Kevin works at the American Cooperative School of Tunis and is the secondary school principal. This is his 23rd year in education. Kevin is originally from Philadelphia, PA USA and is a die-hard sports fan. He has been married for 22 years to his wife Pascale and has three children. Kevin loves learning. In his spare time he does 10 minute yoga and runs two miles everyday.

Show Highlights

A secret weapon that arms you to face global challenges in education.
A transformative experience to boost confidence in handling tough situations to make leadership easier.
Immersing yourself in the “human aspect” of school leadership.
Grow beyond comfort zones with the importance of intentional leadership and narrative control.
Tackle the challenges in front of you with support that fits your diverse leadership style and personality.
A turning point in your career to get to the rewards of school leadership.
Clear the hurdles in school leadership and foster a culture of celebrating successes in a Mastermind.
The positive spotlight tool every leader needs to improve their leadership.
“I think we talked about it a little earlier. I love the combination of how the meetings work. I like being held accountable by a group of educational leaders, and from the book reads, they’ve been very good. All readers are leaders.You have to be reading. You have to stay current. And that’s something that I really appreciate with the Mastermind.”
- Kevin Thomas

Dr Chris Jones

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Read the Transcript here.

I Used To Be Drowning As A School Leader

My friend JB is famous for saying, you can’t make up real life. And that’s his sort of fun way of just talking about the challenges that just come up in human experience. And leading a school is no different. You are a human. You’re bringing that to the job, and you’re supporting a whole campus full of humans. You just can’t make up the day to day reality of what it means to be a school leader and a Ruckus Maker. And here’s the thing.
It’s a really hard job. It’s tough. Even when you’re a veteran and you’ve figured stuff out, it’s still difficult, I Like to say, at Better Leaders, Better Schools, and through the Mastermind know school leadership will never be easy, but it can be easier. There’ll still be those tough days. And when Kevin Thomas joined the Mastermind. He said, Danny, I’m just drowning. I want to be able to survive and thrive. Maybe you can help. Lucky for Kevin, one of our dear friends connected us and said, What Danny’s doing at better leaders, better schools with the Ruckus Maker Mastermind, you need to check it out. Kevin did, and everything changed for the better. If you’ve ever wondered what this Mastermind thing is all about, you get to hear today what Kevin’s experience has been like. A leader just like you, who has celebrated so many different wins and milestones and been able to overcome some of the hardest parts of the role. Hey, it’s Danny. I’m a principal development and retention expert. I’m a best selling author, and I host two of the world’s most downloaded podcasts. This show is for you, a Ruckus Maker, which means you’ve made three commitments. You’ve committed to investing in your continuous growth, challenging the status quo, and designing the future of school right now. And we’ll be back after some messages from our show sponsors.


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I’m sure you’ve heard that energy flows to where attention goes. If you want to get more of what you want when you want it. As a school leader, I’ve got a tool for you. The secret is to celebrate the positive things happening on campus and to go multiple levels deeper to tap into why it even matters when you do that. Anything is possible on your campus, and I mean anything. And you start to get more of what you want when you want it. If you’d like to spread more positivity and create more value for all stakeholders on your campus, go to betterleadersbetterschools.com slash positive and download your free tool today. IXL takes the guesswork out of lesson planning for teachers. IXL’s ready-made lesson plans are aligned to your textbooks and state standards so teachers can turn to IXL for the exact content they need to help their students get started [email protected]/leaders that’s IxL.com/leaders. Even the most highly effective Ruckus Maker can’T be in all classrooms, offering incredible feedback all the time. So what if teachers could gather their own feedback without relying on you? And not only their own feedback, but meaningful feedback that would improve their instruction? Well, check out the TeacherFX app by visiting teachfx.com/betterleaders and you can pilot their program today. Go to teachfx.com/betterleaders to see how when you work with quest food management services, you’re going to feel good about the food you serve your students. That’s because the food is real and it’s made from scratch and locally sourced. Learn more about Quest food Management services at questfms.com or follow Quest food on social media. That’s questfms.com.

I’m super excited to be here with awesome Ruckus Maker Kevin Thomas, my friend, and he’s been a part of the Mastermind. We’re here to talk about his story in just a second.
But he works at the American Cooperative School of Tunis and is his secondary school principal there. This is his 23rd year of education. And he originally hails from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. And yes, he is a diehard sports fan, so don’t get in the way.
Between him and his beloved Eagles and Phillies and all the rest. He’s been married for 22 years to his wife, Pascal, and they have three kids. Kevin loves learning and certainly is the epitome of a learning leader. And in his spare time, he likes to do ten minute yoga and runs 2 miles every day. Kevin, super excited to have this conversation with you today.

Thank you, Danny. Thank you for the warm welcome.

Absolutely. I want to ask you first what was life and leadership like before joining the Ruckus Maker Mastermind?

The thing is, I think when I First became a school principal, and this is my fifth year now, and before I joined the Mastermind, I guess you Don’T know what you don’t know. Then you’re in there and you’re drowning fast. And even though I have a director who’s my line manager, who I go to for support, I think there’s only so many questions you can ask.
I would say I felt a bit lost, and I was lucky enough to be a Mastermind early on in that first year, and it was just so nice to have that connection. I would say to be more direct, not feeling lost, not having the answers, needing more, needing help so you feel lost. You feel like you’re drowning.

Can you remember, was there, like, a specific challenge or struggle that you had in leadership that you wanted to be able to solve by joining the Mastermind?

The first thing I needed, a group that I could share my stories with that could relate or would just be a good, I don’t know if I necessarily want to say, a shoulder to cry on, but a lending ear, if you will, and could give me feedback on how to maybe tackle the challenge in front of me, or even better, a different perspective on how I could implement a leadership technique. I think because when you’re in school leadership, it’s a fast paced job as it is. I think even for experienced leaders, but. Especially for young ones, everything’s that expression, drinking from the fire hose type thing. Just having a group that could hear me out and offer advice is what I really needed.

And so those are some of the challenges. Did you have a number one goal that you wanted to achieve when you first joined the Mastermind.

Survive. That was my goal. Because to quit, that’s just not in my DNA. I’m not a quitter.
It’s how I was raised and call it my ego, my DNA. Where I come from, whatever, being a husband and a father, a prideful person. I did not want to give up. I felt like I belonged in school leadership. But I was completely overwhelmed in my first year as a school principal, and I needed a team, I needed resources.

Did you try anything else in addition to the Mastermind to survive, so to speak, or find that shoulder to cry on, for sure.

Of course, besides my director and a few other school leaders, there were a few folks that I would reach out to for help. And being good people and supportive, I would get maybe little support, if you will. Or short term support, of course. Reading, as I mentioned, I love reading. But the difference with the Mastermind is they’re reliable. We hold each other accountable. I know they’re going to be there every week for me and more as I get to make relationships. I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself. But I didn’t have that before the Mastermind. I didn’t have a reliance group that would support me, that would hold men accountable, and I would hold them accountable.

How’d you find out about our group? Was it Eileen or. I don’t remember.
Eileen Counsel was my principal in Dubai at Gems World Academy. Only for one year. Eileen taught me so much in one year. And a really outstanding educator and person. She’s amazing. And it was just one year together. And then went different ways. I went down to DaCA, Bangladesh, to the American International School of Dhaka. I think she went off to China. If I remember correctly. Eileen was such a good mentor for me. Of course I was going to check out, and then that’s how I believe we connected.

How about, like, when you were joining. Did you have a fear or a reservation about the experience?

For me, it wasn’t about what it was or what I thought it might be or the people, because I’ve always considered myself a people person. Being the baby of the family, I’ve never really had problems meeting people, talking to people, I think for me. It’S interesting because I was just thinking about this earlier today. It was the fee, and you and I have talked about this and have had really good conversations. It’s well worth it. But I’ve never said it to you quite like this, and I’ll share it right now. First, I just don’t spend money on myself. I grew up very middle class, and when I finally did have some money. I’m more of a giver or it goes to the family or to the car or to something. I think to invest in myself was what slowed me down each time, because for the viewers or the listeners. This is my second time in the Mastermind. That was my only hesitation. But each time I’ve been with the Mastermind, I’ve said, money well spent. Glad I did it. And one of the phrases you shared with me, something to the effect, is an investment in yourself. And I just actually used that line. In my graduation speech this past weekend. There you go.

You’re going to invest in yourself, right? So that was the only thing that. The only speed bump along the way? Investing in yourself is certainly the best kind of investment you can make, but It’S a challenging one, and you have to work through that mindset or whatever’s going on there. I appreciate your candor in saying that was a challenge for you. So that’s my follow up question. How’d you get past that? If that’s not your norm here? Somebody might hear what the membership fee is and say, oh, that’s nothing.
Another person may be like, oh, my God, that’s ridiculous. How did you get around that?

I think that’s a really good question. The answer is, you do? I find that part of my giant leap, if you will, that financial commitment. Again, in life, it’s not that much, but in that moment, and based on my past, it is a sum of money.But talking to you, hearing your story, hearing what you’re about, it helped me. Hearing that you’re an active learner and you’Re growing, and your purpose really excited me, and it was different, and it wasn’T like other professional developments that I’d been to over the years.

And as you mentioned, 23 years in Education, I’ve been to my share of professional developments. Better leaders, rules are different. The Mastermind is different. Tell me more about that.

And I think it’s that with the Mastermind, it’s one to one. It’s a hot seat. I can tell you, and I could break down a hot seat right now or you’re available on a call, or Joe Clausy is available if I need him or anyone. From Alligator Catchers at any moment to help me if I’m losing sleep over a decision. But at the same time, I’m growing professionally with some sort of a book we’re reading, a book study. We are growing professionally, holding each other accountable, having intellectual conversations, pushing each other. But I think it’s when. When Danny went as busy as I believe you are, I’m pretty sure you are. This past summer, when I was kind of at a low moment, and I Can’T remember if I reached out to you or you reached out to me. But we connected and we picked like we were old friends, like from the neighborhood kind of thing. And I was vulnerable within seconds. And I told you, Danny, I’m beat up. Four years in this position. My director just gave me the evaluation, said two things. I don’t know if you remember what he said, too. They were brutal. Said, Kevin, you need to get a life. And, Kevin, you need to reinvent yourself.

I do remember that. Because we had a pretty tough conversation on that.

I was almost teary now because I was professionally and emotionally broken. I think it is okay to use. I was just at the end of my road and starting to wonder, like, did I pick the right job and all? And you took that and you just said, all right, well, listen, have you tried this? And you had your bag of tools or your toolkit. Your tool bag. And I think that’s where the 90 day entry plan came in. Like, it came right after that. I said, have you thought about this? And something you’ve always done really well, whether it’s Danny Bauer, whether it’s Mastermind. Whether it’s better leaders, better schools, you’ve. Always reminded me to take care of myself, and that was the piece I’ve always been great at ignoring. And you have a great line for it. Like, you can’t drink from a cup that’s empty. I think something like that.

You can’t pour from an empty cup, but you can’t drink from it either.

I’m hopeless when it comes to dropping quotes. I have to have them written down.

And say it 100 times in my Head before I do it.

I read it sometimes when we’re talking, but you’re so true. And that was the piece that I was ignoring, because what teacher is going to tell me, Kevin, you got to take better care of yourself. And that I would listen. I think when we kind of connected again at that moment, it was our second intersection. I was like, I got to do this. I think I jumped on a few of your free resources. I think the 90 day entry was free. Remember sitting there in my mom’s house. Just laying on the floor, stretching my back out, banging out my 90 day entry plan, and then doing the calls and just feeling energetic again after my book told me the month before to. Get a life and reinvent yourself?

I’m glad, obviously, that we reconnected. Hearing your story, Kevin, can relate to putting themselves last. But I think it’s actually an educator problem, because we’re so good at serving others, and they have such big hearts.

To change education one leader at a time. And one of the differentiators is just being unabashedly pro principal and saying, Kevin. And everybody else, take care of yourself.
And to connect some dots and pull on a common thread. Everything I teach, whether it’s a 90 Day entry plan, the remarkable vision Formula, the ideal week. But in the Ruckus Maker mindset, everything is always take care of yourself first. Because you can’t pour from an empty cup. And that’s why it’s so important. A question I’d like to ask.
You that I haven’t asked anybody else. Actually, during one of these conversations, you experienced me facilitating Masterminds. And now I don’t. Not because I don’t like to and Not because I’m busy, even though I am busy. I’m thinking deeply about, how do you realize the vision I have for Better Leaders, Better Schools, and the impact I want to have in education and that is connected to scaling, and it’ll be hard to serve more school leaders if I’m the one doing the inviting and the serve. You know what I mean? And that’s been hard, to be honest. If I’m candid with you, that was. A hard thing to give up. And I was super afraid because I Built these awesome relationships with people, and I hope to continue nurturing them and keep connected. But the fact is I’m not there on a weekly basis. I pop in and out now and do some other things. But can you talk about that experience for you? Because you have had me as the Head coach and now Joe’s your head coach.

really interesting how a bit of this is coming full circle. And as you, I was at the wonderful opportunity to be in Purple Cows and then I think even bounced to another one for a little bit. Free spirits. I was bouncing around because of my time zones. I was really struggling with staying up late here in Tunisia.

Let’s pause right there just for a second. Just for a second. Because you are such an amazing school Leader that you took time out of your life to develop yourself. But that was at a crazy hour. And I lived overseas like you too, and was in a different time zone. Good for you, thank you. Putting up with that for yourself. But now I’m so excited to say you’re a part of a group where you can meet at like maybe.

When you were leading us or when I was a part of the groups that you were leading, I think it was 10:00 p.m. And 11:00 p.m. With the time zone changes. Half the year ten, then the eleven. And I’d be so wound up at the end, it was hard to go to sleep Because you know how exciting it would Get in our aux, but I loved having. You as a leader. You’re fantastic. I did wonder that, the way you. Just posed that question, like, how does Danny do this? How does he lead? Or does such a great job of leading. He’s now got us facilitating, but he’s also running better leaders, better schools. This guy has got to run out of gas at some point. But you are an amazing facilitator, leader, everything that you’ve said, or you probably could imagine, I’m sure you had feedback along the way. So fast forward, I take a break for a year or so, whatever it is. Maybe it’s two years. And then I come back to Mastermind. As we mentioned earlier, and Joe’s my Leader, and we get the fun name Of alligator catchers, Because we sit on the alligator.And different styles. Similar enough. We are similar. The agenda format. So if we’re franchising, if we’re copying, if we’re reproducing. So that felt familiar, but different personalities with the leaders. And I think it’s that classic expression, what is it? If you want to keep it, you. Got to give it away.

The guy’s been all over, but Joe’s got some real New York City in him. He’s like, hey, you need to start facilitating everyone. I think once we started facilitating, I think you saw a level of buy in from the alligator catchers, and I think that’s helped make us better.Different styles of leadership. But there’s still a spirit of a Ruckus Maker. That is still there.

Again, to realize. The vision that I have in impacting education through school leaders, I have to train others to have that kind of impact. And I feel like, at least right now, as of this recording, my jobIs the chief storyteller going around the nation and the world saying, hey, there’s a better way of doing school leadership. And you’ll feel energized, you’ll feel supported. You’ll prioritize yourself for once, your family. We can do this together. And so now I’m out trying to do that as much as. Thank you for sharing that.
The former CEO of LinkedIn, Jeff Weiner, said it’s not until the moment you’Re sick of saying something that people begin to hear it for the first time.

That’s part of definitely one of the ones that I remember, too. So that’s me at my school. I’m constantly doing and I’m not going to stop.

Tell me this, Kevin. What surprised you the most when you joined the Mastermind.

I love that question. Other school leaders have very similar situations, problems, if you want to call it. Challenges to me, I thought I was alone in the world. I thought it was Kevin’s problem. No, so and so works in New York State, have the same problem. So and so in California, something similar that I could relate to. It didn’t matter that I was in a situation that someone has in Texas. I had that same problem when I worked in Dubai. We are more connected than I thought. And that was my big surprise, that we could all relate to each other.

Do you remember a significant win that you experienced when participating in the Mastermind. Or a moment you realized, man, this really works for me.

I know from the first time around there were multiple wins. But I’ll go with a more recent one. I had to confront one of my teachers on a very sensitive issue. And I was able to get feedback ahead of time from the Mastermind, which helped give me the confidence that I needed and kind of gave me a different perspective. Or different lenses to look through the problem and possible solutions on the other side before I walked to the room. And that helped me out when I had to speak to that teacher and the conversation went better than I believe I would have handled it. I don’t like tough conversations.

What makes an assessment effective? I would argue giving teachers access to quick, reliable and useful results that inform the next best steps for teaching. And that’s where IXL really stands out. Teachers get powerful insights into student performance on a daily basis so they can address issues the moment they arise. Imagine that, ingesting instruction in real time before it’s too late. Your teachers have a tool that helps them to be more effective and your students continue to grow. Check it out for [email protected]. Leaders that’s ixl.com leaders. What do you see in your classrooms and how did you see it?

27:05 As a principal, you can’t be everywhere at once, so how can you help support every teacher in the building? With TeachFX, teachers can gather their own feedback without relying on classroom observations. The TeachFX instructional coaching app is like giving every teacher their own instructional coach whenever they want it. Ruckus Makers can pilot Teachfx with their teachers. Visit teachfx.com/betterleaders to learn how. That’s teachfx.com/betterleaders.

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Any other milestones you could think of?

So tough conversations, prepping for those? I think for me, the tough conversations are the hardest part of the job because now you have to remember, I haven’t worked in a public school or where I could drive home at night, and I don’t see these people on the weekends. I have worked in a small school or even bigger international schools before, where we are our own community, pretty much. We live in a bubble of friendship. I do lead a pretty kind of, I don’t know if I want to say a hermit type life, but it’s a thing when you have a courageous conversation because there is going to be a ripple effect. There’s a potential ripple effect. I don’t fear that anymore. Besides the courageous conversations, I’m trying to think of maybe something like scheduling assemblies, let’s see, recruiting parents. You name it, I brought it all to the master. I mean, pick a topic.

I appreciate how you are highlighting. The breadth of what you can bring. Because that is the deal. You’re in an international group. It depends on where somebody finds themselves joining. But there’s going to be a diversity of experience and worldview and perspective, and there’s really nothing that you can’t bring right to the Mastermind. And they’ll help you out and they’ll make you better.

Speaker 3
I’ll give you a nugget. I had to warm up this one. This one was tough. So this was two months ago. I had to take on my boss. I had to confront my manager. I only have one boss, and he had gone out on a trip and brought back some receipts and there were some things on there that should not have been purchased. And he was trying to get reimbursed at school. And I had to have the courage to say, I see this. It was almost like in the movies, the spy movies. It would be like a test because I had to take on the guy who mentored me, and I called out on it. I did it very politely, but I’ll be honest, I sat on this decision for three weeks, and then my hot seat came up, and I decided to go forward with it after having the Alligator Catchers give me some confidence, some things to think about, and by just saying out loud my fear, because that’s what I was experiencing. Even though I’m comfortable in my shoes. This scenario made me nervous because this is the person who will write my reference for my next job. I’m 40 and I want to be a principal again. I definitely want to do it again. At a new school, new challenges. At some point, probably when my youngest daughter graduates in two years, I’ll be looking. And it went well enough. There’s no exciting Hollywood ending to what happened. He took paper across the table and just said,’ I’ll deal with this.’ l. For me as a school leader, it really helped me, really practice my integrity. Because I had to do it. I think one degree shy of that is if I’ve had to tell a teacher that I’m not renewing their contract. I knew I had to do it, a member said, ‘Kevin, if this teacher is bad for kids, why in the world would you hold on to them for another year?’ Bang. I needed to hear that. I knew what I needed to do. But I needed a little bit more. And that’s what the Mastermind does. It gives you that chance, that platform that’S not connected to where you’re driving into work the next day and these people have similar situations, and I would imagine they would say something similar, that they feel comfortable and they get energy and support from maybe things I say my shares, and together, we’re a community helping each other. So those are two big ones.

How would you say life and leadership is different these days?

I sleep better. I’m healthier in my late 40s than. I was in my 30s. It sounds goofy as all heck. Ten minute yoga and 2 miles a day is my ticket. That’s when I focus on my me even though I write the you on the document but my me, it clears my head. And it’s my guarantee every day. It’s my control piece. I can control the way the rest of the day goes. Can do some different kind of zig zags, but leadership today is. I have a healthy start every morning because I invest in myself, and then I’m a better person to serve others. Throughout the rest of the day. I walk out at a set time. For most of the year, except if. I’m coaching basketball, which is still a set time, I can leave the building. I’m just a better version. I’m a healthier version of me.

How would you describe your Mastermind experience Kevin, in either one word or one phrase?

I’d say transformational. Thankful. Appreciative. Transformational. On a side note, I just used one of the documents you shared with me. That celebratory one where you do the. There’s, like, the five bubble boxes going left to right.

The positive spotlight tool.

I used it with my team last week. And are you ready for this? I was so busy, I was unable to preload it for them because I work with such a strong team. They ran with it. They’re all smart. They’re all highly strong, intelligent educators. They were digging it. We nailed it. I should share results with you.

I would love to hear that. Get a glimpse. And just for the Ruckus Maker listening, positive spotlight tool. It’s a way to slow down, express gratitude, identify things you want to see happen more on campus. And Kevin was alluding to the five bubbles. I’m not going to teach it. Join the Mastermind. You’ll get the tool. But it’s a way of getting more of the good stuff on campus. And being very intentional about it.A really cool tool, and I’m glad that you saw a result using it. No controlling the narratives.

That was something I struggled with in my first couple of years as a school leader, is I meant well, and I probably did well for all intended purposes, but, gosh, trying to control the narrative, being more intentional with what information goes out. Something like what you and I. With that document, being able to celebrate was really powerful.
I think my last question is. To check in real quick and see is there anything else you want to share before we sign off here?

I think we talked about it a little earlier. I love the combination of how the meetings work. I like being held accountable by a group of educators, educational leaders, and from the book reads, they’ve been very good. All readers are leaders. You have to be reading. You have to stay current. And that’s something that I really appreciate with the Mastermind. The hot seat, I think, is just such a fantastic way of sharing what’s on your chest, getting it off your chest, getting feedback, and then knowing the accessibility. Whether it’s you, whether it’s Joe, whether. It’S anyone from the know, whether we’re using WhatsApp or base camp, doesn’t matter. I know that I have a support team around me. I have my own professional cohort, if you will. I think the combination is what’s really important. But I think also, Danny, you’ve been good at challenging us to grow. You don’t let us get stagnant because you don’t let yourself get stagnant as a leader. And that’s inspirational.


Thanks for listening to the better leaders better Schools podcast Ruckus Maker. How would you like to lead with confidence, swap exhaustion for energy, turn your critics into cheerleaders and so much more? The Ruckus Maker Mastermind is a world class leadership program designed for growth minded school leaders just like you. Go to betterleadersbetterschools.com Mastermind, learn more about our program and fill out the application. We’ll be in touch within 48 hours to talk about how we can help you be even more effective. And by the way, we have cohorts that are diverse and mixed up. We also have cohorts just for women in leadership and a BIPOC only cohort as well. When you’re ready to level up, go to betterleadersbetterschools.com/Mastermind and fill out the application. Thanks again for listening to the show. Bye for now and go make a ruckus.


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