Todd talks about his family, hobbies, and career background (1:55)
When and why Todd decided to make the move from teaching to administration (3:38)
What it’s like juggling full-time education work with going to school for a graduate degree (4:50)
The benefits of cohort master’s degree programs and how they work (6:30)
The biggest challenge Todd encountered on the way to becoming an administrator and how he overcame it (8:28)
Todd’s advice for aspiring Edu-Leaders trying to land their very first admin job (12:00)
Some important lessons Todd took away from the challenges he faced early on in his administration career (15:30)
The importance of handling feedback and criticism the right way, even when it’s delivered the wrong way (18:11)
One of the best moments from Todd’s career in administration, and how he and his teaching staff have built a great culture among students and staff in the school (20:55)
How your impact on a school changes when you move from teaching to administration (27:30)
The best leadership advice Todd has ever received – be a transparent leader (28:46)
The importance of being able to quickly and constantly focus on the big picture, and not miss the forest for the trees (28:50)
Todd’s book recommendations for Edu-Leaders (30:37)
Why Todd like NEA edCommunities (32:57)
Todd’s favorite education quote from Marian Wright Edelman (33:54)
Todd’s advice for administrators on working with the students you serve (34:48)
Todd’s advice for administrators on working with the teachers you serve (35:22)
If Todd had a time machine, and could go back and give himself advice when he was just starting his education administration career, here’s what he would tell himself, and the definition of P.R.I.N.C.I.P.A.L* (37:44)
Books mentioned in this episode
Apps and tools mentioned in this episode
Connect with Todd Pettit
Promote positive behavior
Remain loyal, compassionate, and honest
Involve students and teachers in the decision-making process
Nurture our school community with compassion
Care for every member of our school family
Involve parents and the community in our school
Protect the art, craft, and practice of teaching
Always expect passion, creativity, and rigor in our teaching
Lead by example and collaboration
[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 #19
Create a Culture of Celebration in Your School
Show notes: http://www.educatorslead.com/toddpettit/
Jay Willis: Hello Edu Leaders, Jay Willis here I’m excited to introduce our featured guest today Dr. Todd Pettit. Todd, are you ready to launch?
Todd Pettit: I’m ready lets rock and roll.
Intro: Dr. Todd Pettit holds a B.S. in Music Education, as well as an M.S. and Doctorate in Educational Leadership. Dr. Pettit is the principal of Kreitner Elementary School in Collinsville, Illinois, which serves nearly 400 students. Todd is also a member of the Illinois Principals Association and is currently serving on the Board of Directors. That’s just a brief introduction Todd, but tell us a little bit more about yourself and your personal life.
Todd: Yeah, sure thing Jay. I enjoyed travel, musical theater; I was a music teacher so music has always been a big part of my life. Part of my relaxation is just getting behind the piano at the end of the day and just unwinding that way. I have a life partner of two years, Paul, we enjoy three four legged kids, Cole who’s a black Lab and Icicle who’s a Maltese and Anabelle’s a Shih Tzu. All of those are rescue animals; we enjoy them just giving them their second chance and a good life.
Jay: Yeah, so tell us a little bit about your career path. What kind of roles have you had in the past in kind of just the path to where you at now?
Todd: I was in music education specialist in K to 12 and taught all areas that primarily the bulk of my teaching career was spent in an elementary class where I was teaching music. I was also very involved with our local state and then also the National Teachers Association I’m holding position membership chair, treasurer, delegate vice president, I’ve also serve as Vice Principal at the middle school level 7th and 8th grade. As you send your fantastic introduction, I currently serve as Principle at Kreitner Elementary School in Collinsville, Illinois.
Jay: I was hoping I pronounced it right.
Todd: You did, you did.
Jay: Very Good. So, in what point did you make the decision to move in to school leadership. Is there kind of a specific point in time you made that decision?
Todd: I mentioned my leadership in the classroom as well as with the teachers association and just have and colleagues that I taught with as in my district as well as involved state and nationally. Having folks to encourage me to broaden my horizons and continue that leadership path. I had a Principal who I worked for that was very encouraging that I should shift my career path to the Principals desk and that got me thinking, I thought that would be a great way to once again share those skill sets in a global way with the school community.
Jay: Yeah! So, tell us a little bit more about the journey to becoming the school administrator, I guess how to juggle all the finding time to take extra classes while you’re still a teacher when having papers to grade type of thing how did you made it, tell us more about that journey.
Todd: You know I gotta tell you, I’ve been asked that question before not only from my master’s work but also most recent doctorate work I finished in 2014 and there are times I look back and think how did I do all of that, how did I juggle all of those things. I think type-A personality and highly organized and driven, I think those types of people such as myself who just tends to do what we need to do. But it’s all about the priorities and again making time for yourself. My philosophy even my leadership role, you have to find time to renew and rejuvenate yourself and that’s difficult for folks like us that are go getter so to speak. I would encourage folks to find those colleagues in your course work that you’re moving through program with, and I was fortunate both my master’s and doctoral work to be part of a cohort and there’s a lot to benefit with that. You support each other because you are in the profession every day and as you said taking course work in the evenings, weekends but it’s an amazing support but more than that it’s become amazing lifelong colleagues and friends and that’s huge benefits as well.
Jay: So, for those listeners who weren’t familiar with it what exactly is a cohort.
Todd: Cohort is a program that you take a I did my master’s in Indiana University and was one of the first cohort settings and we had fifteen to eighteen folks in the cohort in the group. We started the journey together; you typically take all your course work together. Well, obviously there are folks that for one reason or another may miss here or there so they might get off track. The majority of the people that you’re with, you are with from start to finish and so you build relationships, rapport with your fellow colleagues, classmates and that respect as well as the professors do as well. So, that’s a bonus too.
Jay: In what way did you find that helpful?
Todd: Just in able to be with the same classmates throughout the process and building relationships with those people. Not only to get to the program but also to be able to use each other’s resources in our daily work at the time. Well, I work a lot during my master’s program, I was with a class of teacher and then during my doctorate program I was in the principalship. So, it’s great resources for your daily practice as well.
Jay: Yeah! I think we need probably a source of encouragement for each other once you’re going through it. At least maybe there’s a whole lot of discouragement but I’m sure just finding the time to juggle everything and just having that encouragement from people who are have through the same journey the same time as you, I’m sure that was helpful.
Todd: Very much so.
Jay: So, somewhere along the way from teacher to administration I’m sure you had a lot of ups and downs and I know we kind of talked about that, just in scheduling your time, in that aspect. What would you say was the most difficult moment along the journey to becoming to be a school administrator?
Todd: The most difficult part of becoming a school administrator for me was breaking in to that first position. Because so often, especially if you’re looking outside the district that you’re currently working in at positions that are open it really becomes about folks that you know, folks that know you, but also being able to sell yourself, to sell your attributes and also I understand the areas of strength but the areas that you want to improve upon as a professional educator leader. So, just finding that first opportunity to lead in administrative way and when I say difficult I would rather say the word challenging, it was just challenging and then again I found myself doing a lot of reflection upon me as a person, as a leader. Currently I really lead by transparency and through that interview process I wanted to interview and portray myself in a very honest, very real and authentic way. So, that was the most challenging piece for me.
Jay: How did you overcome that?
Todd: Well, I was a musician first so I’m used to rehearsal and practice, and so often times now interviewing teachers then on the other side of the desk you can see when people are wanting to convey a specific message but maybe just aren’t doing that in a verbal way. So, for me it was about simulation and practicing, sharing who I am as a leader and as a person and making sure that I can reflect upon that even recording myself but sounds to some people odd to be able to record myself like mock interview sort of way to really know that I was ready for the questions and to portray myself in the way that I wanted to be viewed.
Jay: Yeah! No that’s a great idea I had a few time when I had a chance to be on the news and what’s scary about that is completely live and the interview would be you have no idea exactly what they’re gonna ask you. So, kind of similarly what I did is I wrote out every possible question that I could think of they might ask me and come up with a very detailed answer each one and practiced giving those answers so that even if they didn’t ask questions exactly the way that I have written them out when I was practicing, it’s probably close enough that I could kind of wing it.
Todd: Exactly, you’re exactly right.
Jay: Yeah! That’s great. So, what advice would you have for someone who’s in that situation that they already have their masters or they actually have their doctorate and they’re applying for positions and they’re actually struggling to get that position. What advice would you have?
Todd: I’ve actually given that advice to a fellow colleague recently and I said the very same thing that I said on my last response to you was – determine who you are as a leader and what strengths and skills you bring to the table. Also really reflect upon those things that I said that maybe are areas you need growth because there’s nobody who is an expert in everything. I think so often when we go to an interview setting that we wanna sell everything and I tell folks don’t answer a question in a false way just because you want them to say what you think they want to hear. I would rather be honest about the areas that I need to grow in versus feeding the inaccuracy so that’s a person, a leader that I am. So, I think that’s important and I really think it’s important to have dialogue. For me, when I first set out for my interview for assistant principalship I did a lot of writing, journaling but it wasn’t really that real until I had a friend or a colleague or a family member ask me the questions and I had to respond verbally then it became real to me. I knew then well, I really need to focus on my answers more coz I wanna be articulate and just as you said you want to know what you’re going to say within a specific topic or a question it might be framed differently but at least you’re prepared. I think that’s the bottom line to really be prepared to show off who you are.
Jay: Yeah! Well, I think the second piece to that you mentioned earlier just being authentic that such an important thing, you’re nervous, you really want the job at the same time though if you’re not authentic and they actually hire you to do this position under false pretenses right? And they’re gonna find out the truth one way or the other eventually. So, just be sensitive up front and be honest and then nobody’s gonna be disappointed.
Todd: And I would add to that also to do your research, it’s not about seeing a job posting online and applying for it but it’s about finding out who they are as a school district, as a school community, what makes their district tick to ask the right questions. Be prepared to interview them, coz that’s just important as much as interviewing you.
Jay: Yeah. Well, I think that showed that you’re very serious in the position and that you want it, my opinion.
Todd: Absolutely! I agree.
Jay: So, through that process and obviously you overcame that challenge coz now you’re a Principal though what would you say are some of the greatest lessons you took away from that process?
Todd: Believing in yourself and your ability to succeed, first of all and I think secondly for me it’s about knowing yourself and again I go back to knowing and owning those strong leadership skills that you possess but also owning the things you want to enhance about you, your leadership abilities. That’s just growth in a person which is fantastic because that’s what we ask of any staff member, of every professional teacher and that’s what we should ask ourselves as well and administrators too. How are we growing, improving and not just when you get the job but how do you reflect…That first year, for me, it was sometimes it felt daily but on a monthly or annual basis so how do you reflect upon your performance, you do that through the evaluation process but I think it can even go deeper than that just for just independent individual reflection of how, how do you feel that you are being successful in your leadership abilities with the school community and I think that has carried me through coz I feel like I’m continually getting a pulse on where I am as a leader. It’s ok to say that there are areas that I fell short because those are areas that I have a chance to improve and I try to be transparent with that and with my staff as well. If I’ve fallen short then I’ll be transparent about that and I don’t have any problems about any of that. I don’t see it as a weakness; I see it as a positive.
Jay: Yeah! And my take away from that is its seem like the best way to really learn more about yourself than who you are or by asking yourself those great quality questions like you had just mentioned coz these are just the quality the questions that you asked are going to determine the quality of the answer that comes out. The questions that you just mentioned were just great for showing who you really are and what really drives you.
Todd: And I would say be open to feedback and that’s something I continue to learn. The state of Illinois, as part of our school report card, have the five essentials which is a survey that’s administered to students, staff and parents and as the state implements that, the feedback that we get at the elementary level currently is from teachers and it kind of hits you square in the eye and you wanna say, wow who answered it that way. I’m not saying that I always am able to look on the positive but I think I’ve come to a point in my career that I can take those moments and humanistic, defensive reactions can set in but then you’re able to step back say ok well and really reflect on that because why would somebody view me as that type of a leader or not.
Jay: Yeah! It’s easy to kind of become reactive if somebody says something that may not even worded as constructive criticism and there’s an internal thing that happens when somebody criticizes you or just like oh you kind of defend yourself for the fight or flight kind of thing but at the same time like if your just gonna step back and take it and say Ok they probably didn’t present that the best way maybe it was extremely rude the way they said it. However, there’s probably truth in what they said somewhere so let’s just extract to that let’s like throw out the negative portion to that but let see what we can actually learn from that.
Todd: And I find the conversations with staff and with parents I often hear myself say “what I hear you saying is and what do you mean by that?” just so it’s not me interpreting their words its them telling me.
Jay: So easy to misinterpret. That’s a great question. So, I know you’ve been in school administration for a couple years, is this your second year?
Todd: This is my fourth year.
Jay: Fourth year.
Todd: And I was three years assistant principal in middle school in Collinsville before that.
Jay: So seven years then?
Jay: Then I’m sure you have some amazing stories to share just really heartwarming touching stories but what’s one of your best moments as a school administrator?
Todd: The best moment that I’ve had is in 2014-2015 Illinois has moved from state of assessment measuring students by achieving a cut score to a growth metric that measures how all students grow along the continuum you know as such our student growth counts and the best moments that I’ve experience in announcing that our own students have shown 14% increase over other students or as compared to previous years and also in comparison to other schools that may not be as high poverty as we are and my school has 74% Hispanic students about 52% of those are English language learners. So, those are challenges that we face every day and ensuring they get the best education so that was one of the best feelings to know that our students are making growth and which we knew all along that now we are being accounted for that growth and not just because student met a cut school line but they grew from where they started and we’re honoring that. As a staff, you could just feel the shock on that was because again I think it’s more realistic so that was an amazing time to be able to share with my staff in that success.
Jay: What would you attribute that success to?
Todd: A staff that is highly motivated and dedicated beyond belief. I can’t even express in words how dedicated my school staff is to student achievement and that’s how do we makes the best decisions for each individual students and I think elementary teachers just in general are great folks who give time and talent beyond the last bell of the school day, before the school bell in the morning, and that shows our school doesn’t have a lot of hard turnover, breaking staff. We have longevity of teachers who have taught there for their entire career and to me that’s dedication. In building relationships it was not only our students but also the families and that’s not just out teaching step that’s our entire staff and that’s important about have the community connection with families and community members so I think obviously all the people on campus…that positive result but again we always knew our students are growing now they’re just measured differently and were able to account for all the growth.
Jay: What do you think contributes to that staff culture that you have there?
Todd: I like to say that our school…it’s not a big secret because we’re not keeping it a secret but I think because of school leaders that have come before me in that building were very purposeful in building a family atmosphere or ensuring that it was a very family atmosphere and because you have teachers that have spent their careers there, to some degree, because it’s not a revolving door of staff and our transiency rate for students is not a revolving door we have some 3rd and 4th generation students so I think you know that obviously plays a part too because you have consistency of staff and with students and families. So, I try to honor and celebrate my students and my staff in very purposeful ways. Once a month we have a sunrise celebration that’s all about celebrating all of our successes, staff and students, and we make that a public affair because I think it’s important for students and their peers to celebrate each other and also its equally important for staff and their peers to celebrate and support each other.
Jay: That’s great, my take away from that it just reminds me of something I’ve heard so many time before – people don’t really care how much you know until they know how much you care. It seems like you created this atmosphere, this culture of relationships and caring about each other. I mean by how supportive you are for the teachers and by how many teachers have returned and are very supportive to the students.
Todd: Very much so, that’s not attributed to just me as a leader it was really attributed to the staff that has been there in so many ways and we have new teachers and they come in and after a month they come and say “this is where I wanted to be” and give reasons for just what we’re talking about the culture, the feel of a family among staff and just working with a really amazing group of diverse students and we celebrate that diversity.
Jay: What would you say is the biggest difference between the impact that you had as a classroom teacher and the impact you now have as an administrator?
Todd: I just see it on a grander scale or a broader scale is a better term As a music teacher teaching in a school with 750 students, you see all of those students every week…I’ve always attributed my ability to view a school globally by from that experience as a teacher and also in my days of being a traveling teacher having the ability to see multiple schools and how they operate, it was more difficult to become part of those school cultures when you weren’t there at consistent basis you just pop in and pop out to teach the classes you teach but I think those experiences really set me up to be able to see through the same lenses but differently as a school leader.
Jay: Yeah! So, I’m gonna roll to some rapid firing questions. Are you ready for those?
Todd: I’m ready!
Jay: What’s the best leadership advice you ever received?
Todd: Be a transparent leader.
Jay: What would you say is your biggest strength as a school administrator?
Todd: My ability to view the school globally and when the decision needs to be made understanding the impact and or the domino effect that it might have and be able to predict those things and then guide our different leadership team and such though that process.
Jay: Do you that that kind of looking at the forest instead of getting caught up in the trees, do you think that that’s something can be learned and if so how do you think you learn and develop to that?
Todd: I think it’s a skill that you have to be able to look and think outside of the box so to speak and to be able to see the big picture but I would also would say that’s a skill that you can refine through your process but there’s a part of me that thinks there are people that are really inherently able to view any situation regardless or not if it’s your professional career or your personal life to be able as you said to see the forest and the trees, I think there are people that are just more competent to do that than others.
Jay: Do you have a book or two that you could recommend that made an impact on you?
Todd: One author that continually came up in my masters and as well as in my doctorate is John Maxwell’s, The Five Levels of Leadership and that been a book that’s guided my practice so that’s really important to me. Looking at those levels and someone who continually… we talk about ways to improve your practice obviously he’s a writer who is able to give those specific levels and insight to guide someone to become a better leader. The other book that I read recently is by Ron Clark he was the teacher of the year for Disney and for Oprah several years ago. He is the teacher and administrator and founder of the Ron Clark Academy and one of my heroes so to speak but his new book is call Move Your Bus and it’s really insightful because it talks about understanding those staff members in your organization and he wrote this book through the experience of a being school teacher and administrator but the audience was corporate America. That’s great, because corporate America and legislators needs to take more heed to what we as educators professionals say we need in our field but I think that has been a really eye opening to me to move through his definition of those folks who are walkers, writers and runners. He uses all those terms but what purpose do they serve in the overall community and how do you relate to them? So, it’s a great book. Can’t say enough good about it.
Jay: Do you have a technology tool app or software that you can recommend to school leaders?
Todd: I do, I started using one last year, a free web based app called EdCommunities and it’s a free virtual collaboration and meeting platform to share and collaborate and learn together. It’s MyNEA360.org and I use that for my school, I have a school group that’s and we can have discussions – we give a topic, share resources, documents, all within that web based application. So, that’s something I found very beneficial my practice.
Jay: What’s your favorite educational quote?
Todd: Education is for improving the lives of others and for leaving your community and world better than you found it and that’s from a speaker and author Marian Wright Edelman and I’ve always resonated with that because no matter where you are in education in terms of your position within a school community, we all have an impact on improving the lives of others and that could be our students and our fellow staff members and in turn, we’re making the community a better place.
Jay: Yeah, it reminds me of a quote I don’t remember where I heard it but your life is either an example or a warning.
Todd: Yeah, that’s good.
Jay: What advice would you have for other school leaders for working with the students they serve?
Todd: My doctoral research embodied leading with social justice and I now find it one of my passions to challenge all school leaders to always consider how they may lead with justice for all. We say that every day when we lead our schools and pledge and how do we make it real do that on our daily basis.
Jay: What piece of advice would you have for an administrator working with the educators that they lead like the other teachers?
Todd: If people feel valued, they will want to come to work and they will do what’s best for the kids and if students feel valued obviously they will want to come to school and they will do the best that they can for their teachers as well.
Jay: Would you mind summarizing that I lost the very first part of what you said it kind of dropped out a little bit on Skype.
Todd: Always listen with intention and interest to your staff members or to your students or parents when you’re in conversation. Listening with intention and interest that’s, I try to follow that no matter how busy my day will be sometimes that’s hard but to really pull myself away to really be in the moment and engaged and as a school administrator I think that there’s multiple things coming at you at once all day long and that’s one of the areas that I strive to improve myself in because I’m very focused on task in the moment but that would be my best piece of advice just to listen with intention and with interest.
Jay: What’s the best way to connect with you for listeners after the show if they wanna reach out like on twitter, what would be the best way?
Todd: I do have a twitter handle that’s @pettittodd and facebook is I think it’s the much better way to connect with me. I’m on facebook as well and that’s just Todd Allan Pettit and you can find me at Edcommunities as we talked about earlier and that’s just www.mynea360.org. You can go to that site, create your profile there’s no charge for that and search for the school administrator connection group and that’s the group that I lead and those are all ways that you can connect with me.
Jay: Last question, if you had a time machine and you can jump in it and go back the point in time when you were a teacher and you had just made the decision and were just starting to move toward becoming a school administrator what advice would you give to the younger version of yourself?
Todd: Well my guiding principle has always been even as a teacher that every decision that I make must be made with one consideration and that’s what best for my students so that’s something that continually runs through my head as a tape just when I’m in the decision making process but in terms of the younger version of myself at that point I think for me it’s just be in the moment because that tends to be sometime a struggle for me to be in the moment and I have to add to that and to celebrate each moment. I said the culture that we have at Kreitner School is very much celebrating each other but I continually strive to be even more so in the moment and again, not to be as task oriented as I am in terms of allowing that to pull me out of the moment so do speak.
Jay: Yeah, that’s great! Live in the moment, I know it’s tough for you as type A people were always like thinking about what we’re gonna do next and the next goal, the next thing we try to conquer and achieve, but it’s so easy to just you know now that I’m married, kids and just in everyday life there’s just so much of it that you miss if you just constantly looking what’s next what’s next and you’re just always like looking forward and you’re not like cherishing where you at right at this moment.
Todd: Exactly! And you know earlier we talk about being intentional and being authentic. I use those two terms but as part of our school culture every teacher completes a promise statement to their students and we post those promise statements outside of the classroom door along with a banner or a pennant from a university they have completed a degree from and were very intentional about that. When I talk about reminding myself of who I am and why I do what I do I look at that my intention is to refresh my memory with why I said “as your principal, I promise”, and I just leave you with this – I created an acronym from the word PRINCIPAL and it’s to Provoke Positive Behavior, Remain loyal compassionate and honest, Involve students and teachers in the decision making process, Nurture our school community with passion, Care for every member of our school family, Involve the community and parents in our school, Protect the art, craft and practice of teaching, Always expect passion, creativity and rigor in our teaching, and Lead by example in collaboration. So, that’s my go-to.
Jay: Fantastic! 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 Todd into the search tool to find his show notes. Todd, thank you for sharing your journey with us today! And that represents 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 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.
Educate. Inspire. Lead.