David Hardy is a systems-level transformation leader specializing in improving some of the most inequitable school systems across the country. David’s life-long mission is to help create equitable school systems for kids across the United States. For the past 17 years, David has had the opportunity to guide children in the toughest circumstances to reach high levels of achievement, lead teams who create a culture of achievement, and drive systems change at some of the most underperforming districts in the country. David understands the impact that authentic leadership, effective governance, and equitable operations has on improving outcomes for kids, and seeks innovative ways to help leaders create meaningful change. He supports school and district leaders as they navigate the challenges that impede the progress for kids within urban school districts. He is driven to provide creative solutions for school and district leaders who seek to authentically build coalitions of support centered around kids, and desire to live in inclusive organizations that understand the importance and power of diversity.
Taking Massive Action up Front
- There are two types of leaders that promote change. Which leader are you?
- The urgency for school leaders to provide students impactful initiatives immediately
- Everyone needs a Deshaun to fuel you to rise above the status quo
- A brilliant way to lead teams with this first activity for meetings to create a powerful moment
- If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it again? David’s process to navigate tensions and sleep well every night
- People don’t want lip service, they want your service as a leader. How to balance your word and your integrity.
- 3 Trends in leadership that affect school performance in every district
- The loudest silence surrounding students
- How the pandemic has given us an opportunity to reimagine our school systems. Get to the roots and backbone of how schools function.
- Nurture your learning community like plants in the appropriate fishbowl
“I look at that child’s face, I look at that child’s name and realize that they don’t have 12 to 13 years for us to get better. They don’t have over a decade of time for us to figure out what we need to do as adults. I feel we as adults need to get out of the way so that our kids can progress at a rate in which they’re needed.”
– David Hardy, Jr.
Full Transcript Available Here
Ruckus Maker. I want to ask you a question about change. Would you rather take a number of little steps that add up to something impactful over time, or would you rather take massive action up front and close those gaps quickly? Of course, it could be argued that this is a context specific question, but I’ll admit my default is to believe in change as small steps that add up to something major over time. But today’s guest David Hardy Jr. Challenged my thinking. It made it better. And for that, Dave, I’ll say thank you. I also wonder if my natural tendency towards small steps over time has to do with privilege, but that’s another conversation and a whole other podcast episode. You’ll also want to hang around for the second half of this podcast. Dave shares a great story about a goldfish and I’ve found it compelling and it will help you make change happen within your school as well. Hey, it’s Daniel and welcome to the better leaders, better schools, podcast. Our show for Ruckus Makers, just like you. Those out of the box leaders making change happen in education. We’ll be right back after these messages from our show sponsors
Better leaders, better schools. Podcast is brought to you by organized binder, which increases student active engagement and participation and reduces classroom management issues. Learn [email protected]. Today’s podcast is brought to you by Teach FX. It’s basically like a Fitbit for teachers helping them be mindful of teacher talk versus student talk. Get a special 20% discount for your school or district by visiting TeachFX.com/blbs.
Isolation is the number one enemy of excellence in isolation is also a choice. There’s a better way. In fact, here’s what Michelle a school leader in Maryland has to say about the Mastermind. The best part of the Mastermind is a supportive community. School leadership can be isolating, but knowing I have a team of other school leaders with whom to share ideas, struggles and wins gives me the courage and resolve to do what’s best for my school community. Get connected and level up your leadership by applying to the Mastermind today at betterleadersbetterschools.com/mastermind. David Hardy Jr. Is an educator by trade a writer and speaker by passion, a father and husband by love and a believer that our way forward is transforming the way education exists for children who do not have champions for them in their corner, through the leaders who should have the best interests in heart and mind. Dave, welcome to the show.
Wow. Thank you. Thank you for having me excited to be here.
Absolutely. So you told me there’s two types of superintendents and we’ll just call them two types of leaders, right, because a lot of the listeners are principals. One approach is to take many baby steps over time. And those baby steps add up to big change. And another approach is to take massive action upfront, closing those gaps quickly. You fall into that camp, the latter camp. So tell the Ruckus Maker listening. Why that’s your approach?
Yeah, I see individual kids’ faces when I’m forced with a choice of taking baby steps or taking leaps and bounds towards transformational change. I look at that child’s face, I look at that child’s name and realize that they don’t have 12 to 13 years for us to get better. They don’t have over a decade of time for us to figure out what we need to do as adults. And so I feel we as adults need to get out of the way so that our kids can progress at a rate in which they’re needed. When I look at Deshaun, who’s sitting there in my sixth grade English classes and he’s needing two years of remedial work. I can’t say that I’m going to quietly change the curriculum over the next four years because he’s already two years behind. So when you think about that, and then we multiply that by hundreds of kids in a town or city, you’re directly impacting a generation worth of education by moving faster, slow and going smaller, big. And so for me, it’s a, it’s the urgency, it’s the moment. It’s time to ensure that generations of kids are getting what they need to be successful.
Yeah. I think you highlight the urgency there. So that’s very apparent to me and probably the Ruckus Maker listening. You probably didn’t know. I’d ask this, you use the name Deshawn, I’m curious, is that a student you had, or is that just sort of an avatar, an ideal student that you think about when you’re considering change?
No, Deshaun was a real student for me when I was a principal and he was everything that you could imagine, a 11 year old boy who had the world in front of him, a ton of just innate talent that was waiting to get out. But unfortunately people had a perception of him that’s very different than who he was. And I saw that in him. I saw like the two Deshaun’s people saw and I just did not want to get in the way of what was possible and rely on what people have told me about DeShaun and told me about behaviors and other things that might’ve occurred in the past. And just relied on the reality of like, here’s actually what Desean is and what he’s presenting and what he needs to be successful. I feel that if I keep that Deshaun in my heart, into my mind, it forced me to think about every kid who has been told that they can’t, they won’t, they shouldn’t because of something else. They might’ve presented at a moment in time when reality is, kids can be great if we just let them. So Deshaun is real. And I think DeShaun is not only a figurative person, but a real person in my life.
That keeps you grounded in that urgency. The reason I brought that up is when we connected for this podcast, there’s a process that I bring my guests through and I talk about an ideal listener and I talk to every guest too, about having that one listener in mind when you’re telling your stories. I think what I’m seeing too, with you, with leadership, having that student in mind to help you make change happen is really powerful. I’m guessing that you use Deshaun, in your leadership time and again, when trying to motivate staff in different ways, is that a good assumption?
That’s true. And there’s a, Deshawn, there’s a Tony, a Brianna, a Jared and Malaysia. Like I have kids that I’ve been lucky to, in some form or fashion been in their lives, they’ve been in mine. I feel lucky to be able to pull on their stories. Not only they keep me going in the moments where I’m like let’s just throw our hands up and return to status quo. It starts to enter my mind even temporarily and then I see those faces again and they demand and deserve so much more. So I pull on stories all the time and my blog and from people that I talk to every day. And I actually, honestly, I have a call coming up this week to talk to four of my former scholars when I was a principal who are now going to be rising seniors in college.
And we’re going to talk about education equity and a webinar coming up. But nonetheless, those are the things that keep me going, but it also just keeps me grounded and humbled. The reality of the work that we actually are doing for kids has a name behind it, right. It’s not a number, it’s not a student ID. It is a person. And so I try to bring that to the people that I work with. Most of my team will know that one of the first things we do as a team is that we tell each other stories and we tell each other, a name of a kid and that we’re doing this work for. And we start off our journey together that way, every position that I’ve been in. And so those are the things that I think fuel us and definitely fuel me.
When did that start? Where did you learn it? Did you take that idea and said, Oh, I’m using that? Did you create it? I’m just, I’m very curious that that’s a brilliant way to lead teams.
Yeah, I’m sure I stole it from someone a long time ago, but in education we call it borrowing. So, I borrowed that technique from a colleague of mine. This had to be about 15 years ago, who we were just going through the process of kind of introducing each other. And he actually started with a story of a child. I was like, wow, he got me like, that’s me. That’s how I think about this work. And so since then I’ve taken that nugget and just adapted it depending on circumstances and on my environment. But it’s evolved to us kind of giving our own leadership story and pairing it with the name of a child at the very least to the point where I just let a keynote a couple of weeks ago in which that was the first activity. Even on the webinar, I was like, write down the name of a kid in which, , that you’ve impacted their lives in some meaningful way. And we have a screenshot of everyone holding names of kids which I thought was a powerful moment for us just to be centered around our why.
Yeah. To have that, to have the picture, then you can get them framed. You put them on social media. I mean, there’s a million ways. So I’m just talking to the Ruckus Maker, that’s telling the story time and time again, but also grounding people reminding them of that time that we all have mutual purpose. We agreed on what’s most important. The why of the work. I mean, that could be a show in itself. So I appreciate all the gems that you’re sharing with us so far. Let’s talk about sleep. It’s important to be able to sleep at night and, and something I tell leaders often is like, you have to live with your choices, right? People might value my opinion or your opinion as we coach leaders, but at the end of the day, it’s their choice to make. And it’s their head that hits the pillow, right? And they’re the ones we have to have peace at night. So, what’s your process like with navigating the tension between those tough decisions you have to make and how you live with those decisions so you can sleep peacefully.
I think there’s a few things I think about and have learned from a ton of really smart people and how I’ve kind of come to this conclusion of I would rather sleep at night knowing that I did the best to do what is right by kids than trying to figure out how to do undo some wrongs. And so I’m able to rest on the very fact that I know that every day, every night I did everything that I possibly could, the way that it should be done as far as being, just being right, being equitable versus trying to play some of the politics that sometimes come into these positions. A colleague of mine once said and said it often. And I want to tie it to the balance between being altruistic to division versus playing the politics to maintain position. But he said, if you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it again?
And so that statement alone said to me, in, in the world of education, we don’t have time. I don’t have time. Our kids, the Deshaun’s of the world don’t have time for us to play around with the politics of a situation to kind of amend or appease feelings of adults. When we know right in front of us is what is right? Prime example of this is I’m sitting there sitting outside of a classroom. And there was a particular class that didn’t have textbooks at the beginning of the year. And I’m just sitting there like, why don’t you have textbooks? And there was a long winded story of why this has happened. Like the curriculum advisor and this board member, like all of these things around this classroom. And I’m thinking kids in that room need materials and resources.
The teacher needs resources. We just need to get the resources there. And so I was able to sleep at night. People around me were kind of upset and worried about who’s going to say what. And I was like, what? Kids got, what they needed. There’s seven hours of sleep for me. And I would rather have that feeling than the feeling of like now, who do I have to explain this to what story do I need to tell? What are the three lies that I have to undo to be able to manage a situation like that? When really it’s a very straightforward answer, get kids what they need to successful.
I get this quote, right? If you don’t have time to do it, right. When will you have time to do it again?
Yes. That’s it
Powerful? So as a superintendent, you have to work on principal mindsets, but I think there’s still value, like hearing how you did that. So that the Ruckus Makers, probably a principal listening, how they could change their faculty’s mindset.
Yeah. So I feel like as a principal, I think what I, I started to understand more about leadership and understanding how to lead people is people don’t want lip service. They want your service. They want to see that you are a person of your word and your integrity and the way that you balance being a person and being a leader and being someone that is able to listen. And so, like I take those three things and I think about the importance of a new teacher, who’s brand new to the profession. I look at a teacher that might be 10 to 15 years in the profession. And then a more veteran teacher who may have 20 to 30 years. And I try to think about what they see hearing and experiencing from my leadership so that I can sit in their shoes and say, what did they need to be successful? And once the principal’s able to establish that mindset of understanding that it’s not about what you say, it’s more about what you do for them and how, what they are saying to you that influences how you should leave. That actually creates a team that is bought into a vision because it’s about a vision, not about an individual, it’s not about a perspective or person it’s about this bigger purpose that’s sitting in the middle. And that principal was able to develop that and see that from the lens of others will be more successful
As a superintendent. What were you most proud of for accomplishing?
Hmm, that’s a tough question for me. I think there’s a lot of work still left on the table for the school district I just left. But also just when I look at the world of being in superintendencies, it’s not, you’re never done, but I will say along the way, there were some cool moments in which there were things that were done right for kids. One of the things in, in Lorraine was just academically, kids were not provided the education that they deserve to be successful. I walked into the, into the school district where 1% of our graduating class was college or career ready 1%. So you’re looking at a graduating class of 440 and you’re in single single digits numbers of kids that are actually prepared for life post high school. And so I sit there and think about what are the things we need to do to better create circumstances for our kids.
And some of the things we were able to accomplish, we were able to bring AP courses back to the high school, which seems like a small thing. I mean, that’s high school, didn’t have any AP courses across the board back three AP courses in addition to getting more of our kids through early college. So they were leaving high school with an associates degree than they were in the previous years. We increased by 75%. And then academically, I think one of the bigger accomplishments as we were struggling, district of state takeover districts, we had fs 16, 17 years in a row and then never, ever seen a D. We finally got to a D for the first time in over 25 years doing that means that we moved some of our baseline numbers up. One of which is probably the largest gain that we saw was our gap.
Closing went from an F to a B so B as in boy. So we were, we were moving rapidly and one of the fastest growing and improving districts in the state, according to the state superintendent. So that felt good for the people in the community, felt good for our kids. And I was just lucky enough to be a part of the process of getting to where they are today.
Yeah. That urgency and making a big impact that I appreciate so much and talking about feeling good. I think this is a good spot to take a pause for a message from our sponsor. And when we get back, I want to hear about trends. You see across roles and locations and some interesting projects you’re working on these things.
Better leaders, better schools is probably sponsored by organized binder a program, which gives students daily exposure to goal setting, reflective learning time and task management, study strategies, organizational skills, and more organized binders color coded system is implemented by the teacher with the students, helping them create a predictable independable classroom routine, learn more and improve your students’ executive functioning and noncognitive skills and organized binder.com. The better leaders better schools. Podcast is brought to you by teach FX. Teach FX is a research driven app that uses artificial intelligence to give teachers feedback on the balance of teacher talk versus student talk, their use of open ended questions, wait time and equitable classroom dialogue, learn more and get a special 20% discount for your school or district by visiting TeachFX.com/BLBS. Alright. And we’re back with David Hardy, jr. And, uh, I’d love to hear yeah. In all the leadership roles you’ve had, you’ve had a ton of time. What trends do you see across those roles and locations?
I see a few things that keep cropping up. One of which is the instability of leadership at the top. And I think there’s a couple of things that create that circumstance. You have political elections that change the political dynamics on the local level, which then change the leadership that is in the senior seats of the district, and then change the school leadership in the most challenging districts that happens in the most challenging districts, not all. When I think of those challenging districts that often lands in urban centers or under resource rural centers, and those are the kids that are the most marginalized populations in our country. So a lot of this tumultuous leadership happens to our most marginalized and under resourced communities. However, on the other side of the fence, you have the more affluent and suburban communities that are being are able to maintain a level of stability at the leadership level, and therefore continue to provide an education that is superior to kids that do not have.
So that’s like one big trend around leadership. The second is there is, and again, I’m focusing a lot on urban centers because that’s my 17 years worth of background as an urban center. There is also just a pervasive, very I think it’s the loudest silence. If that makes sense, the loudest silence surrounding what kids can do exists in urban centers. Meaning when we look at black and Brown kids or children of color, we often see them as someone who’s unable to achieve high stakes or standards or expectations, they just, they can’t meet them as like the unfortunate prevailing statement. And that is a feeling that is an experience that is not anything that anyone’s going to write down in an email. It is just a feeling when you walk into buildings, you walk into on school campuses and you see kids doing things that teachers wouldn’t allow their own kids to do at their house.
Right. So why is it okay in school settings? And folks just kind of write a lot of kids off. So there’s this pervasive belief of what kids can do matching that with leadership. And then the third bucket of this is when we think about how money moves in school districts and how resources are allocated for kids, it’s an equitable, we do not provide the right resources to kids who needed the most at the time that they need it. And therefore we see a gluttony of districts that have way too many teachers who don’t need teachers, but they might need social workers. Or I just remember in Miami, when I was a teacher, every year, we would go to this room where we had stacks of where the Red Fern Grows. And like every year we buy more of them and I’m thinking, why do we have thousands of these books sitting in this closet that are never touched when actually what the kids need are something very different. And so I think about the inequities that exist there. So you have the leadership challenge, you have the belief challenge, and you have just the financial wellbeing of districts and how money’s allocated that jump out to me. And those three trends have been in every single district, and environment I’ve been around.
Yeah. I’d like to add at least to that, that second challenge some ideas that pervasive silence bringing this back to Deshaun, I think another way to make it very real for all the educators in the building is to say “Is this school somewhere, you’d be proud to send your own kids.” You’re talking about the inequities here, right. And if you wouldn’t want your own baby to experience the type of education we’re providing the community, then what are we doing? So that that’s quite powerful.
Then the other piece, those feelings and prejudice mindset about our Black and Brown students probably aren’t written in emails. And maybe in some places they are, but you don’t have data to support that kids can’t do it. You have data shows that they’re not given an opportunity, but my lived experience
With like the Avid program, decades ago when, when you push underserved students and give them access to the most rigorous curriculum and then provide also systems for support they thrive. Kids who are rocking C and Ds until they got to me became valedictorian. Right? Because I believe that they could do it and when they want to give up, I wouldn’t let them. And I also showed them a system with support on how to, how to be successful in these rigorous courses too. So yeah. I just wanted to add that there too.
Yeah. There’s was one of other thing that sticks out to me, too. Two small antidotes, both of which when I was a little further into the Midwest that came up one, I was on a panel with a professor that was from Stanford. And he said, if you want to change urban school districts in this country and make them more equitable, make every board member, send their youngest child to the district to be a student. What about that private school? They’re sending them to! Right, right, right, that tuiton could be used for something else. Maybe giving it to the schools that need it, but nonetheless, they could send their kid there and that you would see things change dramatically. So that was one. The other was the reality that when we think about even use this analogy of like a goldfish. When you have a goldfish, you put it in water and say, it’s a small container that fish will swim in the same pattern that they have always been.
And then when you take that fish and put it into a larger container of water, you will see that fish go into that container and swim in that same pattern because the expectation is that they’re in this smaller container. So why do we continue to keep kids in small containers and realizing they could do so much more expand what we believe in them and expand the level of expectations that we have for them. Don’t shrink it because as soon as we shrink it, they will start to just manifest in this smaller space and only realize the expectations that are only so well. So think about that fish in a small fishbowl versus a large one, the impact that we could have, can we change the size of that bowl?
Yeah. Amazing metaphor there. And I challenge, all the Ruckus Makers listening use that goldfish analogy ASAP with your staff because that’s interesting because you’re training and you’re saying here’s the boundaries and what if those boundaries are all made up because guess what they are, we, we decide what they are and if you remove those for your kids, what is possible. Awesome.
Well Dave, what interest in projects are you working on these days? Please let us know.
Yeah. There’s a few that I have the chance to work on. I’m working on a lot of work around, what does it mean to create systems of equity within school districts? With my team we are trying to define what that framework is for districts and figuring out, for years we’ve spent time and energy and money on classroom resources, which I think are right and which are important. And we’ve seen incremental change to our earlier conversation and how kids are receiving the education they deserve. But there’s a bigger foundational issue that we haven’t talked about and that is fixing the systems that are at the backbone of how schools are run. If we look at the back of the history of our country without going into the history lesson, because I was not a big history fan, Mr.
Woodruff, you’re a great teacher. I appreciate everything you’ve done for me. But what I saw in history was very intentional design behind education, right? So we think about the roots of how schools were established. We look at school boards coming on in the 1940s that came in right after the Housing Act of 1935 and 1936. Look at the Employment Acts that happened in 37 and 38 around that time. Layer that on with some of the challenges that we had just with race relations in our country. If you put all those at the backbone, you see how schools are created. Schools now sit and are juxtaposed in neighborhoods based on property tax that is based on the money that is coming in from homes. Therefore if you have more money, probably have better schools. When you have better schools, you have different systems that run those schools, same thing for under resource schools.
When you think about money that goes to under resourced schools, probably in neighborhoods that don’t have the backing, the financial backing and all the other systems that align. So school districts that are sitting in those situations have to rethink their systems to make them more equitable and that’s the work that we’re trying to do. How can we help school systems think about creating more equitable designs to their structures and their school buildings, so that how we hire people, how we use money, how schools are operated from transportation to food services. Thinking about how we lead and how do we create leaders who are able to stay connected to the real challenges that they see and building this framework around this idea, if we’re able to connect to the challenge, include people in the process of making decisions, we’ll ultimately be able to create opportunities for real change is the mindset. We believe that framework will help school districts. And then for fun, I spent some time building a website and getting some blogs out there @ madebychange.org. And then eventually we’ll try to launch some blogs and other commentary for people to respond to. This is the stuff I do and I guess now I’m a kindergarten slash first grade teacher now that my son is at home. So I do a little bit of that too.
Your favorite job as well, right? By far. Yeah. That’s great. Well, let’s close down this conversation, which I’ve really enjoyed Dave with these two questions. I love to ask all my guests and can’t wait to hear how you answer them. What message would you put on all school marquees across the globe if you could do so for just a day?
I would say don’t give up on possible. Don’t give up on possible because I feel like, especially in where we’re sitting right now here’s our chance to think about what can actually happen for kids in a real way. The world has kind of paused education as we knew it is disrupted. Here’s this chance, this moment in time where we can kind of clean the slate of a ton of inequities that have existed and re-imagining and think forward to what is possible for kids. We eliminated the idea that we could teach kids through a computer. We eliminated the idea that kids couldn’t learn from outside of eight and four and we eliminated the idea that they had to have structured subjects throughout the day and we all know that’s not true now. We’re living in a world where we can reimagine and say, do we need to go to school seven hours in a row? Should we start a little bit later? Can we start a little bit earlier? Can we use technology to help our kids learn differently? I would say the marquee should say, don’t give up on possible.
You’re building a school from the ground up. You’re not limited by any resources. Your only limitation is your imagination. How would you build your dream school and what would be your top three priorities?
Yeah, dream school would start without a building. I’ll say it again. They will start without a building because I feel like by just a building alone, we are limiting the possibilities of what a child can experience. So why not start with learning in spaces across the town or city that we live in, in small groups, thinking about what is possible innovating, thinking about how to be an entrepreneur, because that’s where we’re going in the world. 60% of the jobs that are coming for our kids are not even created yet. So why don’t we put them space to be creative? So priority number one for me is to create spaces in which kids can be creative Number two, which is probably like one B is making sure that people that are in front of them are educators who care about facilitating, learning, not being the master of teaching and learning.
And then number three is that I feel like we need to create schools that allow our kids to continue to dream. I feel like there’s an age in about third or fourth grade. I’m sure we’ve all experienced at some point where we’re like, man, I got to go to that place tomorrow called school. Versus, wow. I can’t wait to experience what is possible at school tomorrow. So I think just that shift in creating spaces where kids can dream to make the world of difference.
That was fourth grade the shift for me. I swear to you that teacher, I had, I won’t name her name. She hated boys. We had such a rough time in that class. It went from Mrs. B, who I wrote about in my book, just absolutely tapped into our individual interests and our love third grade to fourth grade, the teacher hated me and it was over. I’m with you there. Well, Dave, thanks so much for being a part of the better leaders, better schools, podcast of all the things we talked about today, what’s the one thing you want a Ruckus Maker to remember?
To that Ruckus Maker out there. I would say, make sure that you get everything a child needs to be successful when they need it. You never know what they will need. You’ll never know when they will need it, but everyone needs a little something different. And we think about how plants grow. We think plants need certain sun and water and kids may not need sun water as readily available to them, but they need care. They need love. They need a way to believe they can reach their potential. That starts with, us as adults, providing them space to do that because you never know when that Deshaun in your life is going to need you.
Thanks for listening to the better leaders, better schools podcast for Ruckus Makers. If you have a question or would like to connect my email, DanielFbetterleadersbetterschools.com or hit me up on Twitter @alien earbud. If the better leaders better schools, podcast is helping you grow as a school leader, then please help us serve more Ruckus Makers like you. You can subscribe, leave an honest rating and review or share on social media with your biggest takeaway. From the episode, extra credit for tagging me on Twitter @alien earbud and using the hashtag #BLBS level up your leadership at better leaders, better schools.com and talk to you next time until then class dismissed.
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