Demetrius Ball is a dynamic leader focused on serving his family and community. As a current high school principal Demetrius is committed to creating a climate and school culture that is welcoming and inclusive for all students and staff members and sees strong relationships as the key to helping students and staff thrive.
He has presented at local, regional and national conferences on topics such as technology integration, podcasting, the power of developing your professional/personal learning community, Restorative Justice, and Culturally Responsive Teaching.
Demetrius is a graduate of the United States Military, West Point, New York, where his leadership journey truly began. After graduation he served 5-years as a field artillery officer in the Army completing two tours in the Middle East. Demetrius lives in Northern California with his wife, Valu, his West Point classmate, and 4 children.
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The catalyst and most challenging part about being a participant.
Demetrius shares why the Mastermind is “vital” for leaders.
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Read the Transcript here.
Vital Professional Development
At Better Leaders, Better Schools. We believe when you get better, everyone wins. It’s really that simple. By investing in your own leadership development, everything happens from there. You get better, your staff gets better, your students get better, your community gets better. And this isn’t just a phrase that I made up, JFK said the same thing. He said, A rising tide lifts all boats. It’s the same idea. By taking care of yourself, you take care of others. Now, starting today, and over the next four weeks through July, we’re gonna have a lot of special podcast episodes that are focused on Mastermind members because these really are some extraordinary school leaders doing phenomenal stuff within their schools. We’re also going to demystify what the Mastermind experience is like. Many people are interested in the Mastermind, but they just don’t have a sense of what this leadership development community is really all about?
Hopefully through some of these case studies over the next five weeks, you’ll get to hear what the Mastermind experience is like, and if it aligns with your values, if it seems to resonate with something inside you and with how you want to grow, I wanna really encourage you to apply. And if you go to BetterLeadersbetterschools.com/Mastermind, you can learn all about the community. If you choose, you can complete that application and join what is arguably the world’s best professional development opportunity for school leaders. That’s because it’s responsive, relevant, and results oriented professional development. Unlike the PD that is usually offered to you, which is too little, too late, unhelpful and disconnected. Finally, I wanna make the case that this is now the best time to join the Mastermind, and there’s a few reasons for that. One, we’re getting back into the school year at least if you’re listening to this episode as it’s released.
We’re in the summer, and this is a great time to be preparing for a successful school year two. We’ve added so much value this year that it’s kind of crazy. I’ve been talking about it on different workshops and webinars through email if you subscribe to emails. But very broadly, at a high level, let me just unpack how we’ve added value. We’ve added a three year certification program to run successful schools. We’ve added two one day retreats that you get to come to for free and really solidify what you’ve learned in the Mastermind, what you’ve learned in the certification program, and to bring those relationships to the next level and continue to build that network a really powerful network. It was Jim who said, you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with.
These are school leaders you want to spend time with and learn from. And then the final reason you wanna join now, and this is just literally dollars and cents. In August the Mastermind membership is going up, and that hasn’t happened for maybe about four years. I know it’s been at least three, and it’s still very reasonably priced and fairly priced as well. But you can get basically the best deal that’s out there right now and as long as you apply and are accepted into the program before August. Again, go to BetterLeadersbetterschools.com/Mastermind to check it all out. And now over to our main conversation with the amazing Demetrius Ball. Hey, it’s Danny, chief Ruckus Maker over at Better Leaders Better Schools. I’m a principal development and retention expert. I am a bestselling author and I host two of the world’s most downloaded podcasts. We’ll be right back with our main conversation after a few messages from our show sponsors.
Learn how to successfully navigate change, shape your school’s success, and lead your teams with Harvard Certificate in School Management and leadership. Get world-class Harvard Faculty Research, specifically adapted for pre-K through 12 schools. Self-Paced online professional development that fits your schedule. Get started at BetterLeadersbetterschools.com/harvard. With Teach Fx, teachers are creating classrooms that are alive with conversation. Their app gives teachers insights into high level practices like how much student talk happened, which questions got students talking. It’s eye-opening for teachers and scales, the impact of coaches and principals and Ruckus Makers. Start your free pilot [email protected]/BLBS. If executive functioning skills are integral to student success, then why aren’t they taught explicitly and consistently in classrooms? I have no idea. I have no idea why that doesn’t happen. But what I do know is that our friends over at Organized Binder have created a new course that will teach your teachers how to set up students for success via executive functioning skills. Learn [email protected]/go.
Demetrius Ball is a dynamic leader focused on serving his family and community. As a current high school principal, Demetrius is committed to creating a climate and school culture that is welcoming and inclusive for all students and staff members, and sees strong relationships as the key to helping students and staff thrive. He has presented at local, regional and national conferences on topics such as technology integration, podcasting, the power of developing your professional personal learning community, restorative justice, and culturally responsive teaching. Demetrius is a graduate of the United States Military, West Point New York, where his leadership journey truly began after graduation. He served five years as a field artillery officer in the Army, completing two tours in the Middle East. Demetrius lives in North Carolina with his wife Falu, his West Point classmate and four children. I think your family probably calls you Demetrius or at least mom and dad.
Actually my mom calls me Demetrius. My dad calls me Sean. I don’t know if I’ve given you the background story.
I don’t know that you ever have, but I might ask you about it in another show potentially, but that’s interesting to learn. Your students Principal Ball. They’re calling you principal ball or big man on campus, maybe, potentially. And I like to call you D Money. Demetrius, it’s awesome to have you here joining me on the audiobook version of Mastermind. We’re here to tell your story. Thanks for joining me.
Absolutely. Thanks for having me, Danny. I appreciate it.
Let’s start at the beginning. Can you remember what life and leadership was like before joining the Mastermind?
It was very isolated. I will say. Before I joined the Mastermind, I actually had jumped into the assistant principal role at an elementary school and it was a really challenging environment on its own. Not really having someone to share my experiences with, vent and let things out and brainstorm how to make it through some of these challenges was really difficult. I felt like I was on my own and I ended up making a mid-year change from that school to another. And when I was able to make that move, I was really able to reflect and say I need some more, I need some more development. I need some more opportunities to have a space to really grow long and share and just have a sounding board. And that’s when I decided that I needed to join a Mastermind.
Awesome. Tell me more about the isolation and why that is such an obstacle maybe to leadership capacity and growth.
I’ve always had the mindset that folks, you’re more productive when you have other folks that you’re able to work with, share and learn from. because I transitioned from the Army into education and was teaching a lot of classes that I didn’t necessarily have a background in. But because I was part of some really strong teams that collaborated really well, I grew a ton, became a much better teacher because of that group, because of our ideas that we were sharing, the content that we were sharing and working through. When I made the transition to admin, that collaborative piece was something that I felt like I was missing. It’s easy to get in the classroom, it’s really easy to get caught up in your day-to-day and you feel like I’m the only one that’s doing this and there’s just not necessarily anyone to share those experiences with.
It was a challenge, but then just again, pulling back and when I made that transition, just realizing, okay I really need to have a place where I can have a safe environment to have conversations that are challenging and learn from folks that have been through those experiences already.
Shifting the schools and not wanting to repeat this experience in isolation. Would you say that was the catalyst or was it something else?
I think that was probably the biggest catalyst. When I decided that I was going to get an education I had to just take that jump, take, make that leap and go seek out the opportunity for school and stuff like that. When I decided that I wanted to get my admin credential, I had to jump out there and do that as well. I’ve always been one for developing myself professionally. I felt that when I made that transition. I’ve always needed that and like being a loyal listener to the podcast and I was like, Hey, I gotta tap into this guy.
That’s cool. I’m so thrilled that you did tap in. We’ve been connected since then. You’re certainly one of my favorites. You joined. Obviously, you didn’t want the isolation, you wanted to be connected, you wanted that safe space in addition to those things. Was there like a number one goal you wanted to achieve or was it more just having that kind of support?
I think the biggest thing was having that support at the time. I didn’t really have an end goal whether it was career-wise, like I want to get to this certain point. I always knew that I wanted to become a principal. Because of my experience in the Mastermind. I was able to get to that point faster than I would’ve without. I would say that the Mastermind just opened my eyes to the possibility and helped me develop some confidence. because we talk about it and you talk about it on and about that imposter syndrome. Ready for the next step? Having thought of partners in the Mastermind, you can do that. You can do this.
Absolutely. I’m curious, so you had the military background and then you found us in the Mastermind. Was there anything you tried in between those two experiences in terms of being connected as a leader to achieve yet the support and safety that you were looking for
Going through my admin credential program, one of the requirements was for you to join a professional organization. Actually joined N A S P, National Association of Secondary principals. I went to the conference in 2014 in Dallas. And that really kind of opened up my eyes to like, wow there’s a whole community of administrators because I was still a classroom teacher, but it was all admin and they all wanted to be successful and they all wanted everyone there to be successful. And This is a pretty cool experience. At that time, that’s when I started getting into social media. I remember that one of the presenters was actually the tech principal of the year. Actually got me signed up for Twitter and at the conference. Isn’t that just for celebrities to share pictures of what they ate for dinner and stuff like that. I had no really no real connection. But then she told me, “Hey these follow me. Look at the profiles of the folks that follow me. And just kind of dive in.” And so 2014 is when I became a connected educator and the whole world opened up to me. And just realized like, wow, there’s a community of folks that wanna learn and want to grow. These whole Twitter chat things like that was another area where you’re able to have another opportunity to connect and learn and share.Connecting digitally was something that really grew me as a teacher at the time and grew me as the early young AP Right?
Yeah. Twitter was the spot for educators. There’s still a lot of people. I actually just deactivated my account. I’m not asking you to comment on that. Let’s keep it positive. Was there ever a celebrity or high status individual that followed you and you were like, “wow, I can’t believe that just happened?” I have one I wanna share with you, but I want to ask if you had one first.
No, honestly, no. There’s just some of those edgy celebrities that are out there, but nothing. At the time, as a teacher, I was like, oh wow, it’s cool that that educator followed me. But yeah, no one outside of Keisha would necessarily know who they are.
Out of the blue Taye Digs followed me and is still following me to this day. I’m gonna lose that connection, but I don’t know why. That’s a claim to fame. I should say principle development and retention expert bestselling author or host the two of the world’s most downloaded podcasts and followed by TA digs on Twitter. I’m gonna add what I think to my bio.
Go. You should, you should. That’s an opportunity waiting to happen out there.
Thanks for allowing me to joke around. N E S P I love both organizations get a lot of value going to their conferences. I attend regularly. I’ve had the privilege to speak at a number of those. Fun fact, I don’t know if you knew this, but I’ve actually run some workshops to train their coaches that coach school leaders. Sort of coaching the coaches there at N E S P. I’ve also done workshops for them on how to run the Mastermind model from their organization to serve school leaders. Those two things and then there’s Twitter with the connected. Those are good experiences. I don’t wanna, I’m not knocking them, but they weren’t the Mastermind. Can you tell me why were you still looking, because you had the N A S S P experience, you had Twitter. Why was Mastermind really that hit for you?
I needed that personal experience. Since graduating from undergraduate, I hadn’t had that in-person experience with other folks until I went, got my credentials. I was living in Maryland and able to get my admin administrative certification through Coppin State University in Baltimore. It was in person twice a week. Being face-to-face and in communication with folks was good. All my other education had at that point pretty much all been digital and it wasn’t necessarily face-to-face. Obviously, the way that the Masterminds formatted we’re meeting online, but at the same time it’s live, we’re interacting. You can see my face, I can see your face, and we can go back and forth that have that connection. Although that it is digital, it’s much more personal than the tweets or all those.
Yeah, that’s super cool. We have live events too, so there’s opportunities to connect and we’re actually gonna be adding more. I’ll tell you about that later as well. Did you have a fear or reservation about joining?
I think the only reservation was the cost. Besides that, like, I was willing to dive in. I’ll say this, I’ve grown with being comfortable sharing my story and sharing who I am with other folks. By the time I started the Mastermind, I was like, yeah, this is what I need in order to continue to grow. There wasn’t reservations as far as like getting in involved. I was definitely interested to see who are these folks going to be? But it’s been great. Cost could be an obstacle. How did you move past that? I’ve always looked at it as investing in myself and investing in my future. My wife and I have been blessed with never being in a spot where money has been an issue for us. I can’t just describe how fortunate, how blessed we are to never have been in that spot since we’ve been out of college. The money wasn’t an issue. Once we sat down and had that discussion and was able to say, Hey this is gonna make me better. And that’s how we got past it.
I appreciate you sharing that. What was it like when you first started coming to the Mastermind group?
It was it was pretty cool to be part of a group and just get to see all these different folks from all over the place and with that goal of just being a better educator. There was just like, wow. Folks on the other side of the world. Or folks down south or other parts of the United States. We all got similar challenges. We’ve got maybe different demographics, different communities. And so that was an eye-opening thing too, to hear folks that are in communities where there may not be a lot of parent support or there’s a whole lot of hidden involvement and it’s too much and just culturally and socioeconomically the differences. But even with all those differences, so many similarities. It was just like really cool and refreshing to go through and and see and learn about this awesome group of educators from all over the place.
What surprised you most when you joined?
It was really cool to see how willing everyone was to share their experiences and also one of the amazing things I like that we’re reading books. And we’re talking the books and we always talk about how you can make all these excuses about how you don’t have time to do these things. You’re making time to read, you’re making time to discuss and think about questions and how be an active reader and you’re taking the time out of your day, an hour every week to be a part of this community. Since I’ve been in the Mastermind life, please don’t gimme excuses if there’s not time because I hear you. But all of us, like you, you make, you make time for what’s important to you. I’m a habit type of person, and so when I have the habit of reading, I have the habit of blocking that out this hour each week, it can be done.
And there are hundreds of us doing it. I don’t know how many of a Mastermind at this point, but by the time the au the audio book comes out of the hundreds. I think the real number, it might be 87, I wanna say it’s like 87 right now. Yeah. But you know, to be honest, my vision is one day 5,000. I actually used to be scared to say that out loud to be honest. A little mini teaching point. But I believe in the model. I see how transformative itis and you’re an awesome leader. And I see your growth where I talk to somebody in your system and they’re just bragging on you and all the great stuff you’re doing. And so that makes me super proud.
And so it’s a question of like getting the word out, finding the right people. But the reason 5,000 doesn’t scare me anymore. Not only like is it a function of confidence, I just did the math. It’s real, it’s like less than 5% of all the school leaders in the United States and Canada alone. I think it might be around three, 3% or something like that. That feels doable even though five thousand’s, a big number, 3%, 5%, whatever, that, that’s a small. I don’t know if that’s helpful to you. Hopefully it’s helpful to the listener, but yeah, that’s the goal we’re building toward. We’re gonna get there one day. I’ll figure it out. How about what was hard about, I guess, using the Mastermind and be candid. Like the most difficult part or challenging part about being a participant?
I think just the consistency because there are times where you got a lot of stuff going on and I was adamant about not missing .when I initially started, but just understanding like that is life. It’s hard to miss, but it’s really important. I think it’s like a community. Sometimes it’s hard when you’re used to a certain group and being part of the folk, but then other and then life happens and some folks decide that the Mastermind isn’t for them. But it’s also cool the fact that we’re always welcoming new folks in. The Mastermind that I’m in now, it’s not the first one that I was in because that first time just didn’t really work for me anymore. It was Tuesday and then I had to go to Wednesday in a later time because how my schedule was working out. It was tough to leave that group and join another group. I’ve been in the same group now for I don’t know how many years now.
I can’t even count that high. I actually forgot that you were in another group that’s how long you’ve been in the Guiding Principals. That’s interesting.
I was in the mastermind before groups had names.
Yeah, that’s like OG status. Amazing. The Better Leaders, Better Schools podcast is proudly sponsored by Harvard’s Certificate in School Management and Leadership. I know many Mastermind members and many Ruckus Makers who listen to this show that have gone through the program and have loved the experience. But don’t just take it from me. Let’s hear how some of the Harvard faculty describe the impact and their heart for this program. Leadership is joyful work, empowering others to do their best work. Principals do that with teachers and teachers do that with students. And empowering others to educate themselves or to be educated is just one of the most important things we can do in this world building. We’re building people, we’re building the next generation of leaders and educators.
Learn more about the program and apply at Better Leaders Better schools.com/harvard. When classrooms come alive with conversation teachers and students both thrive. Last year. Teachers using Teach FX increase their student talk by an average of 40%. Can an app really do that? Even trying something like embracing extra wait time to create space for student talk can feel like a risk. But with Teach Effects, teachers see the power of those practices in their own classroom level data. It’s like having a personal instructional coach on your phone, tablet, or laptop. Best of all, Ruckus Makers can start a free pilot with their teachers today. Go to teach fx.com/better Leaders to learn how and get started. Go to teachfx.com/betterLeaders and start your free pilot with Teach FX today. If your students are struggling to stay focused and your teachers are showing signs of burnout, you need to act now.
The good news is that there’s a path forward. It is possible to lay the foundation for learning and to re-energize your teachers. And that’s found in executive functioning skills. When students get practice with these skills, they can better self-regulate and they are more successful academically. Our friends at Organized Binder have released a new self-paced course that will teach you how to teach these executive functioning skills and set your students up for success. The goal of this course is to help your students be more successful and get teachers back to the work they’re called to do. Learn [email protected]/go. Help your students be more successful and get your teachers back to the work they’re called [email protected]/go.
All right. How about like helpful lessons or takeaways? What are some of those things that stand out to you like, wow, this is super helpful or I can’t believe this works.
The application, the books that we read, we don’t focus on education books, we focus on leadership. And it could be business, it could be CIA agents and their experiences and all the different things that you experience as a leader. Being great at work, leadership, step by step because I mean they may be little ideas and concepts, but that you can pull and are applicable to us as educational leaders. I mean the power of moments and like finding different events, making sure that everyone’s engaged and that you’re really intentional about your planning. I mean, that’s one thing. It was it in leadership step by step where it gives you some prompts about how you could actually have some conversations and connect with folks. I’m thinking of it can’t remember exactly, but it’s when you’re having a conversation with someone, part of the discussion is you’re trying to develop a relationship. You’re like, oh I have someone that I know that has that same interest as you. This is why they got into it. Why did you get into it? Ye And that helps you really cultivate your relationship. Like those meaningless conversations can go away and can have much deeper conversations with folks. Which, and then, and there’s just some of the ideas that we’ve been able to learn from over the last six, seven years that I’ve been in the Mastermind.
Emotional intelligence 2.0 has been a really big one. Just understanding how we show up and you know, what that impact can be on the folks that are, that we’re around. I’ve been able to share that one and it gives you it gives you tools to help you in the different areas of you know, social, emotional awareness and learning. Being able to dig in and process this stuff with other leaders is amazing. We get so much out of each other than the texts that we read.
Was there an exciting result that you achieved you think with the help of the Mastermind? Is there something that you attribute to that participation And if so, what was it?
My preparation for this position, when I transitioned from assistant principal to middle school principal and then from middle school principal to high school principal, being able to share the fact that I participate and develop myself. I feel like it puts me at another level with like, and I’m not big into comparing myself to other candidates who I might have been up against for a particular job. I know not everyone has the family that I have. that helps develop them. I would say when I interviewed for my middle school principal position and I had shared was just a few of the things that I learned from the Mastermind. Like I felt like I got the job right there.
What do you think the interview panel was saying in their heads as you’re sharing that Mastermind experience. And the support you have, what do you think they’re telling themselves about?
It’s just interesting and is there something out there that I can do like this? I was getting excited sharing about the Mastermind and how I felt like it’s what it’s helped me do. Again going back to the excuse of people feel like, oh you’re just just so wrapped up in your job. You don’t have time to go beyond it, but you do, you prioritize, you prioritize I think the hour of the Mastermind plus however much time you spend with what we’re reading, it helps you really focus on the small things that really make a difference. The building relationships and establishing the systems that help your school community grow and take those next steps. I think I would say that probably every member of the Mastermind who has that ability to do things. A leadership edge.It’s a huge leadership push.
How’s life and leadership different now?
It gives me a strong perspective. I think just being a part of the Mastermind has helped me understand who I am and being able to say, Hey, team guiding principles, I’m really thinking about taking this next step. What are your thoughts? When I was coming into to California high school and I threw it out there like, hey, these are some of the things that I’m walking into. What do you think I need to do to begin addressing and forming the community that I want? And so that guidance, that support at the very beginning has really helped me mature and set a pretty clear vision of what I want, which is building trust, building the trusted, because we didn’t have that. Not to say that we’re perfect right now, but all the feedback that I’m getting from parents, from students, well.
I’ll stop you there and brag on you because your superintendent visited, I know this story because we worked together one-on-one. You’re superintendent and staff members are there and he’s visited whatever and touring the school and you have to correct me if I’m wrong, I don’t know if it was multiple teachers. I know at least one teacher said basically Demetrius is the best leader I’ve ever had and I’m not leaving as long as he’s here. Put that in the context of schools that are just dying to recurit talent and teachers. I’m assuming this is a teacher, you wanna keep around because you didn’t tell me, oh lord why did he or she say that? But to have that is trust. That is relationship. That is culture building. Again kudos, kudos to you for for building that. You’ve experienced a lot of success. I know there’s more work to be done and I’m excited for what you’re doing and you also have a compelling vision of telling faculty I’m not going anywhere. I’m sticking around all my kids I wanna see go through here. I’m just curious, with all the success you’ve experienced, what are you excited about next?
I’ve been there with a lot of things that I’m excited about. I was having a conversation a little bit earlier with the teacher that is considering getting into administration and I was giving someone of my background and things like that and I’m really excited about growing the staff that I want to have teach my children. It’s like right now she’s like, well you’ve got the built-in excuse, like I didn’t hire that person, but in four years it’s all on you. I was like, you’re exactly right. You’re exactly right. I’m really looking forward to that. We’ve got the great staff and continuing to grow that staff. I mean you’ve got natural attrition every single year. Folks are deciding to go to different places, retire and all those types of things. The opportunity is there to find really good people. And so going through the hiring process, really being intentional about our hiring practices. What questions are we asking? Who are members of our interview panel? Those types of things I’m excited to be a part of and see where we can grow our staff and just, just the potential I think is unending.
We’ve got some, got some facility challenges here on campus and like we’re starting to see movement on things that haven’t been addressed in 10, 15, 20 years. And so that is really exciting. Like, If we went out to the stadium, but we’ve got this pre box that should have been condemned 20 years ago and we’ve got the contractors out there that are looking for, that are preparing to bring in a temporary press box before we get a whole new renovation of our stands and a brand new press box. That’s gonna be cool. And like, so all those things are happening and so it’s exciting. So like to be part of that. I don’t know that I’m the one that’s the catalyst for it, but I’m excited to be part of it and I’ll pay credit for it. You should.
It was you. Awesome. What advice would you have for someone who was in a similar situation as you prior to the Mastermind?
Finding the community is really important because we know that there is such a higher turnover rate when it comes to administrators and finding that community. Finding the support will be crucial to your longevity. No one wants to necessarily bounce around from school to school community to community. Find that group that’s gonna help sustain you. It’s more than just joy of the job, the joy of your career. It’s about maintaining your health. Being part of the Mastermind helps me. I do some stuff that Mastermind members think is crazy, but it helps me as part of my part of my therapy. I think that it helps encourage other Mastermind members as well.
Absolutely. I think that for those that are interested or you aren’t in a spot where they’ve got that community yet, it’s something to help sustain you and keep you going. You have something to offer just as much as the Mastermind member other members have to offer to you. How would you describe your Mastermind experience in either one word or one phrase?
Vital. Vital to where I am right now and where I will be eventually.
Last question. Anything else you want to share?
I just wanna encourage listeners whether you decide to pursue the Mastermind encourage you to take a look, but find someone, a group to connect with. See, that’s the most important thing. We need that as school leaders, whether it’s something formal or whether it’s something informal. Those that are in the education community know that there are always folks that are willing to help. And so seek those folks out.
D money. Thank you. Thank you.
Thanks for listening to The Better Leaders, better Schools podcast Ruckus Maker. If you have a question or would like to connect my email, [email protected] or hit me up on Twitter at @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 at @alienearbud 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.”