Chris Legleiter is a middle school principal with 23 years of experience in education, with 12 of those being an administrator. Chris has a lead learner focus on helping others to collectively grow and learn from each other. He serves his school community by building relationships, being student centered and modeling the way.
Including Parents into Powerful Professional Development
Full Transcript Here
Daniel: 03:45 Chris Legleiter is a middle school principal with 23 years of experience in education, twelve being an administrator. Chris has a lead learner focus on helping others to collectively grow and learn from each other. He serves the school community by building relationships, being student centered and modeling the way.
Daniel: 04:05 Chris, welcome to the show.
Chris: 04:06 Well, thank you for having me, Danny. Just really excited to be here and share my experiences with everyone as we continue to grow and create great experiences for kids and staff.
Daniel: 04:17 Yeah. And it’s a special day. You know, it’s, a big, big holiday, big event. I’m not sure if you celebrate it or not, but if you do, definitely if the ruckus maker listening does, Merry Christmas.
Chris: 04:30 Well thank you. It is a very important day for our family. But you know, it’s one of those things where I feel like,it’s in terms of balancing time, I wanted to make sure I put some time in to share these insights with everybody and hope everybody has a great day as well.
Daniel: 04:44 Awesome. Well let’s start the podcast with a bang and I like how you do professional development a bit differently and challenge the status quo. You were telling me that you had a PD on inclusivity, brought in, you know, eight parents to talk about the uniqueness of their family life. So unpack what that was for you and your school.
Chris: 05:10 Sure and when I think about professional learning or professional development, I remember the days when I first started teaching where I would sit through a day long sit and get lecture and it was really, I couldn’t drink enough coffee to stay awake and I never felt like I had tools that were given to me that I could put in use in my classroom that made me a better teacher or when those times were effective, it was not consistent. It was few and far between. So now that I’m a building leader, my goal is how do I help our staff, our school community and our kids get better. And I think we do that by creating very authentic experiences by increasing our perspectives of the entire student, not just the academic.
Chris: 05:55 And we started that this past year was really making our PD much more engaging, much more empowering our staff, much like we want them to do with their kids. So I tried to model for our staff what we want within our classrooms. So one of the sessions we did, our professional learning sessions was on inclusivity. So that involved our parents and our guardians. So I sent out a message to our parent and guardians and said, one of our school goals was building a inclusive school community where we as the educators can develop greater empathy for their families, their challenges they’re facing, and how we as school leaders and school teachers can support them, not only their student but their families. And so we invited any parents that wanted to come in and share their story with us and we sent out a Google form. And through that Google form, the parents responded.
Chris: 06:45 And then I reached out to them and kind of set up the format their rotations, so to speak, that we would use with our staff. And so on that day we basically had eight different parents come in and their uniqueness range from things where some parents were struggling financially and so they wanted to share how that made them feel within a school community that for the most part have the financial means. But how does that make them feel when they struggle financially? And we had other families that discussed their religion, other families that discussed race and ethnicity and other families that discussed how it felt moving in from out of the country or out of state into our local communities. And so we had basically three groups of parents. We put two parents together in a group and we gave them about four or five guiding questions.
Chris: 07:36 And we just had them share with our teachers and our staff what they felt like for their family, the experience that our school was providing, how they felt their uniqueness as a family wasn’t a hurdle or an obstacle for their children. And then we asked them what suggestions they can give us on how we could help them, not only their their child, but their family feel like they’re more a part of our school and how can we help them just as a family in our community. And then after each group we just rotated our teachers from each group of parent to the next and it took about an hour, hour and 20 minutes for the entire session. But our staff at the year end survey that I do with my staff about all the year long professional learning, they really highlighted that inclusivity parent panel as an important part because it really allowed our teachers to understand how yes, the academics are important, but so important is connecting with their kids and understanding the whole child. And sometimes we forget there’s a whole other part of their day when they’re at home when they’re not with us that really impacts them. So it allowed us to really spend the rest of that year, the April, May time frame and our school year really focusing on the whole child even to a greater extent. And that’s something now we’re going to build upon in this new school year.
Daniel: 08:50 I’m wondering what it looked like to prepare for that meeting, whether with your leadership team, but also with the parents as well.
Chris: 09:01 Yeah, it did take some preparation and I always think anytime you do quality professional learning, it’s important to be intentional. It’s important to really be focused on what is the purpose of each activity, what are you trying to achieve? But at the same time you need to be flexible within that to meet the needs of the participants. So in this example, I reached out and visited with each parent that wanted to come to our inclusivity panel and I just had good conversation with them about those guiding questions that they would answer so they would understand what the purpose they would be sharing with our teachers would be. And it really allowed me to greater understand their perspectives and it became a more empathetic, I think, for our school about how students really are. It’s a true learning community and it created a stronger school as a result of that, that it really allowed me, I think, to deepen those connections with our parents even before they came that day to visit with our teachers. It took probably with our administrative team probably several hours of just setting it up and really being clear about the purpose with their teachers, but then also making sure our parents felt supported along the way.
Daniel: 10:11 And then the parents that participated, did they need to be prepped in any way or how did you go about selecting the participants because they were representative of a variety of diverse backgrounds and challenges that they may be facing, which is probably why the faculty found such value in what you did. But I’m curious if you could explain again how you chose those parent participants and how you got them ready.
Chris: 10:38 Yeah, that’s a great question. I, really tried to reach out to our parents and ask for their help in the sense of I wanted him to understand that we as a school were really searching for ways to greater connect with our parent community. And so I made a video. It’s like a two minute video about the upcoming professional learning as a way to share that purpose of the parent inclusivity panel with him. So I made a video explaining it and through the previous activities we had done with our parents, I feel like we have a strong parent engagement. But even then I know there’s times that parents are hesitant to share from their perspectives how they feel and what their challenges are facing at home. So I think I tried to model that vulnerability with our parents and through those strong connections that we had, I think it allowed some of them to inquire about, well I don’t know if this is what you’re looking for but, and so we had some great conversations and it allowed some parents who maybe were both hesitant to come forward and say, I’ll be glad to share about that. And so I think it comes back to the relationships we built. It allows us to go deeper and stronger as time goes on. But I think I had to start myself by modeling that vulnerability with our parent community.
Daniel: 11:54 Absolutely. Ruckus maker are you listening? So Chris just really shared three big insights that I want to make sure you didn’t miss modeling. So you go first. And a lot of times like within the go community, I’ll ask some pretty tough questions or within the mastermind and I’ll go first because I want to set the tone for that conversation and shape it. Second, innovative use of video, right? Video is going to continue to be increasingly popular, same with podcasts as well. And different people learn in different ways and connect in different ways. Nice thing about video is if you can not worry about memorizing a script, but just stare into the camera like it’s somebody’s eyes and tell a story that’s more about human connection. So Chris did that and did you catch that? He said two minutes. Nobody wants to listen to a video that is longer, then five minutes, let’s say, unless it’s so incredibly good, you know, and yet you’ve got to practice to get there. But on average, if you have like a two to three minute video, you’re hitting the sweet spot there. The last piece that you need to catch ruckus maker an invitation to help. So Chris didn’t say like, here’s what we’re doing and this is what’s going to serve our community and blah, blah, blah. And here’s where you plug in. And there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that, but it’s a beautiful thing when you open the door with an invitation and you say, what would be possible if we did this or how can we, right? And you have these open ended questions and the parents raise their hand, they enrolled and they said is this what you’re looking for? I could share this story. And Chris said, yes, that’s it. So pretty cool Chris. Thank you for unpacking that for us.
Chris: 13:44 Not a problem. I enjoy sharing that experience.
Daniel: 13:47 So another thing that you did that was unique and a break from the status quo was you brought in an engineering company, I think it was a Forbes top 100 organization. And they talked about what they need in their employees that they’re having trouble finding. So what did that professional development look like and what did you learn?
Chris: 14:08 Yes. That’s another example of where as a leader, you know, I, I’m striving with our administrative team to model innovative practices. So in other words, sometimes you have to be willing to take the risks. So within our school, our instructional practices as classroom teachers are really trying to shift the learning environment to be what we refer to as student centered. In other words, away from the traditional where teachers are lecturing, it’s a knowledge base. We’re trying to get away from just a memorization but more to where kids are the ones actively working. The focus should be on the academic skills of communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity that we’re doing it through where the kids are empowered and they have choice and voice within their learning. So to do that, we thought the best way we can really help our teachers move forward is to hear from people within the field that are within that work.
Speaker 5: 15:05 So we brought in a local engineering company. They are a top Forbes 100 company and they’re a big employer within our Metro area. And what they shared with our teachers is that they cannot find enough employees right now that have the growth mindset, willingness to take risks that understand how to learn. And it’s really causing our company to really have to train people differently. And what they strive to find are the people that can come in that are willing to try, that can work well with others that can be adaptable but yet are very creative. And when they find those people, those are the ones that are thriving within their field. And so we did that as a way with our teachers to really help our staff understand the importance of yes, the work we’re doing in our classroom matters because that’s what’s in the workforce right now are those same skills that we’re working with in our classroom is what the employers really need. And I think it allowed our teachers to understand how the work that we do with our kids cannot be focused on the current placement, but what are, what types of skills that kids will need to survive in a very unpredictable future. And hearing it from the engineering company really I think hit home with our staff because it allowed them to see we have to prepare our kids for anything.
Daniel: 16:27 Right. Before we move on as principal in, I know they, I know the staff at the end of the year surveys said, you know, these were very powerful professional learning experiences for us. So you have that data. Well what did it look like day to day. What observational data and feedback did you collect that said, you know what, we’re onto something. This is working. So whether that’s after the parent meeting or after this engineering meeting?
Chris: 16:55 Well, that’s a great question because what we don’t want to do is do what sometimes people might call as one time offers, you know, where you do a one time quality professional development and then it sits on a shelf or you don’t come back to, you want something that’s embedded within the work of your school and becomes more than norm. So after we do our professional development, the more I see staff, you know, utilizing those practices within their classrooms and it’s becoming part of their classroom, normal practices, then we know we’re on the right track. And so what I was very proud about after we brought out that engineering company, as I saw a lot more what we referred to as project based learning type activities or design thinking within our classrooms where our teachers were giving students within groups different challenges and the kids had to try to be creative and develop different solutions. And in many cases there was one more than one possible solution. So by being visible in the classrooms is one way I really try to gather the data that says to me this is working or what do we need to further do to help support that with our staff so our kids have those learning experiences.
Daniel: 18:05 All right, well thanks for sharing that piece and I think this is a good place to pause and thank our sponsors for a moment, but we’ll be back in just a sec. Better Leaders Better Schools is proudly 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 and dependable classroom routine, learn more and improve your students’ executive functioning and noncognitive skills @organizedbinder.com.
Daniel: 18:47 Ruckus maker, I’m here with Chris Legleiter and we’re talking about creating powerful professional learning experiences for our staff. And he’s done this through inviting parents in, through inviting an engineering company in and where I want to follow up is something that you’re planning now. You’re planning it. We’re recording in August, but it is Christmas. So again, Merry Christmas, ruckus maker. And I’m sure that this parent ed camp has already happened. But as of now it hasn’t. And so talk to us a bit about the vision for this parent ed camp and kind of the why behind doing it.
Chris: 19:27 Sure. The parent ed camp really came as a result of that inclusivity panel. And that we talked about because we saw great results with our staff and the parents normally who were there on that panel, but just in the community really appreciated having that opportunity to work and partner with our school. So we decided what ways can we kind of embrace that? What ways can we further develop that? And as our staff talked about, what are the greatest challenges facing our students? Some of the most important topics we talked about, it’s not the academics, it’s what we refer to as a social emotional learning of our kids, where they lack some times the ability to handle stress and anxiety or they lack the confidence to handle certain situations. And so we as a school said, well, let’s partner with our parents. And so we sent out to our parents, we made another short video and we said, this is what we’d like to do in the fall, which is a parent ed camp. And we gave them a list of possible topics and they from a Google form then, selected which topics they would most like to be a part of the conversation about. So from that data then we set up a parent ed camp where basically parents had the opportunity to come and be active participants. And the neat thing about an camp is it’s all guided by the participants through conversation. It’s not a sit and get. Everyone has an active part and our parents really have six different topics to choose from. And we did two overall sessions. Each session has three topics and they can pick which one they want to go to. And you know, the, right now we’re at that point where we’re just about a few weeks away from having it. And I think there’s going to be a high attendance rate, which we’re very excited about. And the most important thing is that it really will be driven by our parents and our guardians as they foster those conversations and learn from and with each other. And that is the whole power of an ed camp is learning from each other. And the more that we as a school can partner with our parents together to work for our kids, I think that’s what’s going to really move the needle as far as an excellence.
Daniel: 21:36 Hmm. Absolutely. So, you know I invited you originally to this podcast. We were talking, and I think this was in the winter, probably a year earlier from when this show released. So the winter of 2018 I remember, I was wondering how I can serve school leaders because I have the podcast and that serves leaders for sure have the blog, have the mastermind, but not a lot in between. And so you were one of the hundred generous school leaders that sat down with me and said, here’s the challenges I face, projects I have, you know, unique things that happened in my role and that’s where the go community, you know, was birthed. So thank you for sitting with me. But one of the things I remember you sharing during that chat was that you have a note book of podcast takeaways and you listened to more than just mine.
Daniel: 22:31 But you know, you said you had some stuff about the Better Leaders Better Schools podcast as well. I said, wow. I mean that just tickles me honestly. Right? Like, cause you, you hear through email or you see on social media, how you impact people. But I just thought that was so cool. So I knew at that moment because I’ve identified my ideal guest that’s a current mastermind member, so we could talk about how they’ve grown. It’s a current podcast listener or ruckus maker like you who’s taken action on ideas and how you’ve grown. And then I also want to highlight leaders of color and women in leadership and people who are doing really innovative things in education. So you got this notebook, you’re taking down your takeaways, you’re acting on them and I’ll pass the mic to you. Tell us about this notebook and some of the things you’ve captured.
Chris: 23:25 Sure. Well, first of all, I appreciate those kind words and those sentiments and the notebook has actually now grown to two notebooks so that it shows you the amount of information that I’ve tried to remember and really put into practice, but what is probably several years ago I was listening to some podcasts just really starting to get into those and I was reading some professional books and listening to some webinars and I was coming across all these great ideas and it occurred to me that over time, no matter how powerful they were, I think I was forgetting the message. And so I had to think about how can I remember the key things that resonated with me so that moving forward I can always refer back to them. And so I just started collecting a journal that basically is thoughts from the podcasts, sometimes different books as a way to remember the important messages that helps connect to my why. And over time, what I’ve found is that it really has allowed me to become a lot more formalized in my core beliefs as a leader which has helped me then really be more intentional with my work with my staff and then hopefully the direct benefit are the students.
Chris: 24:43 And for about a year and a half now, I’ve been keeping these notebooks. Now it’s two notebooks. I’m into the second one and it’s just a way to collect some key ideas that relate to basically three areas, culture, leadership, and then future driven instruction. And those are the three areas I really try to focus on as a leader as a way to help me grow. And just by recording in the journal, it helps me to really formalize those thoughts more and more as time goes on. But it’s been a great source of just inspiration, just jotting down from all the podcasts that outstanding school leaders and educators out there around the world. And it’s allowed me to, I think, be a lot more intentional with my work.
Daniel: 25:24 The categories. How did you decide on those?
Chris: 25:27 You know, that’s a great question. Over time in the last few years, there’s so much now with the internet and social media and there’s a lot more educators that are just like yourselves that are just sharing their insights and experiences, which is so powerful.
Chris: 25:43 And that’s how we learn is from others. And by listening and engaging with other people. And I started to recognize like, wow, there’s so many topics that I could really dive into and do I want to go surface level with my learning or do I want to go deep? And I chose to really focus on several areas that I thought would allow me to become the best administrator, best educator I could be. And then I had to recognize what are those areas. And just through starting to journal, I really decided to focus on culture of the building. So building culture and then another one was as a leader or leadership that would allow me to really strengthen the impact that I have on others. And then the third area was the instruction because I really felt like that’s another area that I can help students is by becoming an instructional leader for my staff.
Chris: 26:36 And so those three areas, I just chose from some of the early journaling that I did in that notebook as a way to kind of formalize my thoughts. And those were some things that really I felt passionate about as a leader.
Daniel: 26:48 First I’ll just ask it and the question will go nowhere if you don’t. That’s okay. Is it around, is it around you where we’re recording right now and it’s okay if it’s not.
Chris: 26:59 Yes, yes it is. Both of my notebooks are right here beside me.
Daniel: 27:03 Would you mind and if you’re comfortable, would you open up and just like share what it looks like right when you’re capturing some of that stuff down?
Chris: 27:14 Yeah, sure. So I just opened it my first journal or notebook, I just opened it and it was a podcast. The page it opened to was from a podcast and it has, it’s one page and the title of the podcast was core values of a winning team. And so from that podcast I jotted down 10 different takeaways that I thought, wow, that’s really powerful. And so from those core values of winning team from that podcast, and I had 10 takeaways that I felt really resonated for me as a school leader. Like how can I help art school be a winning team? So that would include like how you need to have a strong commitment from everybody, how communication increases the effectiveness of the team and how the chemistry of the team enhances the connections and how creativity in large is the potential of the team. Those are just a few that I’m reading here from you with my journal. So basically each page or sometimes several pages, if it’s more of a book or something, just as my own words from takeaways from a podcast or that learning a book or webinar.
Chris: 28:24 And, over time I go back through my journals and I use a highlighter to really as I formalize my core beliefs and as they change over time, I go back through and I kind of highlight like yes, that is still something I believe in even more. So I continue to go back through them over time, several times a year as I reflect to really pull out the most essential components of the different podcasts and different learning artifacts.
Daniel: 28:48 Love it. Thank you so much for unpacking one of those and bringing us to the actual page. And I think a ruckus maker listening, you know, could take action and maybe create their own notebook. And this is called a common book, right? And I think Ben Franklin was famous for doing this and a number of other people throughout time and an author that I really like, and have stolen his process, Ryan Holiday, famous for Ego is the Enemy. He does this similarly with note cards. And on the note card in the top right, he’ll put the topic kind of like you have your three core topics you sort of ride on and he’ll capture that takeaway or that quote and then who to attribute it to. And that way he’s really captured a whole wealth of knowledge, which then informs his life, his leadership and his writing. So I think you’re experiencing the same power of taking the discipline of capturing those things because you’re right over time you’re going to forget, and so you need some sort of system to review the material so that it stays fresh and it stays pertinent to your leadership that you face. So thank you again Chris for sharing that.
Chris: 30:07 Oh, not a problem. Glad to learn with everybody and glad to share.
Daniel: 30:12 Alright we might have time for two more. I know there’s a few things you wanted to discuss, but you talked about your core beliefs in Google drive is wow. Can you share the story there and maybe what those core beliefs are?
Chris: 30:28 Sure. So as I started journaling and then reflecting upon the journal, as time went on, once again as a leader, I felt it was so important that I had established my core beliefs. In other words, that the goals or the beliefs that really drive me as an educator that allow me to make decisions consistently that match my core beliefs. Because if you don’t have those foundational core beliefs, I think as an educator, as a leader, there’s times you’ll be making decisions then that maybe go away from what you believe or you’re not as consistent with them.
Chris: 31:03 So if you operate by your core beliefs, you were consistently going to make decisions that come back to that and it’s going to allow you to really impact others the same way over time. And that allows your culture of the people you work with to impact them in a very consistent and positive way. So for me as a building principal, my three core beliefs are the importance of relationships, being student centered and then modeling the way. Those are the three that I really currently believe that are the three most important for me as the school leader. And then the Google drive, that is something where, I’m starting to house a lot of my professional and positional type thoughts core beliefs because through connecting with folks, just even like yourself, Danny, I’ve been sharing my Google drive with others and I’m learning from them.
Chris: 31:55 They’re learning from me and it’s allowed us to share resources so much more effectively. And then we have, we use Google Hangouts as well to share ideas more quickly and more effectively. And it’s allowed us, I think as school leaders to really help drive our innovative practices quickly as a way to impact our schools. So sharing things electronically now has allowed us to really impact each other and be more helpful in a supportive way through the power of the PLN with educators across the globe.
Daniel: 32:28 Awesome. All right, well Chris last couple of questions to finish up this really wonderful conversation. What message would you put on all school marquees across the globe if you could do so for just a day?
Chris: 32:42 Wow, that’s a great question. I would say it’s all about kids and I think it’s a message. It’s all about kids is what I would encourage schools to put on their marquees because schools get busy, our lives get busy, but if we keep the focus on kids and it’s all about kids, that allows us to really focus the priorities and our resources on what matters most, which are the kids. So I would put something along the lines. It’s all about kids and that’s really what I have to embody I think as a leader by modeling it with my staff, my interactions, my behaviors is it’s all about kids. That’s what I would put on there.
Daniel: 33:25 All right, and you know that this question was coming. You’re building school from the ground up. You’re not limited by any resources, your only limitation Chris is your imagination. How would you build your dream school? What would be your top three priorities?
Chris: 33:40 Wow, that is a great situation to have building your dream school and top three priorities. I think first of all I would say that the best schools are not because of the brick and mortar or the technology. So I would not focus on that as much. It’s all about people. So my top three priorities would be is to find the best collection of talented, passionate educators. So that’s priority number one. And then the second one is unite behind a common purpose or are why. And then three is get out of their way and let those people lead because we’re better together than we are if one person is doing all the work. So I would get out of their way and let the people that I hired or to bring onto that school have really lead and work with kids. So those would be my three priorities.
Daniel: 34:37 Chris, thanks so much for being a part of a 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?
Chris: 34:47 I think it’s the importance of we’re better together and the more that I and everybody can share ideas, listen and learn from others and gather those takeaways that resonate with you in your position or your role, and then just continually try to strive to get better. I think those are the things I would encourage all ruckus makers to remember.
Daniel: 35:11 Thanks for listening to the Better Leaders Better Schools podcast for ruckus maker. If you have a question or would like to connect, my email, [email protected] or hit me up on Twitter @alienearbud. 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 @alienearbud and using the hashtag BLBS. Level up your leadership at betterleadersbetterschools.com and talk to you next time. Until then, class dismissed.
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