Justin started teaching in 2004 at a brand new school in Forsyth County Ga. Over his 12 years of teaching, he had the opportunity to teach each grade level of Science, lead the creation of an enrichment curriculum and class, and serve in various teacher leadership positions. In 2016, he accepted a position to become an Instructional Technology Specialist at his current school Vickery Creek Middle School. This position allowed him to coach teachers in their use of instructional technology as well as their instructional practice. In 2018 he was promoted to Assistant Administrator at the same school, where he currently serves as the administrator over 7th grade and our science department. He also takes an active leadership role in working with the junior leadership class in helping grow their social emotional learning curriculum. He is active on Twitter and Linkedin. His Twitter handle is @JustMewborn where I lead our school Twitter chat titled #VCMSLeaders. He is always posting ways to support others and reflective questions and thoughts from my readings.

Help Teachers Level up with Reflective Questions

by Justin Mewborn

Show Highlights

  • Justin discovers the right question transforms leadership to empower teachers
  • Differentiate evaluation feedback of teachers to develop reflective thinkers and rich conversations
  • Play follow the leader. 
  • Model how you challenge yourself to perform at high levels and modify your best practices 
  • Learn what’s in the heart of your teachers and uncover the “why” to promote continuous improvement 
  • The formula to risk, rigor and reward
  • Provide an atmosphere for high performing teachers to design outside of the box
  • The mark of a good leader is encouraging your teachers to fail
  • Are you utilizing school leaders in the building?

“We got to create an environment where teachers feel empowered to try these things without that fear of if this evaluator is in there and this flops, what’s that going to do?” 

– Justin Mewborn

Full Transcript Available Here

Daniel (00:00):

Welcome to the Better Leaders, Better Schools Podcast. This is your friendly neighborhood podcast host Daniel Bauer. Better Leaders, Better Schools is a weekly show for Ruckus Maker. What is a Ruckus Maker? A leader whose found freedom from the status quo. A leader who makes change happen. A leader who never ever gives up. So this is a special episode that I recorded with my friend and colleague Justin. We have a coaching conversation around really a topic, if we can use questions and reflection to help an entire staff level up their skills. So that’s where we jump in first in this conversation and I think you’ll enjoy it. So Ruckus Maker. Thanks for being here. Before we jump into this episode, let’s take just a few moments to thank our show sponsors the 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 teaching facts. It’s basically like a Fitbit for teachers, helping them be mindful of teacher talk versus student talk.

Sponsor  (01:20):

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Daniel (02:08):

Justin, thank you so much for scheduling this time to chat. I know you mentioned a couple of the topics you’re interested in unpacking and so I’m here for you and what’s first on the list?

Justin (02:20):

All right, so first on the list, one thing that I’m working on with, with the teachers at my school is developing them into reflective thinkers. I do, as an evaluator, every time I go in and one thing that I try to do is be in classrooms as much as I absolutely possibly can. One thing I’m really trying to do with them is give them reflective questions every time. Then I come into their class to get them to reflect on different things they’re doing and different adjustments that they would need to make in the classes. One thing you know, and this is from a book that Daniel has recommended, it’s called a Change your Questions Change your Life. I really dug into that book. It really opened my eyes to how you can use questioning to adjust the way that you think and adjust the way.

Justin (03:09):

That you practice leadership that you practice teaching and those different pieces. One thing I am looking to do is to get even better at asking the right questions to the teachers to get at truly what they think. I’m just wanting to have an effect on those teachers. What are some strategies that I could do to get them to look at their practice, to get them to expand on and to get them to feel empowered to try more things?

Daniel (03:37):

First, I just want to honor that you’re supporting your teachers in that way. And I love, you know, you talked about all the books that you’ve been reading from the recommended book list that we put out there and the growth you’ve had. Kudos to you for digging in, which is only really like 10% of it and then 90% is actually taking action. So not only are you a leveling up in terms of your learning, but you’re putting that stuff into place, which is huge. So you’re helping your teachers just by executing on that, implementing the ideas. Another book you might want to put on the list is, it’s already on the recommended list I’m pretty sure. I’m not sure which ones you’ve seen because I put a lot of stuff out there, but it’s called, The Coaching Habit. And since you’re interested specifically in questions that is one of the go to coaching question books. I read it years ago and saw the author in the world business executive coaching summit and just was like, Oh, he’s awesome and dug in. Oh. But then when I did the alt MBA as a student and became an Alta MBA coach, that’s one of the books that they send all the students because it’s about mindset and frameworks and seeing things differently. So I think you’d love the book

Justin (04:58):

Awesome. That sounds great. You know, and one thing looking at those different questions and those things. One thing that I’ve also really had to look at is my balance. I’m sure that looking at it from an evaluator lens and looking at it from a coaching lens. I mean obviously when I go in I’ll do an evaluation, but I’m always very sure to leave them as descriptive of the amount of feedback as I can. Including those different questions. One thing that I’ll also do is try to consider all the different learners in the classroom. I’m trying to consider your gifted advanced learners and then what you would consider your medial learners. Yeah, I’m trying to look at what the teacher is doing for all the learners in the classroom.

Justin (05:49):

One thing we’re looking at as a school and one area we’re looking to grow is our student growth in our gifted and advanced population. There’s different sources of data out there that you can look at for student growth. One of the main ones we look at obviously is your state testing data and you’re looking at student growth. And really as far as student growth is measured in that regard, it can be the difference in one or two questions on a test to measure growth, but I’m really looking at and really interested in high levels of rigor for our gifted advanced population. At our school we do have a large gift, an advanced population and I’m wanting them to be more challenged and I feel like to do that, the teachers are really going to have to step outside the box to do that. So what are some, what are some ideas that I could do to encourage the teachers to step outside the box?

Daniel (06:43):

Okay, I’m going to come back. I wrote that question down. If you saw my head down and not jotting down a note, I want to keep going with the reflective questions and the capacity building of teachers. I want to explore that with you some more. So when you’re asking those kinds of questions, what are they, what do they look like and sound like, and how are they delivered? Is that, is that through like your written observation feedback? Is that face to face? I’m just curious, you know, how they get the questions, how they interact. Because I think you mentioned too, maybe it was before we started recording that it’s really working for some teachers and maybe not as effective with others. And so that’s, that’s why I want to keep exploring there before we move on.

Justin (07:28):

Absolutely. Really, you know, looking at this, I always deliver these in terms of their written feedback. I’ll usually obviously be having an evaluator platform that we use, but I will always put these questions in email format and I think about that it would probably be better face to face and having those conversations face to face. I mean it has prompted some of the teachers to want to meet with me face to face and we’ll have really rich conversations about those things. But then I’ve got some that I feel like, yeah, I’m wanting them to explore it a little further because I never get a response or the teacher doesn’t ever come back to me to do that. Now in their defense, I know they’re really busy. I know they’ve got a lot going on, but that’s kind of what I’m seeing. I’m wanting to have those rich conversations with those teachers about their practice and what they’re doing.

Daniel (08:23):

So you’ve given them a lot of space, which is pretty awesome. If you want to have richer conversations with a targeted group, you can be a little more aggressive with it. Right. Not,physically or anything like that. But I mean you can, I’d be more proactive. These people for whatever reason, haven’t been as reflective and I think you can do more in terms of following up and just sort of trying to initiate and get that discussion going. I’m very curious and I don’t know but some of the ones that are less reflective, busy. Yes. But you said it gets sent through the evaluation tool as well. So are they the lower performing teachers or, or is that mixed?

Justin (09:11):

You know, it really is mixed. It is. We’ve really got, we’ve got a great group of teachers and looking at their practice, they’re all really good at what they do. I mean, they’re, they’re really good at different skills but you know, like I’ve heard someone say continuous improvement is a must. If you get stagnant, then you’re going to struggle. We’re a pretty high performing school. But what I’m looking at is just wanting them to even further challenge those kids, even continue to dig further. It’s really, as far as their performance, they’re all either meeting or exceeding the same.

Justin (09:50):

You know, one thing that we do battle, and I’m sure that you know, you’ve, you’ve seen those as well, is you’ve got, you’ve got teachers that while some of these practices may not be bad practice, but they’re older practices, they’re the traditional teaching practices. They’re those pieces the ways that they’ve done it for a long time. They feel they work and it’s just trying to get them to shift perspective.

Daniel (10:15):

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we’d still be going around and traveling by horse and carriage. There was nothing necessarily wrong with it. People just, they didn’t see the innovation of what the automobile could do for us and I think it’s hard. I’m getting clarity. I mean to convince somebody who’s meeting or in a lot of respects exceeding expectations, students are achieving, well why mess around with it? Why innovate? Why try to grow and stretch and that sort of thing is what I’m hearing. Am I right on that?

Justin (10:51):

I think you hit it dead on it and that’s something even as a school recently regardless of whatever the opinions are on state testing and I get that, you know, we recently showed tremendous growth on our state tests. We finished very high as far as overall rankings in the state. Oh. On those pieces. But it’s one of those things where you’re looking at what can we do better? What can we do to even achieve higher for our kids? And you know, one thing looking at that is providing more higher debts of knowledge of questioning, so knowledge conversations and those kinds of things in the classes. You hit it, you nailed it. It’s one of those things where I’m really trying to get the teachers to feel empowered to do those things. Yeah. You don’t feel empowered to try these innovative and creative types of lessons and really to look at that through questioning that I’m giving to get them to come to that conclusion. I’ll know if it’s one thing, if I’m giving them the feedback that’s correct saying you need to do this, this, and this. It’s not as impactful as they come to that realization on their own through reflection.

Daniel (11:54):

100% agree. So again, this is why I love coaching because you just get to be outside of the environment and just sort of ask curious questions and get more clarity about what’s going on. So some of the things I’m considering is how do you and the rest of the leadership team talk about sort of this big idea of getting better? So that’s, that’s one idea I want to put to the side. Two, how are you modeling it? Right? So how are you challenging yourself in terms of being a high performer and wanting to get even better? You know, it all in your head.

Daniel (12:48):

I don’t. Does your faculty, so how are you modeling it or communicating it and expressing it, that kind of thing. A third one would be where are you providing the time to do the reflection and dreaming, right? And as a leader, you might be able to force this a bit with structure, like making a meeting a somewhat mandatory like, Hey, come in Justin, and during these 30 minutes we’re just, we’re gonna, you know, if they’re not doing the reflecting on their own or writing or whatever, you can, you can again I think push that a little bit on your own. And then sort of the last idea would be big. Why? And small why. So like there’s the school’s big why and why you exist, what you’re trying to do and things that you value. Like these are depths of knowledge and critical thinking questions.

Daniel (13:40):

Okay, that’s great. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I think that’s fantastic. But that might be different from my small why. So where I want to push you is do you know the reason that your people get out of bed each day to come back to your school? And I’m curious what their vision, what they’re excited to experiment with. Like I think you guys probably have a lot of similar desires, but you might not know potentially what it is they want to do. If you could uncover that, right, this is a fun experiment to run in an adventure to be on. If you can uncover why and that, that idea that people want to sort of go after in their classrooms and then follow up with that. It might not be the levels of questioning, right? But if it’s something connected to their heart, it’s good for kids, something they always wanted to do and push and stretch themselves and you know it and you follow up and you support it and empower them in it, then I think it like connects to the quote. I love that everybody wins when a leader gets better. In some respects just put an educator, everybody wins. When your faculty, your educators get better. It’s true. Sorry, I’m really interested in that last idea too

Justin (14:52):

Daniel, that sounds fantastic and I mean one thing that resonates with me very well because it’s something that as leaders we really have to do and it’s even really before I started reading the recommended book list and all this stuff, a book that I read, and I know you’ve mentioned it a couple of times, is To Start with Five book assignments at a time. That book resonated with me a lot in terms of why I lead and why I do what I do. Maybe in terms of and I’m just thinking this out loud, this is just me brainstorming here. So maybe in terms of me not being, because my intention is not to be as technical with the type of reflection.

Justin (15:38):

But to give them the questions of why and to give them those types of questions so that they’re looking at, you know, and ask them what is something you’ve always wanted to try with your kids. Exactly. Really taking it outside the box and then that way get that an authentic engagement and those different things they’re going to be looking to do because it could be a scenario of these teachers have a lot on their plates, the ones that really aren’t responding to the questions, they have a lot on their plates and it may just be a time thing. It may be that truly they want to do these things, but it’s you know, an effort on leadership giving effort on all those different things to give them the time to be able to. It really is, it’s so rewarding to see like we’ve got a couple of teachers that I see, they really have taken this to heart and know with the reduction of state testing and some of these classes and it’s been a really cool thing.

Justin (16:34):

They’ve been able to try a lot more project based learning and a lot more of those types of things that will incorporate choice into the lessons and it is amazing to go into these classes and just see the level of engagement not only for the kids but also for the teacher and just the overall happiness of the teacher in the room when they are leading a lesson that’s like that. Talk about leader social emotional learning. That’s a big impact on that as well. You’re seeing that success and you’re able to do these things that you mentioned. In terms of your why, if it directly connects to that, you’re automatically gonna feel better about what you’re doing. Oh yeah.

Sponsor  (17:18):

Better leaders. Better schools is proudly sponsored by an 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 [email protected] the better, better schools podcast.

Sponsor  (17:49):

Is brought to you by TeachFX [inaudible] is a research driven app that uses artificial intelligence to give teachers feedback on the balance of teacher talk. Verse student talk their use of open ended questions, wait time, an equitable classroom dialogue, learn more and get a special 20% discount for your school or district by visitingTeachFX.com/BLBS

Daniel (17:50):

I’m also curious,how do you showcase what’s happening in those powerful classroom experiences? For the rest of the faculty. So that is not your school’s best kept secret, but it’s just kinda of how we operate around here. Those that are curious of how you can stretch or how to innovate and use project based learning in the class. Like here’s what Justin’s doing down the hall. Let’s showcase his classes this week and people can observe, not evaluate but just take down notes and be curious.

Daniel (18:51):

And I’m not sure if you guys have ever done instructional rounds, but that was something that I really enjoyed doing as a school leader. And then there’s Japanese lesson study as well. So the thing with rounds, the thing with lesson study, and I could connect this back to your desire to want to have teachers reflect as well, just like our kids, when you put a grade on something, right? And you were talking about delivering the reflective questions through the evaluative tool, which isn’t wrong, it’s just one way of doing it. But what I do know, especially what I think with everybody, but especially high performers, they just want to see how did I score? And now I’m moving on. So if you remove the grade, if you remove the evaluation in the score and you just provide the feedback and the questions now, now I think I’m more willing to engage and want to engage with it because it doesn’t matter what I scored. So that’s as something to consider as well.

Daniel (19:52):

Absolutely. No, I think that sounds great. Good stuff.I think it connects to now with this level and up the rigor and the growth of your, your gifted and advanced students. So I heard you’re, you guys are trying PBL stuff and so I think that is like getting back to showcasing, you know, who’s doing it well and then looking at like, how do we give more ownership to students. You know, because a lot of times we think as a leader or as a classroom teacher that it’s sort of a linear progression and here’s the way that you should do it. Right. You know, for kids really to take it to the next level, they have to make mistakes and be able to stretch. That means they have to design their own path. So I’m curious, how do you guys allow kids to do that within your classes?

Justin (20:48):

You know, one thing that we’re doing also and just to incorporate some other pieces. Another leader that I value a lot, Elizabeth Isles, she works in the school with me. I’m sure you know, she’s on Twitter does an outstanding job. We’ve been leading a literacy initiative,throughout our county and especially in our school. And one thing that we’ve been able to do with this project based learning, it’s really look at implementing literacy components into it as well. So we’ve done a lot of professional learning on literacy and what it looks like throughout all the content areas. One thing that we’re really looking at with our teachers and, and some of those different pieces is what does it look like to have an assignment? To have a project where the students are in the driver’s seat? Where the students are creating things where they have a lot of opportunities to choose and they have a lot of opportunities to extend on their thinking.

Justin (21:45):

So it really does all kind of come full circle in terms of what we’re looking at our kids hopefully being able to do by the time they leave our school. It really does all come full circle in, in looking at that one thing that, you know, it all ties in in terms of getting the teachers to design this type of thinking to their kids. Kind of referring it back to our gifted advanced population. A lot of our students in that population do great with these types of activities. But within one class you may have students that are very knowledgeable, gifted and advanced, but you may also have students that struggle. So a lot of the hiccups come in when teachers were trying to do this and they’re trying to adapt it for every type of performer in class. So yeah, that’s really where we are.

Daniel (22:38):

Gotcha. And I think too, you know, sometimes with some of these innovations and risks, it’s like how can you make it a bit smaller? So maybe they don’t try it with every single kid, but with a, it’s a segment of kids, right? Figure out what works there and then add some more, you know, and maybe they do them just one class and then it goes to two classes, et cetera, et cetera. But you know, I think when people hear and think about change or experiments and risk and innovation, they think, okay, and now I have to do it through every class, all my students all the time. And if I go back to what we were talking about earlier, the traditional way of doing things that’s now wrong, so not true, what would it look like for you to try it 10% of the time? Yeah. What would it look like for you to try it once this week in one of your classes and if it works and when it works or even when it fails, how can we learn from it and then maybe expand it a bit more to other classes. So that might be another approach, you know, just to consider

Justin (23:26):

Right. Well and you hit on something and I feel like even taking a bigger picture, look at this, and you mentioned this earlier from my understanding the reason why and you know, what are the teachers excited about coming to the school and doing what they do? I think it’s really providing the atmosphere for a teacher. And I know you’ve mentioned this a lot of times, you talking about failures, you did the failure, I forgot what’s the name of it? Yeah, failure resume or whatever it was, where you know, the leaders we go through and they were talking about those things.

Justin (24:19):

We got to create an environment where teachers feel empowered to try these things without that fear of if this evaluator is in there and this flops, what’s that going to do? I’m very passionate about that as well. I feel like I want for the teachers to really be able to say, you know what? I want to try this and if it doesn’t work, I’m going to adjust and I’ll try something different. That’s okay. That’s good for our kids. And to me that marks a good teacher, being able to adjust and being able to do those things for the betterment of our kids.

Daniel (24:54):

Just communicate that as much as possible because folks will want to go back to that traditional paradigm that you have to be great all the time. Failure is bad, et cetera, et cetera. And so how you can be vulnerable and, and, um, how you guys can showcase even the biggest and best failures of the year and what we’ve learned from them. That changes culture, you know? But it takes, it takes your leadership and courage in order to make that happen. So did we hit most of the ideas that you wanted to discuss today or is there any other sort of big, big things we should noodle on?

Justin (25:07):

I think this is absolutely fantastic. I feel like this is a great place for me to go with this and to move in a different direction because I think a lot of the things that you’re saying applies in a lot of different ways. You mentioned a lot of the different recommended books that I’ve seen out there, a lot of them involve leaders doing the essential work and doing the work that matters in eliminating distractions from their day, you know, from their minds.

Justin (26:06):

And those different pieces. I think a lot of these questions that you’re talking about with your big why or small why and these different pieces really helps all the way around, not just with the teachers and getting them to grow in the areas that we’re discussing. But also the different leaders in the building and getting them to focus on the essentials and their why, what their role is and what they can do to maximize the impact of those.

Daniel (26:34):

Awesome. Again, I appreciate you scheduling this Justin, thanks for being my guest on this coaching session, slash podcast, episode. I’m wondering for the Ruckus Maker who’s listening, what do you think is the one big idea that they should remember from this conversation?

Justin (26:53):

The one big idea, and I think that you will get this from listening to this engaging in rich conversations with the people that you lead is so important because as leaders we have such an ability to inspire others to try these things. It is very important to remember those pieces as well as how we are asking those important questions to the people.

Daniel (27:22):

Thanks again ,Justin. Thank you Daniel. Thanks for listening to the Better Leaders, Better Schools, podcasts for Ruckus Maker. If you have a question or would like to connect my email, Daniel @betterleadersbetterschools.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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School leaders know that productive student talk drives student learning, but the average teacher talks 75% of class time! TeachFX is changing that with a “Fitbit for teachers” that automatically measures student engagement and gives teachers feedback about what they could do differently. 

Learn more about the TeachFX app and get a special 20% discount for your school or district by visiting teachfx.com/blbs.


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