Dr. Chris Jones has been an educator in Massachusetts for 22 years. His experience in the classroom ranged from 8th – 11th grade working in an urban setting. A portion of this was spent opening a high school division for an expanding charter school. He has just finished his 14th year as a building administrator. Currently the Principal of Whitman-Hanson Regional High School in Whitman, Massachusetts, Chris is also the President-Elect of the Massachusetts State Administrators Association (MSAA). He is the author of SEEing to Lead, a book that provides strategies for how modern leaders can and must support, engage, and empower their teachers to elevate student success. Chris vlogs weekly and is also the host of the podcast SEEing to Lead as a way to amplify teachers’, students’, and leaders’ voices in an effort to improve education as a whole. His Just cause is to continuously improve the educational experience for all those involved by being purposeful, acting with integrity, and building character.
Chris is passionate about continuous improvement and the idea that success is not a destination, but a process. Chris is a teacher centered principal and his beliefs around the importance of a positive work environment, continuous growth, and a healthy family work-life integration can be seen in the presentations and workshops he has given for the Massachusetts School Administrators Association (MSAA), Massachusetts Computer Using Educators (MassCUE), Massachusetts Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development (MASCD), the Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP); and his participation in the Better Leaders Better Schools Mastermind group.
A finalist for the Massachusetts School Administrators Association’s Principal of the Year award and named the 2022 Massachusetts School Counselors Associaltion’s (MASCA) Administrator of the Year, Chris is described by his past Superintendent as being “…wholly invested in the success of the school…a creative problem-solver who is able to deliberate yet be decisive, be creative yet accountable…calm and clear-headed even under the most trying of times…has built a strong collaborative and collegial school culture…he is a positive influence on teachers, teaching, and learning.”
Chris’ education includes a BA from Bridgewater State University, an MA from Salem State University, and a Doctorate from Northeastern University. He currently resides in Southeastern Massachusetts with his wife, Mary (Bella) and two boys, Tommy and Scotty.
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Read the Transcript here.
As a Ruckus Maker, you’re invested in your continuous growth. You challenge the status quo, and you design the future of school. Now, one way you might challenge the status quo and design the future of school is you might just get rid of midterms and finals. What’s the point? What are they for? Now, I’m not saying that’s the right thing to do, but for one Ruckus Maker, it is. We tell his story about how he started to make that change happen. Started with a tiny step and turned into a big change. Now that part of the conversation is towards the end of the show, but there’s so much good stuff for you embedded within the entire episode. It’s my privilege and honor to reintroduce you to Dr. Chris Jones, who’s joining me for the third time on the podcast, and can’t wait to tell you and share with you how he’s created a ruckus. Hey, it’s Danny, chief Ruckus Maker at Better Leaders, better Schools. I’m a principal development and retention expert, a bestselling author, and I host two of the world’s most downloaded podcasts. Thanks for being here, and we’ll get you to the main episode just after a few messages from our show sponsors.
Learn how to successfully drive school change, and help your diverse stakeholders establish priorities and improve practice in leading. Change a certificate in school management and leadership course from Harvard. Get started at BetterLeadersBetterschools.com/harvard. How would you like to increase student talk by an average of 40% more student ownership, more student discourse? Check it out for yourself by trying out Teach FX. Go to teachfx.com/better leaders to pilot their program today. 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.
Hey, Ruckus Maker. I am joined today by probably the other chief Ruckus Maker, Dr. Chris Jones, and we were chatting before hitting record here. We think this is his third and next week will be his fourth time on the podcast. We’ve known each other forever, and every time I’m visiting my sister, we try to hang out, which is great. And he’s a friend and somebody that is just awesome. So can’t wait to unpack this episode and get you the conversation. But in case you don’t know, Dr. Chris Jones, here’s just like a little highlight reel real quick. He’s currently principal of Whitman Hanson Regional High School. He’s the author of Seeing to Lead and has a podcast of the same name Seeing to Lead, which I highly recommend. Vice President of the Massachusetts State Administrators Association. He considers himself a teacher centered principal.
He’s done presentations and workshops all over the place. To be honest, too many to list. He is a member of the Mastermind, and next week we’re gonna talk about that more deeply. A finalist for the Massachusetts School Administrators Associations Principal of the year and named the 2022 Massachusetts School Counselor Associations Administrator of the Year. And he was described by his past superintendent as wholly invested in the success of the school, a creative problem solver who was able to deliberate yet be decisive, be creative, yet accountable, calm, and clearhead. Clear Headed, even under the most trying of times, has built a strong collaborative and collegial school culture. He is a positive influence on teachers teaching and learning. Dr. Jones, welcome to the show.
Dr Chris (04:15):
Hello. Geez, that was a good, that was a good highlight reel. I’m psyched to be here.
I can’t wait to get into this conversation with you. When we met, I didn’t know that your beard was fuller and bigger than mine. We’d have to go and get a picture, but at this point I’m having Beard Envy. You’ve got a massive can we say handsome? I mean, is that all right? Way to go, man, that it is epic. Chris does welcome sign Wednesdays, and he is pretty prolific with highlighting his work with that and posting all over social, and he’s got videos and that kind of stuff too. You could check out this awesome beard and while you’re actually gonna learn something about education and leadership too. Welcome to the show.
Dr Chris (05:08):
Yeah, no thanks. No, no beard tips in the videos. No beard tips, but this is gonna be a good time talking to you. I always enjoy talking to you, and I know that I said when we were talking to the pre in the pre-chat, just wherever you want to go, just pull the string and I’ll start talking. You have such an ability to help people reflect on things that they’ve done and places that they’ve gone.
There’s so much to dig into for sure. But one of the things we were laughing about before hitting record was remembering that first podcast where you said you had all these notes in an outline, and how did that go for you?
Dr Chris (06:06):
It’s a perfect example of what we tell everybody that starts out and has bigger dreams or bigger goals taking that first step. I remember doing the same for the weekly videos that I do. I do these weekly videos about character stuff. And I had post-it notes. When I first started, I dealt, I’d have post-it notes around the outside of my screen where you couldn’t see ’em on the camera that I glanced at without anybody seeing my eyes move. And when I first got the chance to be on your first podcast, I was like, post-it notes just aren’t gonna do, and it was awful, man. I had like a post-it note stuck to the bottom of another post-it note, stuck to the bottom of another post-it note with the writing. And we started talking. And this is one ofone of the things that you’re great at and the mastermind is great at, is the conversation just went. You brought out me talking about things that were true to me, that I was authentic about. I never even looked at the notes. I just pushed ’em off to the side and we got to talk. And so, yeah, but that was a harrowing experience. When I heard I was gonna be on this podcast, I was like, oh man, like, how am I gonna, what am I gonna talk about? And just try to highlight stuff. But now I can’t remember the last time I used a post-it note anywhere.
Well, here’s the thing. I mean, before you become an expert in a really comfortable environment or setting we over prepare, so that’s not a bad thing. It’s just like, okay, those are sort of the bumpers or if you’re swimming the floaties so that you feel comfortable that it could be successful. But then if the environment is so right, that it’s psychologically safe and fun and welcoming and all this other good stuff, and you just bring out the best in people, you don’t need the floaties. You don’t need the bumpers. If you’re bowling, you can just be yourself. SoI appreciate that compliment. And that’s certainly one of the big reasons why the Mastermind works. I was the same way in terms of outlining everything I used to do.
If I show you this journal, and I know the listener can’t see it, but this page I’m pointing to, it’s basically just a list of 20 ideas. And that’s the content for the school leadership series for all of April. So I was just like, okay, what do I wanna talk about? And here’s 20 things, and that’s the show. So I look at my note and I say, okay, on this episode it’s a Wednesday. I wanna talk about being authentic, that you are enough. And how often we are just striving, striving, striving, but to pause and just realize like, oh, we’re actually doing a great job. You know what I mean? That’s something that leaders need to hear. And sometimes we get stuck in this automatic or like a trance and we don’t even see all the greatness going around us and that kind of thing. ‘Cause We’re just in this automatic mode and it’s almost like we’re not awake. You know what I mean? Anyways, I’m gonna have fun with that episode. But we were kind of talking about that earlier too, before hitting record. Just the fact that like, you’re doing great stuff so maybe that’s the intro question, why is it so challenging to pause, to take stock of an inventory of all the things we should be celebrating when it’s like always this pressure to improve? I’m an improvement guy. I want to get better every day. But there’s a balance there. What do you think about all that?
Dr Chris (09:34):
Yeah, I think it comes right around that statement that you used. You are enough. And if I could just riff on that for a second, it made me think of a conversation I had with a couple of students the other day with the president of our Best Buddies Club and the president of our student council. We always talk about student voices and having them authentically give their opinions, and I’m having them present at our administrators association conference this summer for an Ignite presentation. And they were all worried about it, but I’m gonna have them talk about what they do around best buddies and what they do for school culture. And they were nervous about it because you have these two girls, one’s 17, one’s 18, I should say, young women. And they’re nervous about getting up in front of a bunch of leaders and presenting what they’re talking about. And it came down to, you are enough. And I actually had a discussion with ’em about all the great things they do now for us to do that for ourselves. It’s another step. It’s much harder for us to whisper that saying to us and dig into it.
Dr Chris (10:40):
I think when we’re looking at continually improving or people that are really focused on that continuous step forward, we’re often problem seekers at some degree where we don’t always necessarily think everything’s wrong, but we look at things with the mindset that, look at how it’s doing now, and with just a tweak, think about how much better it could be. And that has to do with us personally. That has to do with systems that we implement, that has to do with buildings, cultures that were part of. Because we see so many things going on around us that it’s, it’s okay, we did this, we implemented this, this is working well, okay, well now what’s something else we can implement? And well, if we got that to work that good, I bet you if we went over here to this issue over here, that seems to be working okay, but it could be improved.
Dr Chris (11:31):
Well, if we do that, then we can do that. And we hop from piece to piece to piece to piece, and we never step back and look at that trail that we’ve left behind us. That’s actually a beautiful trail of improvement and a lot, which I think personally, and I’m finding out more and more ties into that whole empathy piece around other people and what they’re experiencing. Because for somebody that’s driven like that, it doesn’t seem like a lot, but boy, there are people around us that sometimes get dizzy as to how much is getting done. Kind of slow the ride down. I want to get off this type of thing. That if we don’t pay attention to that we run the risk of pushing people away. And it’s so beneficial because if we do pay attention to it, then people not only get on board and push harder with us and start to adopt that mindset, it’s good for us because then it helps us sit there and look at what we’ve done and celebrate the successes, which then fill our tank to move forward for more.
Yeah, that’s such a good point. Being able to slow down and pause. If people are allowed to,they’re more invited, I guess, to be on the ride with us too. And it’s just as Ruckus Makers and wanting to design the future of education now we see the gap, we see where we want to bring things, and there’s a burden and a just a feeling like there’s no time to waste. But if we push too, too far, we don’t bring anybody with us. We freak ’em out, we overwhelm ‘demand then the change ultimately doesn’t happen. So let’s talk about some of these cool things that you’ve accomplished. So you have the young ladies presented with you, and that’s a pretty cool thing, talking about Best Buddies. And I know you had like a Best Buddy’s basketball game that was pretty epic recently. Tell us about that.
Dr Chris (13:26):
Yeah, they wanted to do a Best Buddies basketball game, and they wanted to do this event. The beautiful part about it in my position is, I view my responsibility as knocking down all the roadblocks to getting something done. So they do all the planning and they do what they want to do, and they move their vision forward, which is a piece of that whole empowerment aspect. I let them run with it, but I make sure that the roadblocks they encounter, they talk to me, we communicate, and I do what I can to push them outta the way this roadblock happened to be. They wanted to have this, this basketball game. They wanted to do it in a loud way to show that we have a culture of belonging to a community, and that inclusion is for everyone.
Dr Chris (14:08):
So you do that in school, and the best way to do that is get the whole school to watch. So what we did is we stopped the schedule that day, and we filled up the gym with our students, and they came and cheered them on. Danny, when I tell you this was a phenomenal event. We all left probably about three feet off the ground. And to watch them play and to do their best and to listen to the crowd, now you get into a crowd like that, and there are, I’m sure there are a lot of leaders saying, oh man, I’d have to police for bad things being yelled or people using offhand remarks, not a one. The cheering was so loud, somebody was coming from our main office, which is just about on the other side of the building. It is on the other side of the building.
Dr Chris (14:53):
They came out of our main office, started walking down the hall, and they could hear the cheers and the screaming and everything from down the hall. They said it sounded like a pro basketball game. And it just felt so good. And what I found was, and this is what kind of led to them presenting it to the state conference this year, what I follow is they have their regional conference, the student council does, and they were talking about how best buddies did this. And the other student council groups were saying that they couldn’t get something like that off the ground because their principals wouldn’t let them do that. Or worried that you were taking away time on learning or seeing time for lack of a better term. And this gets to that whole idea of we’ve gotta change education.
Dr Chris (15:36):
That I think to myself, well, what are you educating? If you don’t think about getting in there in a relaxed atmosphere and learning to empathize or celebrate or enjoy these students that are part of best buddies that face challenges far beyond most of our population and cheering them on and watching their looks on their faces as they participate in this. If that’s not education, I think we’re looking at the education world because we have supported the idea of building relationships, including everybody, and having a sense of belonging before anybody’s ready to take on any content or knowledge, but it was just fantastic. So we shut the place down, we did that, we had a blast, and then we sent the kids home.
If you’re focused on seat time, maybe you should run for politics. Like, that’s the stuff that they care about.We could tell our constituents they get x amount of minutes being instructed, and that doesn’t say anything about the quality of instruction. It’s a flawed assertion. Just thinking, oh, X amount of minutes means equality, education. And I saw this firsthand in Chicago, and this was ages ago almost, it was a decade ago at this point. Emanuel was the mayor, and what got removed from a lot of schools was less PE, arts and that kind of stuff. The school day was extended, but for more reading and more math type stuff. And there was a reason, I get why, because students weren’t performing at a level that was good. I get that. But the interesting thing is, like his kids went to a lab school in Chicago and they had all the stuff, all the theater, all the drama, all the arts, all the PE plenty of getting out.
Actually, they had an abundance of getting out of seat time and the interesting thing about that is it actually makes the seat time better because you’re able to move your body. You’re able to blow off steam, you’re able to experience a holistic sort of model of education. And behold, kids perform well, teachers do a good job and that kind of thing. But yeah, more minutes doesn’t mean more success, especially if the instructional model doesn’t change at all.
Dr Chris (17:56):
I was gonna say more of bad equals bad. Yeah. I mean, if that, the whole seat time thing, like you said, it’s a flawed argument. I don’t need to kick a dead horse, but a lot of school, we talk about kids getting engaged in school and enjoying school. You can enjoy school, but you have to stay in your seat. We do this thing called a delayed opening, and we have one every other week, every other Thursday week. The kids come in an hour later and the teachers get their common planning time and stuff like that. We do that and we still have to count. Ours is nine 90, we have to have nine 90 for instructional time. So we have to make sure that all those minutes and hours are added up. Anybody listening that has to do this understands exactly what I’m talking about. If it was a high jump, like our back, the rear end is hitting the bar and it’s bouncing on the sticks. And so we play around with that, trying to figure out how we can do that, because the answer isn’t stick kids in seats longer. It gets them better learning experiences where they’re connecting the content to what they might want to do after they get out of high school. They’re connecting the content to things that are meaningful to them. They’re driving it or they’re looking at how they wanna be assessed on it. And then we should be designing around that because nobody’s more engaged than somebody that’s incredibly interested in what they’re doing. They’ll work extra hours. The hours won’t be a problem if you get the students interested in seeing the value of what they’re doing. Isn’t that a novel idea? So kids are interested and they’ll do the work.
We’re really dropping the bombs today. I was gonna say, what would you say to a Ruckus Maker who wants to color outside the lines. And redefine things and design the future of education, but they’re in a system that’s very, let’s be honest, the majority of systems are compliance oriented.Versus collaboration and quality and all this kind of stuff. What would you say. Because you’re out there and you’re doing it, but a lot of people get stuck, so you have to start small.
Dr Chris (20:05):
You can’t just tip the whole thing upside down. And you have to find those people that’ll buy in. You can’t necessarily just go to your superintendent or whoever is above you. If you’re a teacher and you wanna color outside the lines of the classroom, you can’t just run to the principal and change the whole thing. You wanna look at something that can change. And instead of saying, if only you say, what if, so you don’t say, if only I was allowed to do this, if only the kids didn’t have to stay in their seats. You say, what if instead of the kids staying in their seat all the time, we could deliver this content this way. I say okay, I’m not allowed to do certain things for social gatherings. What if we could still get together? What would that look like? And then build from there and present that picture to whatever’s holding you back or the constraint that’s holding you back. You’ll always have those people. And I find this in public education, and this is one of the most frustrating parts. People stop you from fear and being uncomfortable. And I’m not gonna sit here and talk about the idea of people being uncomfortable with any kind of change, because everybody knows that. But it comes down to people wanting to know where they fit into that change, and they can become much more comfortable when they realize that it’s not disrupting them so much. They’re gonna have to just adjust slightly. And it’s a smaller ask. And before they know it, they’re pulled into it because the wins that you get early, they say, oh yeah, this is really cool.
Dr Chris (21:36):
And then they’re bought more into it, and then they’ll push harder into it. We’re going to design an innovation pathway school in the state. And what that is, is we build pathways into our schools where students come into ninth grade and we put them through a bunch of things in eighth grade, ninth grade, as far as interest inventories, job clusters, stuff like that, where they decide what field they want to go into. And they join a cohort in our school where we have specially designed courses that lead them that way. So they leave our school with certifications and so forth. So if they want to go that way, they can. If they don’t, then they don’t have to. But because they still get the same type of education, one of those is a healthcare pathway. And some, some of the science teachers were taken aback a little, and they were worried about it. Because now we’ve got all these courses, this is a big change. And then when they found that, we don’t have to do this for next year, it’ll probably change a little bit the year after. So next year, the very first thing you need to do is just realize these students are cohorted and maybe treat them a little separate in the type of material that you give ’em or how you deliver it. Their shoulders relaxed, they set back in their chairs, and now they were ready to learn and listen and see how things were gonna be changing and they bought in. So the idea of pushback and compliance, it’s the idea that we’ve been compliant for how long. Honestly, if I have to sit at a table with one more person talking about 21st century learning skills, well, I would hope so. We’re 23 years into the 21st century by my knee jerk response. When you said Chicago years ago, maybe 10 years ago. Well, so far what education has proven is that 10 years ago isn’t that long ago, unfortunately. We’ve been doing these compliance things for how long and they’re not working. Maybe they did work in the fifties when students were having different experiences in life and having different experiences. Once they get on school, they, they no longer work for students. And if we’re not educating students in a way that works for students, then what are we doing? We’re not doing education the way it should be done. So somebody that wants compliance and is compliance driven based on something that was written in the eighties, the whole idea is that hasn’t worked since the eighties. It maybe, maybe it works in the beginning of the eighties.
It isn’t working now. We have to change it so that it works. And that’s just an honest look. It’s not easy. It’s a lot of talking. People look at you like you’re weird sometimes, but boy, when you hit that success, because you’re always gonna have critics, when you hit that success and you start spreading that around, the critics will come around and that percentage will grow and you’ll be able to keep making changes.
And we might get to that topic for sure, but I wanna pause here and get a message from our sponsors when we get back. Chris, you talked about an idea that I think we should dig into a little bit more, which is you don’t have to do that big change right away. So if you could reflect during the break on maybe a small change that you used to experiment with, and then we’ll talk about some of the big changes that you’ve been able to accomplish. Prom at Gillette Stadium or listen to the Ruckus Makers getting rid of midterms and finals. It’s a big change, but you don’t start there. I do wanna start with what might be one of those small changes you tried. So let’s get this message in from our sponsors now, and we’ll be back in just a second. 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 in their heart. For this program.
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Learn more about the program and apply at BetterLeadersBetterschools.com/harvard. What do you see in your classrooms and how did you see it? As a principal, you can’t be everywhere at once. So how can you help support every teacher in the building? With Teach FX, teachers can gather their own feedback without relying on classroom observations. The Teach FX Instructional coaching app is like giving every teacher their own instructional coach whenever they want it. Ruckus Makers can pilot Teach FX with their teachers. Visit teachfx.com/betterleaders to learn how to teach fx.com/betterleaders. I have never met an educator or a parent who does not want their child to develop executive functioning skills. They may not know the language around what these skills are, but they know they want their students to succeed. Having these skills is largely left up to chance. What’s going on there? Research shows that executive functioning needs to be taught explicitly. All students need daily practice with organizational skills, time and task management, self-regulation and goal setting. Lucky for you, 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. Learn [email protected]/go, teacher students executive functioning skills and set them up for [email protected]/go.
All right, we’re back with the awesome Ruckus Maker, Dr. Chris Jones. He’s currently a principal, so he is practicing what he’s preaching, he’s doing the work at Whitman Hanson Regional High School. And I think the other thing I just wanna highlight is that he’s the author of a great book, seeing to Lead and hosts of a podcast of the same name. So, prior to the break, Chris, we were talking about change, and you said something that’s really an important point, which is you don’t start with the big ones. You start small. Can you remember what, like one of those small changes looked like for you before you got rid of midterms and finals?
Dr Chris (28:12):
Well, midterms and finals started as a small change, but then became just a big change because it wasn’t moving where I needed it to move. I can think of a big change mistake I made. Because I didn’t get enough input. When I first got to this school, their graduation was very traditional. So I ended up sitting down with the graduation ceremony script, and I sat down. It was interesting because there were multiple people that said it was too long, and there were things that needed to change about it, but they never wanted to change it. So I sat down with a pen and started taking this out, taking that out, and shortening it. And when I was looking at different things that needed to be done and talking to them, just the seating to me was wrong. And the National Honor Society members, students of the National Honor Society, get their gold souls. They walk out and they recognize, which is awesome, but they were given all the front seats and they led the procession into the graduation.
Dr Chris (29:13):
And then they sat in front, which they sat on the sides of the stage facing the audience instead of facing the stage where they saw their classmates giving ’em speeches and things like that. And then they led them out. They were the first to lead ’em out. So the focus was really put on the NHS students. And so you can probably guess where I’m going with this, but me being who I am, I was like who, who else matters. I said, okay, we’re not doing that. Well, the community lost their mind about it, and they were so upset, and I didn’t care about the National Honor Society, this, that, and the other thing. So I ended up, because I just jumped right to that, I ended up putting it off for a year and said, okay, I’ll give you a year’s warning. I had people telling me that’s the only reason my kid joined the National Honor Society and so forth. And I was like, well, then maybe they’re not What’s to lead the parade? Maybe they’re not following the four pillars of the National Honor Society. So the following year we changed that. So they no longer do that. And that allowed me, because I made that big change, and okay, I get it shaky for people. They backed up because some changes do need to be ripped off. The band needs to be ripped off. So now I’ve changed the seating, and now we have an outside graduation instead of an inside graduation. So that move helped me change those different things using the same type of thinking, well, who’s this for? Our graduation ceremony now is outside on a massive field. People bring lawn chairs standing. The last graduation, there were little kids running around in the field so the adults could come watch the graduation, not worry about the kids.
Dr Chris (30:51):
They’re running around doing their thing. And we have this big ceremony outside. So that big change allowed me to make those little changes. And each time, see, sometimes we can’t predict the outcome of a change. And there are some very good things that come out of a change that you need to convince the others that this change is the right thing to do. And so the fact that I show how kids that maybe had to work a job because one of their parents, or both their parents, one employed, got to march at the front of the line how a kid who struggled with a learning disability all through high school and worked harder than some of the kids wearing those gold stoles because it came easy for them, got to walk at the front of the line. When people saw that and what that meant to that family and what that meant to that kid, they saw the benefit of that change. When people saw that everybody could show up to graduation, it became more of a community event. They liked that change. They said, oh, yeah, this does make sense.
Sometimes you need those wins. You mentioned no midterms and fines. Before we get there, I wanna just add just reflect like for the Ruckus Maker listening. I babble sometimes. Well, so you made a family event for families. I think one of the key things, like with a change maker, like a Ruckus Maker, you need to be able to think about some of those challenges. And so you’ve been doing things a certain way for however long. And especially with the NHS students, I think what the parents’ main concern is, well, how are we really gonna celebrate their accomplishment? And so they still get the stuff and they still get honored during the event. But now we’re including so many more kids and celebrating so many more. And you created this family environment and so that there’s so much amazing stuff happening there. And when you think about graduation what would you say? What is the point of it. So it’s not just to show off your top students, but for you. How would you answer that? What is the point of graduation?
Dr Chris (33:00):
The point of graduation is, there’s a couple pieces of that. It’s a celebration of the culmination of a student’s expected educational journey since they’ve been in preschool. So they’re celebrating 13 years of going through what we traditionally see as the traditional path. And so it’s the biggest pat on the back that a kid could get as far as you made it. Now saying that, and I give, I give this talk to a lot of people when we talk to seniors at risk of graduating and things like that, graduation, the paper, the diploma is about the student because that keeps so many doors ahead of them in their life open. But that walking across the stage piece, the reason that’s such a powerful moment is because that says to the parents out in the audience, I did right by my kid. I did a good job as a parent. You see, you don’t get an instruction manual when you’re a parent. And it’s difficult. There are nights, days, years of uncertainty. Am I making the right decision? Am I doing the best I can for my kid? When do I step in too much? When do I step away too much? And then walking across that stage and receiving that diploma, the sheer joy on their face where everybody there can’t stop smiling, it gives a clear message to the parents, I’ve done right by my kid. So it’s not only about the kid feeling good, it’s such a feel good moment for everybody in the whole community that you have to make sure you do it right.
Dr Chris (34:33):
That’s why messing up graduation’s one of the worst things you can do as a leader, because it’s got that extra weight. And sometimes people don’t realize that it’s not all about the student, it’s not all about the parent. It’s about the community and what we’re saying about getting this next group of students, young men, young women, prepared to be successful in their lives and to understand how to be successful in their lives.
Awesome. Thanks for sharing that. And so you wanted to talk about a bit, I think with midterms and finals. Let’s go there.
Dr Chris (35:08):
That started out as a small change and became a big change. What was the small component? The small component was we were gonna move to quarterly assessments and back up on that and, and do high stakes quarterly assessments, but we’re gonna pull the amount of weight on a kid’s grade off of that, because this is all, and I guess it’s a continual, this is all small steps towards what we really need to get to.
Dr Chris (35:34):
And that’s how we grade and judge understanding of students in their content area. To have two semesters, we had two semesters. We didn’t do four quarters. We had the four quarter structure, but at the end of the first quarter, it was a rolling grade. There was no hard stop. And so it wasn’t like you closed out the first quarter with a 50, and then you had to go on the semester was the only heart grade that ended at the end of the first semester and end of the year, end of the second semester, each one of those was worth 40%. And then, the midterm was worth 10% and the final was worth 10%. So you could have done well. And that one test, that one two hour test is worth 10% of your grading in sync. My issue with that was that we waste two weeks worth of instructional time to administer a midterm or final because the teachers in the class review for this test that the kids are supposed to know for a while before they give the test.
Dr Chris (36:33):
And then we basically shut the school down and run half days the week of the tests. And so that’s two weeks of instruction. So if we’re saying that the best place a kid can be, and I honestly believe this is in front of the teacher receiving instruction, then that’s the best place they can be, not in front of the teacher getting a review or taking a test. And then the idea of that assessment, what is assessment for? Well, assessment’s got a couple of things. Assessment is to see where the student’s at to make sure they’re where they need to be, but is it also the instruction effective? And so teachers need to take those assessment results and reflect on their own instruction to make sure that they’re reaching the students in front of them. That doesn’t happen with midterms and finals. The students never get to see the midterms and finals.
Dr Chris (37:15):
They get a number and they get moved on. So that’s, so they’re useless as an assessment piece? They give kids the idea of what it means to sit for a long test. I’ll give that, but when I talked about the quarterly assessments, the first question I received from my leadership team was, okay, so are we doing half days for the quarterly assessments? One of those half day pieces. So I said, okay, so what we need to do is this small step is not gonna work. So we’re getting rid of midterms and finals. And I’ve just had talks, it’s funny, this comes up, I just started having talks about, okay, do we move to quarterly assessments, common quarterly assessments? Do we go back to that? Because now it won’t be the half day, it’ll be in the period and the assessments will be common and they’ll, we’ll use them to go over to look at student work. But that was just, that was more of a rip the bandaid off. And then they told me, well, the kids, they don’t really engage and get engaged for that last week of school because we’ve wrapped up grades. And so the students are sitting there, a very real issue. I get it. But the idea of putting a test that’s worth 10% of a grade as a measure of compliance to get the kids to sit in their seats, I can’t do that. It is against what I believe in as an educator that we’ve gotta figure out some other way to raise that engagement piece at the end of the year instead of attaching it to the grade. And then we fall into the trap of what are we grading? Are we grading compliance or are we grading understand it?
I’m sure a Ruckus Maker listening that that’s one of their questions or potential critiques. How are you assessing that students are getting it right and that they’re being successful and being prepared for the future? I’m sure parents ask that too.
Dr Chris (38:58):
Oh, parents at the school committee were on me about that. Our English department, they have probably the closest thing to quarterly assessments because they have unit assessments and they have novel assessments after each large piece that they do. And then they go over that, the student gets the assessment back, they give feedback. We can easily do that in science. Our math classes, homework is more practice work. And so that carries 10% on their grade, 20%. And so their assessments are worth 80 or 90% that they can do retakes on and so forth. And it was a way of measuring okay, understanding, you understand it, but they review it, they go over it. And that’s what we’re really looking for, is the idea that it gets picked up that way. So we still have our assessments, we just don’t have that. Oh my God, this is a midterm, this is the final. But on the other hand, yay, it’s a half day, we’re not in classes. So what you really removed are these half days of assessments that just gave the student a score and weren’t reviewed and didn’t inform instruction.
I think that’s what I’m hearing. Okay. But thanks for that. How did the teachers reconcile this? I’m sure some of them were maybe a little bit frustrated or whatever, like this is a big change. I’m curious how teachers adopted this approach.
Dr Chris (40:22):
I still have some pushback on it. I just ran a faculty boggle. I played boggle during a faculty meeting . Some of this came up still, so some teachers are still questioning it. It’s a game. I could tell, but I don’t, I don’t know what it is. You don’t know what the game Boggle is? No. You have a bunch of dice with letters on each side of the dime. Okay. And you put it in a pop thing and or you shake it up in the elbow. It’s great. Oh, I remember. And you write down nut works and then you all compare your words after a minute of writing or a 30 seconds train. They wrote finals. Is that what they wrote? We did it a little differently, but I didn’t have the dice out. But you cross off the word that everybody else has. The only points you get, you get a point for each word you have that nobody else has, that you discovered in that mix of letters. It’s like categories then I think it might be, I know the name categories, but I’m not sure of them so I put the faculty in different groups and I gave them time to sit and talk about the different anxieties, frustrations. It’s kinda like taking the critique part and changing it into something that’s positive. And then I stood up at the front of the faculty and I let each group go. They each had to have somebody that was gonna present it. And I said, okay, go with your issues. And they shot their issues at me. And if the next group had one, I said, okay, group one goes, if they name an issue that you have, you can’t say your issue, you gotta scratch it off.
Dr Chris (41:51):
And so we did everybody in the faculty, and I got a list of issues, which then we distilled down. We looked at, we’re putting a fog square as a leadership team to see what we actually wanted, distill down and what we’re gonna work on. And it’s already, I’ve already used some of those answers to show how we’re addressing some of the concerns that the faculty had. So it makes their voice, it makes their voice really powerful. But that’s the quick version of faculty boggle. But they, one of the things that came up were midterms or finals. And they said the finals we had, we had a bunch of students tell us that they wished they had finals because they went to college and they couldn’t handle finals that were 90% of their grade. They had one test that was 90% of their grade in college, and they didn’t know how to, they didn’t know how to take it. And so we’re failing them as, as a school a a upon digging a little more. It was maybe two students that did this. And one of them was Stanford, I believe, where those are colleges. I can believe they do that. I talk to most local colleges and they don’t test like that anymore. They don’t give finals like that anymore. The old Blue Book final is gone. They do a lot more project based stuff and ongoing things, so we’re not doing that much damage to the students. And then as they said it, they can’t say it. They’ve used the idea of, we’re not preparing our students, but they have so much trouble bringing this complaint forward without talking about the level of engagement of students that last week of school. So that’s really where the bump is.
The idea that the students do get a little crazy. They don’t come in, some don’t just don’t attend. But if we’re not teaching anything and they’ve got something better to do as a family, are we really gonna force ’em to come in and sit in their seat? I mean, what good does that do for anybody? So there, some, some faculty still have an issue with that. And it’s, it’s talking with them. In my 15 minute meetings this year, I had three or four faculty members mention to me, we had a discussion. I said, well, let’s, maybe we look at the quarterly assessments and we can do that. And that last quarterly assessment sits four or five days before the school year’s over. And then we go from there and they, they like that idea. It’s making sure you continuously have that open dialogue because eventually, first of all, the change might not work.
It might be for the worse. Then you adjust, you iterate and you go back. But the change might work and there might be some good things, or it helps turn the ship in another direction that you notice something really good coming out of it. I’d be very happy, Danny, if we had four strong quarterly assessments that really tracked how the students were doing that were reviewed about the students to see their level of understanding and to assess the level of instruction and the effectiveness of the instruction. I’d be very happy with that. And that would be an iteration that came out of just saying, look, it’s wrong what we’re doing as far as holding kids hostage for a grade. That’s the biggest point. So meaningful and purposeful instruction and assessment versus you have to do this or else Right. Type of type of assessment.
Makes a lot of sense. Okay, cool. Thanks for sharing that. So let’s get to, I guess, the last few questions. I asked all my guests, and you’ve answered these before, but I’m gonna ask ‘me again ’cause it’s been a while. As it goes today and you put a message on all school marquees around the world, what would today’s message be?
Dr Chris (45:17):
You can be better than your current situation.
And how about the dream school. You’re not constrained by any resources. Your only limitations, your imagination. How would you build this dream school? What would be your three guiding principles?
Dr Chris (45:33):
Oh, three guiding principles? Well, I have three guiding principles. The first thing that comes to mind is that I close every weekly video with purpose, act with integrity and build your character. Those would be my three guiding principles. And so purposeful, it would be meaningful and purposeful instruction, teaching, and a focus on culture and student engagement. The idea of integrity is integrity. I look at these words a little differently, so I should unpack ’em at some point. But integrity means completeness. And if something’s got its integrity, it’s intact, it’s, it’s complete like a circle or something like that. And so integrity, I mean, completeness, which has to do with honesty and being trustworthy, but looking at the whole child, and not to use a saying that’s cliche. But look, students come to us in many different fashions with many different backgrounds and from many different contexts. And academics are important. Absolutely. But so is just their everyday life and their existence in the school. And we really need to focus more now than ever in the current political climate and everything.
Dr Chris (46:49):
We need to focus on building that community of belonging and that culture of community and belonging. And so a school that I had no limitations on, I would have the ability to create a schedule in the school that allowed students to move back and forth freely from different areas of instruction in areas where the context is real world. ’cause I hate when they say, when you get out in the real world, we should be acting like the real world in school. What are we in right now? Right, exactly. The fake world. Yeah, the fake world. The fake world. Then you’re gonna get outta this fake world. It’s really hard to argue anything that students want to hear after you tell them that, well, this isn’t real. So, but let me tell you why you have to do it. So the, and then the character piece is not so much character as it’s normally seen as integrity, but character is the ability to persevere through hardships.
I would do specific character building curriculum and lessons where students were expected to live in discomfort for a certain amount of time so that they could build up the resilience to it. And so that when they faced setbacks, they had a higher possibility or a higher percentage chance of pushing through those setbacks, overcoming those setbacks, and then being able to reach a higher level of success that they wouldn’t normally be able to reach. I’ve said this for a long time, and this hasn’t changed, which is interesting. Success is truly a process and not a destination. And so I think that needs to be taught to students. And I think that can be taught to students when it’s practiced and modeled by the adults in their lives. And that’s an area I think we could all brush up on.
Brilliant. So we covered a lot of ground today, doc, of everything we talked about, what’s the one thing you wanna Ruckus Maker to remember?
Dr Chris (48:45):
Go out and make the change even if you make a mistake. We all know that change is needed in education with just this recent pandemic that we had. There’s a large cry for, I can’t wait for things to go back to normal. I’m here to tell you and everybody else that things are gonna go back to normal. And maybe that’s a good thing because it wasn’t working for everybody that needed it to work for them before all this happened. So embrace change, understand that there are gonna be critics, but you can change them into cheerleaders and just address what needs to be addressed, what’s not easy to be addressed.
Thanks for listening to The Better Leaders, Better Schools podcast Ruckus Maker. If you have a question or would like to connect my email, Daniel at Better Leaders better schools.com or hit me up on Twitter at 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 at alien earbud, and using the hashtag b lb s level up your leadership at Better Leaders Better schools.com and talk to you next time. Until then, “class dismissed.”
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