Jessica Gamble graduated from Howard University, which is located in Washington DC. Mrs. Gamble is a huge supporter of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Mrs. Gamble is married with two children, Kevin and Kai. Mrs. Gamble’s favorite place to visit is Jamaica. She loves it so much that she has been there five times! Mrs. Gamble loves to get her nails done. She always uses unique colors and she NEVER matches her fingers and toes. When Mrs. Gamble was growing up her parents owned a balloon event decorating company so now she can make any space into a party place! When Mrs. Gamble lived in D.C. she worked for the Washington Wizards and the Mystics. She was the captain of the fan patrol for five seasons. She loved to get the crowd engaged in all sorts of outrageous ways!
Ruckus Makers Bet On Themselves
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Ruckus Makers Bet On Themselves
Usually I start a podcast with a story to peak your interest, to anticipate what is about to unfold in the podcast. But today I just wanna let you know how excited I am to bring you today’s show. I get to talk with one of our Mastermind members and one of my friends, Jessica Gamble. She really is literally living out what it means to be a Ruckus Maker. She’s just such an exceptional leader and i f you’re paying attention, you’ll hear so many great things that will help you level up in this moment and help you be an even more effective leader. We really only talk about a handful of topics, but go super duper deep in them. One of ’em has to do with family engagement, which I think you’d agree. Is really important to your school. But she does some really interesting things with her, like real family. Meaning her parents and how she incorporates them into the experience. And that might not be possible for you. You might not want that, but just hearing how she involves them, you can unpack that and figure out what it means in your context as well. It’s really just about leveraging relationships. With caring adults for your students in the building. And then the other main topic that I just wanna highlight has to do with having really difficult conversations at scale. With the staff, she handles this masterfully. I don’t know that I’ve heard of a process or a way of inviting what are the difficult topics we need to talk about as a school, but she does it and she’s great at it. I know you’ll learn a lot. Again, I am so excited to bring you today’s episode. Hey, it’s Danny. I’m a principal development and retention expert. I founded Better Leaders, Better Schools back in 2015. I started this show for you. You’re a Ruckus Maker, which means you invest in your continuous growth, you challenge the status quo, and you design the future of school now. We’ll be in the main conversation of today’s show. After a few messages from our show sponsors.
Learn how to develop your skills to identify challenges, incorporate and support innovation and plan and drive school improvement in leading school strategy and innovation. A certificate in school management and leadership course from Harvard 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] slash go. Well, hey, Ruckus Maker today we’re gonna talk with Jessica Gamble, who’s principal of Riverside Elementary. And she’s a friend, she’s a member of the Mastermind, just an incredible leader. I’m super excited to talk to her, hear a little bit about her story. And today specifically, like just talk about the Mastermind. Why you joined and challenges you might’ve been facing at the time and how you’ve grown. Jessica, welcome. Talk to me about life and leadership prior to joining the Mastermind.
I joined the Mastermind during the beginning of, I think my second year as a principal here at Riverside. I had already been listening to the podcast before, probably for a couple years before, and listened to the ads and was very curious. But I think at the beginning of my second year as an administrator, I realized I needed something more. The monthly principal meetings that I was attending were helpful for my managerial tasks and getting some of those manager type things done every month. But I was missing how to grow myself as a leader and how to lead my school in a better way. And so I took a risk. I applied not thinking that I would get in. I actually didn’t know how strenuous the process would be. I applied just to see what would happen. And you and I met and we had a call. I remember that day specifically because I think my mom was here and my kids were going somewhere. I so desperately wanted and still continue to want to be an amazing school principal that people remember forever and I needed something to kinda help push me in that area.
Talk to me a little bit more about that, because you said you were getting support around the managerial side of school leadership. And so maybe you could give one example of a managerial type task. I just don’t wanna make any assumptions, but clearly what I’m hearing is you have this sense of legacy. And wanting to really have made an impact that people remember. After the managerial task, why is this legacy piece so important to you?
So obviously the managerial part is a part of this job. Like, we can’t get away from making schedules or approving people’s time or finding substitutes or running routines and procedures in a school to make it run more effectively. Those are all managerial tasks that none of us could step away from. It’s just part of being a school leader. I don’t have any memories of any of my school principals my entire life. I couldn’t remember a single one by name. I cannot remember and I was at the same place for my entire schooling. I can’t remember any administrator and that’s really a problem, but how could you not remember somebody that you see every single day? But then I started to think like, I don’t remember ever seeing my principal every single day when I was in elementary school, middle school or high school. But in the role that I’m in here in my district, I see every single kid in my building every single day from arrival to dismissal. I just really wanted to build a school where kids come every single day and they feel loved and cared for and seen and heard. And that was important to me. And being the face of that. I can’t build it if I’m not the person out in front doing the work. I just needed more than how to do a schedule or how to approve people’s time. How do you motivate people? How do you break down barriers of diversity, equity, inclusion? How do you have hard conversations that are really uncomfortable? How do you have a vision that you kind of cast out there and you work really hard to achieve that? Those are the things I was not getting from those monthly meetings that I just wasn’t. I was obsessed with the podcast, to be honest with you. I loved listening to it. When you say like, how do I level you up? How do I level your leadership? How do you level my leadership? Can you level me up? And that’s kind of why I jumped out there and applied.
We’re so happy you did. And I think later on we’ll talk about some of the things you’ve been able to achieve. I heard the managerial stuff, I heard the legacy stuff, things that you weren’t getting right, like the vision piece. How do you motivate people? All of that, if you can remember, maybe you can’t totally fine if you can’t, but when you joined the Mastermind, do you think there was like a number one goal you wanted to achieve? And if so, what was it?
I don’t think I had a goal of something that I wanted to achieve. I wanted to know who I was as a leader more. When you like to sit down, you reflect about yourself and you think like, what kind of kid was I, what kind of teenager, what kind of college student I was? I always found myself in leadership roles, even if I, that was not like the goal. I worked at Dairy Queen and next thing I knew I was like managing the Dairy Queen. Like how did that happen? I worked for the Washington Mystics and the Wizards and I just wanted to run around the stadium. Next thing I knew, they made me the captain of the fan patrol. Like how clearly I have a skillset and clearly I’ve always had a skillset that people gravitate towards me or think that I could garner a following or something like that. And so I don’t think it was like me looking for a goal. I just wanted to be better. I just wanted to be a better school leader and I’m still in the Mastermind because I still wanna be a better school leader. I’m still not there yet.
It’s a continuum. You’ve accomplished a lot. I’m curious so obviously the district PD was giving you something but you wanted something more. The managerial stuff has to happen. Besides the Mastermind, in addition to the district level support did you try anything else?
I was such a fresh principal. My first year just trying to stay above water? With all the competing things that are coming at you and you’re trying to learn your people and learn your building and the culture and all those things. I listen to different podcasts. I follow a variety of leadership blogs, like on social media. I have a mentor here in the district because I was a part of an aspiring principal program here in Cleveland. And I spent an entire year doing a residency at a school. I had a principal that I could rely on so many that I trusted that I spent a whole year with. Those questions I could always ask, but I just kept hearing about the Mastermind through the podcast and I really need something more than what I’m getting.
You applied and here we are and we’re on a call. Did you have any sort of fears or reservations about joining?
I was nervous the first meeting we had because the person who does the podcast was you and then in the flesh. I’m on a Zoom call with you and other principles that I didn’t know and that was a little bit nerve wracking because I am a super fan. I’m kinda like a super fan of Danny and now he’s a real person to me on the screen. But it was a very easy entry. I’m in the same group with the same people I’ve been in for the last four years. People that I consider like family that we joke about every week. We laugh about things. We legitimately know each other, although I’ve never met any of them in person or been able to like seeing them in that regard. But I don’t ever remember being nervous or having any fears. I was excited for what could happen and what I could grow to be and learn from others was probably more than fear.
What was it like when you first hopped in and you first started participating in the Mastermind. Can you remember what it was like back then?
Remember to follow some advice to be a better listener and not always talk because I am chatty and like to open myself up to a whole group of people who didn’t really know me. I remember the hot seats and thinking, holy moly, you guys are going through some really interesting things and I even begin to give you advice on how you should or could handle those situations. Reflecting on the books we were reading and having in-depth conversations, I really always enjoy and continue to enjoy when we get to go into small breakout rooms with one another and just chat and talk about what a big win is or kind of where we’re feeling. It always felt like home. It never felt like a place I wasn’t supposed to be.
I’m just marinating in that comment right now because it’s so meaningful. Thank you. 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 leaders and educators. Learn more about the program and apply at BetterLeadersBetter schools.com/harvard.
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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] slash go. Now you’re experiencing it as a place. You’ve been meant to be in that kind of thing. What have been some of the most helpful lessons or takeaways and how did you apply them?
Such a great question. I think that every week through the hot seat you learn something to help build your leadership tool belt. recently somebody in our group had a school flood and it was really sad and he had been gone for like two or three sessions because obviously that’s a lot going on to deal with the flood and it was a lot happening. When he returned back to the group, he had a question about how do you help like a facilities manager and listening to other people’s problems, even if I don’t have a solution or an idea, I learn so much from other people’s perspectives, viewpoints and opinions that it allows me to like take little tools back and was like I could do something like that. Or thinking, oh my gosh, if we ever have a school flood, make sure I prioritize these items first.
Everybody has such different things that they bring to the hot seat, but I also think that’s because we all come from very different school backgrounds that we have somebody from Australia that’s not a principal anymore is like a network leader that leads a network of principals, somebody who works on a reservation. Recently we added somebody to our group that works at a school for kids who train for the Olympics and Hollywood actors blew my mind. Listening to our struggles, I was like, wow, this is so interesting. It’s never a dull moment. It’s never anything that I can’t walk away from some of the opening activities over four years I’ve used with my staff or I’ve used my assistant principal and I sitting down to talk and hey, what do you think about this? Every week there’s something that I walk away with that helps me build my leadership toolkit to continue to get better. More in that hour happens every week than happens at a monthly eight hour meeting or two meetings a month, leadership meetings. I have a month in my district. More skills, strategies, people understanding exactly where you’re coming from and never making you feel bad that you’re going through a hard time. Sometimes in your own district, principals try to level you up. I say I don’t have those problems or that would never happen here. And it makes you feel like, I guess I’m the only one, but when I go to Mastermind, I’m not the only one. Everybody else has similar struggles and everybody else feels my struggles and I feel everyone else’s. I never feel alone. I don’t feel like anyone’s competing to be better than me. Where sometimes that’s the kind of feeling when you’re, I’m in a big district and so sometimes it’s inevitable to feel that people are trying to be better than you.
I’ve thought about that a lot and we do have an advantage over districts. Obviously, we don’t all work together, so maybe that helps keep people’s egos in check. Maybe it’s the signal that we put out into the world so we attract more leaders like you who are doing great things, but it doesn’t have to be all about them. So obviously we invest in creating safe spaces for folks too. But that’s interesting. I’m, I’m glad you highlighted that. And it’s also certainly interesting that we have such a diversity in terms of breadth of experience in the context of leading, like you said private, public international schools on reservations, the Hollywood school we can call it. There’s not a connection in terms of level of school or type of school, but the connection is the desire to grow.
The desire to be a Ruckus Maker. I think about that quite a bit too. The last thing I’ll say because I wanna highlight this for the Ruckus Maker listening, but I hope you never do have a flood. But now you feel a little bit more prepared and it’s engaging in that process on a weekly basis that you become more of a proactive versus a reactive leader. I hope no school ever floods, but the chances are some will. And will you be ready? And so this is a great way to prepare for stuff you didn’t even consider in the future. Thanks for answering that with helpful takeaways and lessons. Here’s fun, what surprised you, like, did anything surprise you?
Maybe a surprising thing is how connected you can feel to somebody through a screen every week. Typically we consider relationship building time spent or like proximity to somebody or time invested where although we are investing time every single week and one another in an hour, I am genuinely invested in the leaders in my group and I know them. And sometimes we type jokes back and forth and sometimes we, I know what someone’s going to say before they say it and like put, I totally knew you were gonna say that because that’s who you are as a person. I think that’s probably the most surprising thing is that I do feel so connected to this group of individuals through a Zoom call once a week for an hour.
I’m not sure I ever thought it would be like that. I think what you don’t know about the Mastermind is what surprises you the most. You go in thinking I’m just gonna level up my leadership. But what you get out of it is so much more than that. It’s friendship, it’s comradery, it’s togetherness, it’s communication, it’s tools, it’s strategies, it’s laughter, and it’s hard conversations We’ve had quite a bit about recently in the last couple months about things like race and equity and privilege. It’s being vulnerable and saying things like, I can’t wake up and change what I look like or who I am and other people saying I have to own my own privilege. Those are the things I don’t think I ever foresaw when I applied. And I’m appreciative of those things. I look forward to Tuesday at 7:30. And when I miss my kids I look forward to it because they love being in the background every single week doing something so that they can be seen. I look forward to that connection and I think truly that’s probably the biggest surprise that I’ve had is the connection to strangers.
Awesome. We started with how life and leadership was before the Mastermind. How would you say it’s different now?
Good question. I think I’m a more brave leader. I am very comfortable saying things that people don’t like. Where before I was maybe not looking to be liked, but I think that’s an easy pitfall to fall into as a new leader. Like you’re trying to get people to trust you. I’ve learned that trust doesn’t always mean that they like you. I’m bolder than I was before I started the Mastermind. I’m afraid to speak my mind and I know what I want. I know exactly what I want for my students and I know exactly what I want for my staff. I work really hard to make sure we get there. Sometimes we take a couple steps backwards all the time and a couple steps forward. I go to network meetings and I go to principal meetings and I’m very comfortable with who I am as a school leader. And it might not be the same type of leader as the principal sitting at the table with me, but I speak my mind and I’m very transparent and I think the Mastermind has helped me do that, feel comfortable in who I was as a leader because I don’t lead like some of my peers. I love my people and I really hold tight to that value of family and love and not everybody leads that way. I’m now comfortable with who and what that means to me.
Yeah, that’s powerful. I think for the people you lead too, it’s attractive and inspiring as well. So it’s really cool. You’ve obviously had some success in the Mastermind. What are you excited about next for you in leadership? I hope we get the opportunity to continue to serve you, but leadership wise, what are you excited about?
The reason I love leadership is because it’s never the same every single day. That’s why I loved teaching. And that’s why I love teaching too. There’s never a dull moment. And you know, I think my theme for the year is like, you couldn’t make this up, but if you try, you probably didn’t make up some of the things that happened throughout the course of a day and a week. I am now about to be graduating in the next couple of months, the end of my fifth year here in this building. I know that kind of sometimes once you make it to year five, who you are and what you’ve tried to establish is starting to set in. I am excited about the future. My oldest child will be in fifth grade next year and he has been with me since kindergarten.
I’m excited to continue to build a school that is meaningful to him and my daughter is also here. I’m excited for new challenges. I love solving problems and so I am excited about doing that. I’m excited about what the future for my building looks like because I have three amazing teachers retiring and we are gonna be ushering in a new era of educators to replace three phenomenal people. What does that look like and what does that feel like and what does that sound like? I will always be excited about what we could be doing and how we can keep pushing the envelope.
How would you describe your Mastermind experience in one word?
Those were all my questions. Jessica, do you have anything else that you wanna share before we hit stop?
I think I would just say it’s okay to bet on yourself. I think the Mastermind is betting on yourself. And for those of you that are contemplating it and wondering if I should do it, the answer should be yes, is to bet on you and you won’t be disappointed.
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 BetterLeadersBetterschools.com and talk to you next time. Until then, “Class Dismiss.”
Transform how you lead to become a resilient and empowered change agent with Harvard’s online Certificate in School Management and Leadership. Grow your professional network with a global cohort of fellow school leaders as you collaborate in case studies bridging the fields of education and business. Apply today at http://hgse.me/leader.
With TeachFX, teachers are creating classrooms that are alive with conversation. Our app gives teachers insights into high-leverage 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. Start your free pilot at teachfx.com/blbs .
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