration in my mid-20’s. I was probably the youngest principal hired in Seattle Public Schools in a very long time. And just understanding that some of what you’re seeing as a young person becoming an administrator and working with teachers who might be in middle age or might be or approaching retirement is not crankiness or resistance. It’s a natural, just kind of a way of looking at the world based on where you are in your career. So Robert Evans lays out a really hopeful framework for understanding how change looks to people at different stages in their career. And that was extremely helpful to me in figuring out how to lead change as a young principal.
Jay Willis: Yeah. To check out that book, what was the title again?
Justin Baeder: Robert Evans, The Human Side of School Change.
Jay Willis: So finally what if one of our listeners wants to reach out to you after the show, what’s the best way to connect with you?
Justin Baeder: The best way to find me on line is at principalcenter.com. And you can also find me on Twitter @Eduleadership. And my Facebook page is Edu Leadership as well. So any of those will work.
Jay Willis: Awesome. 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 Justin into the search tool to find his show notes. Justin thank you for sharing your journey with us today.
Justin Baeder: Jay thanks so much for the invitation.
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.