Lori talks about her career path 1:35
Her journey from teacher to administrator 6:35
One of Lori’s toughest teaching years 7:40
Landing her first assistant principal job on her very first interview 9:00
How a woman named Becky inspired Lori to keep going in the early days 10:40
Lori’s worst moment as an educator and how she overcame it 13:34
Some lessons Lori has learned from those difficult days 18:25
Her best moments as an educator involve inspiring students to excel 20:20
Lori talks about her biggest strength and her biggest weakness as an educator 23:08
Lori’s book recommendations for school leaders 23:44
Lori’s favorite quote 25:24
Lori’s most important advice for administrators when it comes to working with teachers 26:30
Lori’s most important advice for administrators when it comes to working with students 27:48
Lori’s advice for aspiring school administrators 31:35
Books mentioned in this episode
Connect with Lori Heisler
[ultimate_modal modal_title=”SEE 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=””]Podcast Session #3
Title: Teach, Model, and Expect the Behaviors You Want to See in Your Students
Show notes: educatorslead.com/loriheisler
This is the Educators Lead podcast with Jay Willis, Session #3. Let’s go!
Intro: Lori has dedicated her life to developing the potential of others so that they can make a positive and lasting impact on the world. Prior to starting her company, The Leadership Influence, Lori served 14 years in public education. She served as an elementary classroom teacher, behavior coach, and school administrator. And today she helps socially conscious leaders and professionals build their leadership capacity so they can maximize their potential, performance and impact. So that’s just a brief introduction Lori, but tell us a little bit about yourself, and your career path.
Lori: Sure Jay, so, first of all, thank you for having me here. I’m honored to be a guest on your podcast. I really appreciate it. I grew up in Pennsylvania and earned my bachelor’s degree from Millersville University which originally was a teaching college. I actually, it might be important for you to know that I was the first of my family to graduate high school and earn a college degree. So that was pretty special.
Jay: Oh wow. That’s awesome.
Lori: Yeah. When I went to college, I didn’t actually know I wanted to be a teacher. I went for psychology to start.
Jay: Ah. Me, too.
Lori: You did?
Jay: Yeah. That was my undergrad.
Lori: Ah. See, great minds think alike.
Jay: That’s right.
Lori: Yeah. So I was sitting there while I enjoyed my classes. I’d realized that in order to really do anything with that degree, I was going to have to pretty much continue my education right away. Or at least, that’s what I thought. And since I had sort of been working at a pre-school while I was in college and realized how much I absolutely just love going to work every day, I changed my major to education and earned my bachelor’s in elementary education. And from there, I, oh this is a fun story. So I did my student teaching in Australia. And while I was there, I knew that I wanted to teach in charter school. I realized I was in love with the curriculum called Core Knowledge. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with Core Knowledge. It’s a curriculum by E.D. Hirsch.
Lori: You may have seen the books, What Your Kindergartner Needs to Know, and What Your First Grader Needs to Know, etc.
Jay: Yes. Yes.
Lori: So I was really excited about just how engaging the content was. And I knew that Colorado had a lot of charter schools. And I had the opportunity to move to Colorado out of college. So, while I was in Australia, believe it or not, I got a phone call to fly to Colorado to interview. So, I interviewed. And that’s how I ended up right where I am now in Denver. And so I taught in a charter school for one year. I was very surprised and overwhelmed at I think just how political it was. I wasn’t prepared for that. I’m sure a lot of teachers can relate to that experience. And so, I took a step back and I then substituted in a few public schools the following year until I landed a job teaching 2nd grade. At Adam’s 12 schools here in Colorado, taught there for two years, then ended up moving back to Pennsylvania. So I had a roundabout journey; I’ve been back and forth between Colorado and Pennsylvania a few times. And then the call into leadership was just a few years ago when I returned to Colorado. I knew that I needed to further my education and you know, complete and continue to advance my career. But I had not even taken a college course since college so I had three areas of interest: technology, leadership or special education. And I had started to look at leadership programs out here in Colorado. But at the time I was looking all of the program deadlines had already passed for applying. So, and I like this story too because I will never forget really what happened when I made the decision to go into leadership, I took up snowboarding while I was here at the age of 35.
Jay: Wow. How fun.
Lori: And in the nine years at that time that I had been teaching, I think I had taken a total of three days off work.
Lori: And then I learned how to snowboard. And I took a few days off work. I had actually just come down from the mountain. We were sitting at a restaurant eating dinner. And I got a phone call from the University of Denver telling me that I had been recommended for their Richie principal program which was very surprising to me because that program was very prestigious. And I had never applied. I didn’t know anyone at the University of Denver. I did not know who recommended me. And they invited me in for an interview. And I remember I turned to my friend Brian and I looked at him and said “Well, I guess this is the path I’m taking.” Because I think someone made up my mind for me. But it was a natural direction to go and so I went in. I applied. I later found out that it was a good friend of mine who had gone through their program who was already a principal who had submitted my name and that’s how it happened.
Jay: Wow. So tell us about the journey from that point. Did you end up needing to take more classes? Or what was involved with that particular program?
Lori: Oh goodness. So, yeah, what was interesting and great was the year that I started the program. That was a two year program. And well actually, it was a one year program but then if you did not have your masters yet then you could continue on. So it was a certification program for your Type D principal license. And then after you finish your certification you could continue on through the program and get your masters, which is what I did.
Lori: And what was great was the university actually came to our school district, to our admin building every Wednesday. And in Colorado they have something called early release days. So the schools can let out early. And while teachers and staff do professional development, the kids go home. And so that was when my classes were held. Well, that also proved to be one of the more difficult years of my teaching career because I had a very tough set of parents and a principal who was not so supportive. So, it took a lot to get through that program. But, I did it.
Lori: I got through the program and then from there, I left the position that I was teaching 3rd grade at that time. I left that position mainly because I wanted to transition into leadership. But also, because I no longer desired to be at the school that I was at.
Lori: And so from there, I became a behavior coach. And I would say, one of my biggest strong suits as a teacher was relationships with kids. And just you know, being able to serve special needs and behavior management. That was like my babies so being a behavior coach was actually and probably my favorite job in teaching. It was so much fun. And then from there I had a really great leader and principal and mentor who suggested that if I can get an assistant principal job, to take that assistant principal job. He did not have it in his budget to hire an assistant principal or, he said, he would have created that opportunity for me. So, I did. After a half a year as a behavior coach. I interviewed and the very first assistant principal interview that I had, I remember looking in the mirror on that day before I left my house saying, “Ok this is gonna be a good practice Lori.” And I ended up having a job on the spot. So, it was shocking.
Jay: Great practice, then. That’s great.
Lori: Yeah. And what was interesting about that, too, was that I was hired at a bilingual school. And I do not speak Spanish. And it was, it actually was considered a high needs school and a hard to serve schools. So, the population was 98% free or reduced lunch. 68% identified English as a Second Language learners. And the schools in that area of Denver, it was just hard to fill, but I am happy to say that experience taught me a lot because we went from a school that was yellow on the, you know, on the school report card. It had been yellow for really long time. And my leader, I would definitely credit her because she was there for eight years. Finally we took it from yellow to green. So, we were all very proud of that.
Jay: Yeah. So, you ended up as assistant principal.
Jay: So, tell me. Let me backtrack just a little bit for our listeners here about the path to assistant principal. To the times when you know, you were taking classes. And it was a particularly difficult year as a teacher, semester as a teacher. What was it that kept you going during those times?
Lori: Honestly it was, there’s one person that kept me going. There was a woman named Becky and… I’ll back up, too. Thanks for asking that. That’s a great question. So, I know I shared with you that I was the first person in my family to graduated high school. Well, when I first sat down to class with the Richie participants, I will never forget the first day because I really questioned what I was doing in there. I didn’t think, I didn’t feel like I belonged. Everyone around the tables seemed very prestigious and elite. And that’s when I realized the opportunity that I had. I did not know they actually nicknamed the University of Denver, the Harvard of the West. But being from Colorado, I didn’t have that history. And so not only was I having a difficult year in the classroom with my principal, but I also really struggled. Just, I guess having the confidence and knowing that I belong at the table and what got me through was a woman named Becky in my program and another I guess I’d say another one named Priscilla. And Becky said to me “Lori, you’ve come this far”. Because at this point I’d already completed the program. I definitely am a person who when I set my mind to do something I go all out. But I really wanted to take a break before moving on and finishing my master’s. And Becky had just suggested “Look, I know you had a tough year, And, I know you don’t really know where you’re going and what you’re doing next year but take it from me. The best thing you can do is finish your master’s. You never know when or what’s going to happen. And you’ve worked so hard.” And she was right so, yeah, I got through it. With support of friends and just I guess the ambition, just the ambition really.
Jay: Yeah. That’s great. I can look back at my own life as I’m sure probably most of us can and it seems like in so many of those times when things are the most difficult and seem the most hopeless. It’s really just that one person that reaches into our lives you know, who really can see us not just for who we are but for who we can be. And who just speaks to us and says, “You can do this!”
Lori: Yeah. And you know it’s funny because when I think about it, that’s actually the kind of leader that I aspired to be. Right, I always want to be the person supporting and encouraging and motivating and helping someone even when they’re down on themselves.
Jay: Right. Right. That’s great. So real quick, what would you say was your worst moment as an educator? Or, like if you could go back to that point in time that you would say was probably your worst moment whether as a teacher or as a school administrator? And tell us that story. Take us to that point in time.
Lori: Goodness. There are few that come to my mind, actually, I’m sorry to say. I would have to say one of the things that, one of the kind of themes that runs throughout my career was supporting special needs students and the politics behind that. And how the system or systems are not set up in a way, in my opinion, to really support the needs of all of our children, and there had been a few times in advocating for special needs students that I have been shut down. And one time particularly was when I was up for a contract in Pennsylvania and I actually had the head of special ed come to my classroom and tell me that there were parents who were suing the district based on a letter that I wrote to their pediatrician. Two years prior, I’d had their children as students two years before this moment happened and I wrote a letter just indicating some things that I had seen in the classroom. And it’s what I was taught to do in Colorado. We did it all the time for special needs students and families. And those parents two years later came back to the district and said “You knew our child needed servicing, we even had a teacher who wrote our child’s doctor psychologist and you didn’t do anything about it.” So they, just to make a long story short, the district asked me to make sure if I had any files in school about that child to take them home. And in the end I did not get a contract. And so, that was, that was devastating to me. Because I knew I didn’t do anything wrong. I knew that if I had to look in the mirror and write that letter again, it was the right thing to do. I also knew that the district knew about the letter because the parents had actually written an email at the end of that year thanking me, and they directed it to our superintendent and our principal. Thanking me for being so supportive of their child. So, yeah that was definitely a devastating moment for me because just a few months earlier, the superintendent, actually at this point it was a new superintendent was in my classroom observing me because my principal really felt that I was the next person who deserved the contract so I was expecting to get a contract only to find out that I wasn’t getting the contract. So yeah, that was hard.
Jay: Yeah. So what did you do to overcome that, as difficult as that was?
Lori: I went on to become a principal; honestly it’s really, it’s really almost true to point because I had a really great mentor here in Colorado. When I first started teaching, who was a mentor of mine for a long time. And when I moved back to Colorado, I continued to teach for her. And she actually inspired me to come back to Colorado and to get my principal license. I remember, we had a school concert that was back in Pennsylvania at the same time I was going thru all of this mess and I had interviewed in Colorado. I had interviewed for a job to come back to Colorado because I just, there were some other things going on with me personally and I wasn’t sure if Pennsylvania was the right place for me. So I was weighing my options. Believing I was up for a contract in Pennsylvania and knowing that I’d make good money there. And I’d have my education paid for, for the most part. Or I could move back to Colorado where I was offered a job to come back teaching for the person who I really enjoyed teaching with and she said to me on the phone while I was at the school concert, “Lori, come to Colorado. We are going to get you into a principal program”. And I remember it made me very teary eyed because I was going through so much at the time but to have that person, like we talked about before, on the other end, who believed in you no matter what, yeah it really inspired me. So, two years later that’s what I did.
Jay: So, what are some valuable lessons or a valuable lesson that came out of that entire experience would you say?
Lori: Yeah. So, I’m not gonna lie. It was a tough lesson and there have been a few of them that have been a little similar and really my biggest takeaway and I said it earlier was that, I always need to know, and I would encourage every teacher and every educator who is forced to make decisions (and sometimes uncomfortable decisions), just to know that at the end of the day no matter who’s telling you to do what, you need to look yourself in the mirror and know that you acted with integrity. That you acted within your values and that you caused no harm, that your intention was only ever to help a child and to further a child or family. And if you know that you lived within that integrity and you’ve acted with integrity, then no can ever take that away from you.
Jay: Yeah. So, do what you know is right. And you’ll be able to sleep well at night.
Lori: And there will be times where you might be asked to do things that aren’t right. In any position, right, not just education, so yeah, and I know as teachers we are perfectionists. We want to be liked. We like job security. And we love what we do for the most part. So, to have that threat can be quite scary but at the end of the day I don’t want to say it’s only a job but it is. Right, I mean you can serve. You can always serve children and always advocate for children in many, many ways. But know that you are the right person for the job. And just stick to who you are and what you value.
Jay: That’s great. So what would you say has been your best moment if you could just choose one? I’m sure there have been several of those as well. But if you could just kind of take, if you could just take us to one moment in time that you consider just one of your absolute best moments as an educator. Take us to that story.
Lori: Oh goodness. Oh I have two, I have two. Ok. I’ll share one really quick.
Jay: We have a time for two, so go ahead.
Lori: OK, great. So one was; it has to do with a special needs student. So, in my second year of teaching, I had a little boy. I’m going to call him Billy even though that’s not his real name. Just in case he listens to this.
Jay: I understand.
Lori: And he was, he had some severe behavior issues. And I ended up actually having him for two years because I had him in 2nd and then I looped with him to 3rd. And I remember our district behavior person coming in and she looked at me and she, (I was doing all this work you know I had this behavior management system in place trying to help him) and she said to me “Lori, Billy will be lucky if he gets through the 7th grade.” I was so mad. I was so mad that she said that to me. Well, my proudest moment was just a few years ago. I actually watched him graduate.
Jay: That’s great.
Lori: And a few other people from his class. So that was definitely probably my favorite moment, watching him graduate. Yeah. But then there was one other moment that I’d love to share if you’ll indulge.
Jay: Go ahead. Go ahead.
Lori: One of my favorite things about teaching is the opportunity to be creative and really engage students and have them see that they can do things they did not think they were capable of, so one of the events that I would usually put on in my classroom was something called the Poetry Café where we would transform a space into what looked like a café. We had a host and a hostess dressed up to a T in a tuxedo and a beautiful dress and they were the emcees for the show. And then we had students performing their poems through drama and play. And the one year we actually had sixty family members join us. Every child had a parent representative and we even had parents or grandparents who came up from Arizona.
Lori: And just watching kids perform and take ownership of their learning, was the best. It’s just some of my favorite moments.
Jay: Yeah. That’s great.
Lori: I missed that.
Jay: Yeah. Yeah. So we’re gonna transition now into some rapid fire questions, if you are ready for those?
Lori: Ok. I’m ready.
Jay: I’m just gonna run through several.
Lori: Go easy on me.
Jay: Yeah. So, our first question is; what was your biggest strength as a school leader?
Lori: Oh, for sure. Relationships and rapport with people.
Lori: With staff and students and families.
Jay: Ok. What would you say was your biggest weakness?
Lori: Oh, the small details. I am not a spreadsheet person. I’m a big picture kind of person. And so, small details, in making sure that all my I’s were dotted and T’s were crossed.
Jay: Right. The minutia.
Lori: The minutia. Yes.
Jay: Yeah. So what one or two books would you most recommend to other school leaders?
Lori: I would recommend Courageous Conversations. I cannot remember who the author is. And the Leadership Challenge. Those are two books that I would recommend.
Jay: Ok. Why would you recommend those two?
Lori: The Leadership Challenge is great for leaders. It allows you to be very reflective. It’s part of the “Leadership Challenge” kind of programming that they do where they have you get feedback from staff members and stakeholders so that you can reflect on your own leadership. And it also is very values based so I appreciate that. And then Courageous Conversations because everyone needs to know how to be able to sit down at the table and have a difficult conversation because it’s going to happen no matter what path you take. It’s going to happen.
Lori: And it empowers you to know how to do that. It empowers you. It prepares you so you can advocate for yourself and others.
Jay: Yeah. I think with students, teachers, other school leaders and all those scenarios that there’d probably be opportunity for some awkward difficult conversations at times.
Lori: Absolutely. And the more you, I mean, the more you practice it the better and easier it gets and there are some conversations that will never be easy, but if you can acquire those skills to be a good conversationalist, to be a great listener. To kind of know what your goals are for the conversation and how to adapt your style then the best you can do is prepare.
Jay: Yeah. What is your favorite quote, if you’re to choose one?
Lori: My favorite quote. I think it’s, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I really believe that every person is a leader through the way they live their life and I like to live my life knowing that I can be a role model to others so if there’s a change I want to see then it’s up to me to do something about it. And then hopefully, if I’ll be living my life that way then other people who I inspire and who believe in me are encouraged to do the same.
Jay: Right. It kind of reminds me that more is caught than taught. You know that quote. It’s just people are watching what you do more than what you say. Yeah.
Lori: Right. Yeah because we definitely learn without knowing it sometimes.
Jay: Right. Right.
Lori: Especially our children.
Jay: Yeah. So what one piece of advice do you have for other edu-leaders out there working for working with the educators that they lead like the other teachers?
Lori: Yeah. So, I would I’m terrible at giving credit to the people who I quote so forgive me. But somewhere along the line I picked up this lesson and it was “for every behavior that you do not see, that you want to see, it’s either because you haven’t taught it, you haven’t modeled it, or you haven’t expected it.” And so I think a lot of times that as leaders, you know, we forget that every single person has room and opportunity to grow and if we’re not seeing something, whether it is from a child or whether it’s from a staff member, it’s most likely because we haven’t taught it, we haven’t modeled it, or we haven’t explicitly expected it. And if you’ve done all three of those things, you’ve taken that time to offer that person support, to give them some extra help to model that behavior for them, and you know that you have expected it and made your expectations clear, then it’s time most likely for one of those difficult conversations.
Jay: That’s awesome. That is great advice, great advice.
Jay: So, what advice do you have to edu-leaders working with the student population they serve?
Lori: Oh, goodness. I just want them to remember that they are kids and to let them play as much as they can and to engage them and care for them as much as they can. I know and understand wholeheartedly the expectations that we have put on teachers and that we have put on educators, and I am a firm believer (and I know that there are many administrative people that would not agree with me) but I am a firm believer that the social and emotional development of children is as important, if not more important than their academics, even, for the success factors and their social emotional well-being that’s going to get them through life when things get hard. So, I would just say, take the time, take those moments that they can, to teach those lessons and be intentional about it.
Jay: That’s great. That just made me think of, since I have you know, a 9 year old, a 4 year old, and a 2 year old, when I’m least effective as a parent is usually when I am the most, I don’t know, I’m just wrapped up with myself but I’m just definitely the most kind of stern. And when I’m most effective and I’m most engaged, and I’m having the most fun, and I have the greatest influence is when I’m very, when I’m proactive, first of all, but then I’m also, I’m having fun and I’m being playful. And not just you know, I’m mister of uptight adult. And you’re the child; you need to do what I say and so like just maybe It’s completely not even related to what you’re saying at the beginning, but it just made me think that when I am most effective as a parent and I’m sure that you know, when you’re most effective as a leader for students is really when you’re proactive. You’re intentional but also you try to have fun with it and don’t just act like a super stuffy adult all the time. Then maybe just have some fun with the kids, you know.
Lori: Absolutely, there were definitely days where I, I mean, we’ve all been there. We have come in and we just haven’t, we don’t feel like being there. You know, we’ve got a thousand other things going on in our lives and those are the days where if I knew that tomorrow was going to be that way, or if I knew I was getting in that rut, that I would work to figure out what I could do the next day or that week to make, I would take one lesson, even, and just say, where can I have fun with this? I’m gonna dress up. I’m gonna be silly. We’re going to just have fun and we need to do that for our children. We need to do it; we need to do it consistently. And obviously you can’t do it for every lesson that you deliver but, yeah, when they see you having fun, they’re going to have fun. And that’s what they are going to remember, they are going to remember the joy of learning.
Jay: And be more engaged.
Lori: Exactly, they are going to be learning without even realizing they’re learning.
Jay: Right. Right.
Lori: And isn’t that what we would want to as adults, too, right? I mean we don’t want to sit at the desk for 6-8 hours just being talked to. We want to engage with our learning.
Jay: And enjoy what you’re doing.
Lori: We want to own it. Yeah. Have a good time. And sometimes even have those side conversations.
Jay: Yeah. Yeah. That’s great. So how can people connect with you?
Lori: Sure. So, I actually have a website. That’s called The Leadership Influence. You can find me at the TheLeadershipInfluence.com and actually right now there is a free 14-day challenge that people cand log on to and I will send you a quick little micro-action leadership challenge every day for the next 14 days.
Jay: Great. And a final piece of advice for a school administrator or someone who wants to become a school administrator one day?
Lori: Final piece of advice…I’d say that my final piece of advice is to remember that a leader’s most important job is to develop the people around them. Someone helped develop you so it’s really an opportunity for you to give back.
Jay: And it’s amazing how what you’ve put into the lives of others comes back into your own.
Lori: Right. Imagine, I mean as a school leader you touch so many lives and I don’t even know that we realize it.
Jay: Yeah. That’s great. Fantastic. Well, 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 lori into the search tool to find her show notes. Lori, 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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