Loren Brody is an elementary school principal in Northern Virginia. He is also a husband, father of two teenagers, amateur violinist, dedicated swimmer, new vegetarian cook and mindfulness devotee, and Washington Wizards and Nationals sports fan — still holding onto his New York roots with allegiance to the New York Jets and Mets.
Having lunch will build connections with students and staff.
Principals need a bow tie to pay attention to details and messaging.
Tips to connect with the students that don’t look like you or have the same life experiences as you did.
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How to decide the stories to tell to be authentic with your staff.
Create a circle with your staff because quality relationships equals a quality culture.
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Authentic Leadership Connections
The one and only Fran McGreevey told me once that basically a quality school, a quality culture can be measured by the quality of relationships between adults in a building. And Fran is right. So what does it take to build connections with students and staff? That was a wondering, that was a curiosity, that was a question that today’s guests and my friend Loren Brody was asking himself as a first year teacher, as a first year principal. And there’s a thread through his professional career about wondering how to connect just a little bit better. because Lorenknows, as quality relationships equals equality culture. Listen today to hear about some of the interesting ways that Lorenconnected with students and staff. You’ll get inspired that way. You’ll also hear some awesome stuff about dreaming big. Why that’s important for us as leaders. Hey, it’s Danny, chief Ruckus Maker over at Better Leaders, Better Schools. And this show is for you, a Ruckus Maker, which means you invest in your continuous growth, you challenge the status quo and design the future of school now. And we’ll be right back after a few messages from our show sponsors.
Establish your legacy with Harvard Certificate in School Management and Leadership. Learn from Harvard Business and Education School faculty. As you develop the frameworks, skills and knowledge you need to drive change improvement in your learning community. Get started at BetterLeadersbetterschools.com/harvard. Last year, teachers using Teach FX, increase their student talk by an average of 40%. Teach FX uses AI to help teachers see the power of high leverage teaching practices in their own classroom level data. It’s like having a personal instructional coach on your phone, your tablet or laptop. Start your free pilot teachfx.com/betterLeaders. Why do students struggle? I’d argue that they lack access to quality instruction, but think about it. That’s totally out of their control. What if there was something we could teach kids, then what if there was something within their control that would help them be successful in every class? And it’s not a magic pill or a figment of your imagination. When students internalize executive functioning skills, they succeed. Check out the new self-paced online course brought to you by our friends at Organized Binder that shows teachers how to equip their students with executive functioning skills. You can learn [email protected]/go.
Ruckus Makers I am really excited for this one. There’s been a shift in the show and I wanna bring more stories from within our community. The Mastermind, I had the pleasure and privilege of interviewing and having conversations about some really cool topics on education leadership, and I love that. But there are so many incredible things happening within our community. It’s a shame that more people don’t know about him. Today I’m joined with a friend LorenBrody, and he’s an elementary school principal in Northern Virginia. He also brought me to a minor league baseball team when we watched the Nationals play the Chicago Cubs. He’s also a husband, father of two teenagers, an amateur violinist, dedicated swimmer, new vegetarian cook, and mindfulness. Devote also a Wizards National sports fan, which I’ve already given him a hard time about. And still holding onto his New York roots with allegiance. This guy’s crazy. To the New York Jets and the New York Mets. Just ask you why Loren or the whole episode, but I don’t wanna do that. One thing that’s not in your bio. You actually have a very strong bow tie game as well. Maybe I’ll ask you about that first, becauseI’ve sent you a bow tie, and that’s just something I like about your style. How you show up and that kind of thing. And your personality. Like what’s the deal like, when did that start? Do you even remember?
Thanks Danny. It’s great to be with you on the podcast. And the bow tie was something that I discovered in my early days as principal. Actually one of my supervisors who was a really good mentor to me was a bow tie wearer and he really mentored me in terms of when you’re a principal, people really pay close attention to everything about you. Including what you’re wearing. I noticed his bow tie looked pretty good and it was a different kind of look anda little bit more unique. I started wearing them. I had to watch about, I don’t know if I should admit this, I had to watch about 20 YouTube videos. Figure out how to tie them correctly. I really enjoy wearing bow ties now. It’s part of what school community members really like to see me wearing.
Absolutely. When I got married to Maryanne she helped dress me up on multiple occasions. She thinks like bow ties are an attractive look. So like youI’ll wear those if we’re doing something fancy. Unlike you, I’ve probably watched 2000 videos on how to tie a bow tie because I don’t remember, every time I go to it, I’m like, what? How do we do this? And so there’s like a YouTube I have saved and it’s like, okay. And it takes me a few timesa few tries each time. Enough about bow ties. Let’s bring you back to middle school. You’re a teacher. That’s where I started in sixth grade. But you’re in seventh grade. I was a sixth grade English teacher. You were a seventh grade English teacher. And you found yourself just trying to figure out like, how do I connect with the students in front of me because they didn’t necessarily look or have the same sort of life experiences as you did. Can you tell us that story? How’d you figure out how to connect with those kids?
Definitely. I was super excited to be a first year teacher. I couldn’t wait to teach English to inspire my students and be inspired by them. I didn’t know how to connect with them. I had an experienced, I teach her colleague and mentor at the time who I could see, like he really connected with the students because he had so much in common with them. And I didn’t have as much in common with them on the surface. Many of my students were African American and Latino. And I was this white guy, Jewish guy from New York and had all these resources growing up. But here are my students with so much to offer me. But I didn’t necessarily know how to tap into it and connect. And what my colleague told me was, he’s like, yes, I connect with the students in this way, but you gotta connect with them in the ways that you can, and you need to offer them what you have to offer them. What I started doing was thinking what do I have to offer my students? I realized one of the things was I play violin and I started bringing my violin into the classroom and I even, I was like, they’re not gonna seventh grader. They’re not gonna like classical music. I played classical music and I had every, I had them in the palm of my hand. It was really good. There were other ways that I got to connect with them I realized to connect with them too, just to be being creative. I videotaped my grandmother in New York, speaking of my New York roots. I videotaped her. We having a me sharing a message with my students. She always wanted to be a teacher. Actually, she was a teacher for a while before she came to the United States. But she didn’t have the opportunity when she came here and shared with my students. Then I had my students write about their own experience. I shared it back with my grandmother. We made this cool connection that way. I learned to connect my students in those kind of ways. It was different, but it worked.
They enjoyed the violin. It’s that’s really interesting. And I wonder if it’s just because you didn’t try to fake you didn’t try to impress them or be something that you weren’t lowering, but you were authentic in that moment sitting down playing violin. Like you said, you had ’em in the palm of your hand and they accepted you. That’s a really cool story. I like how you connected the grandma to them as well. Back in the day, believe it or not. Thank you. My mom has visited every school where I’ve where I’ve taught or been school administrator and she’s like, shadowed me or hung out. I can tell you my first year teaching, she’s sitting there and they probably just thought like, maybe this is a sub or an aide or like who, I didn’t introduce her. I don’t think in the beginning. Some kids talking are off task or something. And tried to redirect. And then eventually I’m just like, you know what? Go sit next to my mom. And they’re like, oh, the whole class. Oh, that kid never disobeyed me again. I don’t know if that was good or bad but it was just cool having mom in the room with me. She helped out for sure. A secret weapon, Loren. My secret weapon for sure. She has been my whole life. So that is a principle. I see this thread of wanting to connect with those you serve throughout your career.
Seventh grade English teacher with your students, first few years as a principal, wanting to connect with your students as well and help them behave with their behavior. What was the insight there? What helped you connect with kids as a first few years as a principal?
Definitely that was something I really had to relearn in a way. It was different as a principal than as a teacher. There were kind of fewer opportunities I felt like, that were super apparent. Like, this is the time or this is the way unlike in the classroom when we were there together all the all the time. What I ended up deciding to do after some problem solving and reaching out for ideas and was to spend time with some of the students who are having the most trouble with the behavior and to spend time with them during the summer when I had more time and we weren’t in classes together and we could do something different. I was an elementary and middle school principal at the time, and I took I remember specifically taking some of the upper elementary students and some of the middle school students on some mini field trips during the summer and we went mini bowling. I’m not a bowler, but your colleague suggested this cool mini bowling place. It turned out to be extra fun. And we went on a field trip together. We went bowling. There was also a cool retro eighties arcade there. I wasn’t completely out matched by my students because I can reference some of those earlier skills with Pac-man or whatnot.But the thing is that after spending that time together, including we took the bus, we took a just took public transportation together, we rode the bus together it was a daylong event.
We went and had frozen yogurt together. After that we just had a rapport and and there were concerns. I just remember one thing I could always count on and I would be able to talk to them. They would be willing to come to me. And I didn’t have that before we spent that time together. And it was an amazing learning experience for me and a way to kind of take some of that connection that I’d learned how to do with a teacher, but figure out a new way to do it as a principal.
Was this the entire student body or was it a subset of the students? How’d you pick who went on this experience with you?
I reflected at the end of the school year myself and then together with some of our other administrative team members who are the students who seem the most disconnected right now from what we’re trying to do in school. And who can I reach out to over the summer? I called their parent and I said, “Hey, we’ve got this opportunity.” I didn’t know if they’d say yes or no it was optional, but they were definitely into it.
That’s awesome. I’ve seen this connection thread in your career and prior to this school year we had some coaching calls and that kind of thing. I really challenged you to open up more to your staff. When I visited your staff, they said like, Loren’s the best. .He shared, he was real. We really appreciate that, how he showed up.
Can you share with the Ruckus Maker listening how you decide the stories to tell and be authentic with your staff in a little bit of context. You transitioned schools during Covid if I remember correctly, many of these people on your staff that you weren’t leading. Like you actually haven’t met face to face yet. There was yeah, that’s hard. I’ll let you take it from here, but what did you decide to share? How did you show up in that moment?
Well, Danny, I had that coaching call with you and with my assistant principal. And we’re talking about know, how can we reset, how can were launch for this new school year. We’ve gone through the, hopefully the worst part of the pandemic and how it kind of shut things down for us. And we have this chance to open up and now connect in person as a staff and as a school community. And I remember the question you asked me at some point during that call because I’m kind of listing out different kind of ideas that I have, things that are important to our school community. You’re lwhen are you gonna share your story with your staff? I felt the weight of that question, not in a bad way, but I really haven’t sharedI haven’t really opened up to that extent with them. Even though we’ve been working closely. I had to and that was the thing that needed to happen. First, I’m used to connecting. I’m used to connecting more with students as a teacher and then I learned to do it spin it differently as an administrator. But like, how do you do that with your staff. I spent time thinking, reflecting during the summer before inservice at the end of the summer. What I wanted to share and I really wanted to share about my family. I wanted them to know how important my family was to me. Husband. my wife’s a teacher. We’ve have two kids, two amazing kids. My daughter’s senior is a senior in high school and my son is in middle school. The big reason why I transitioned and was looking for new opportunities was to be closer to family. And I wanted my staff to know that too, because that was a big part of my story. My why for why I was with them now and I wanted them to know how important family was because I wanted them to feel like a family with me and for me to feel like family with my staff and for us to have that kind of strong relationship.
That’s awesome. Kudos to you. I applaud your efforts to show up and be authentic and invite them into your story. I know that it really impacted them. That was the feedback I received when I was with you. Let’s talk about you invited me to sort of do like the summer kickoff with your staff and the PD day, that type of thing. It was a professional milestone for me for a number of reasons. I think just being able to work with you was awesome. Period. And then two, to do it in the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, who gets to do stuff there. Like what? And you have a special relationship with them. That was super cool. I’d like to ask, I guess, why’d you invite me out and what’d you hope that the team would experience?
Danny, you bring out the best of me. It goes kind of back to being a Ruckus Maker for real. Being out of the box the way that you are and the way that you encourage us to be. And that whole time that I was planning that relaunch professional development day with our staff at the Kennedy Center you encouraged me to dream big, right. To even see if there was an actor that could perform for us while we were there and we ended up getting one. And that was so cool. Because you encouraged me to dream big. I wanted you to help our staff dream big and also help us reconnect, help us connect as a staff and bring out my team’s best. And also just help us have fun and laugh together. We were able to do all those things and I got so much positive feedback from my team members afterwards they’re like, that’s one of the best professional development experiences I ever had. I think because it was authentic.You had us as a staff think through, okay what agreements do we wanna have and let’s brainstorm and let’s give each other feedback and how can we create more belonging as a team? We also able to do rule number six and not take ourselves too seriously. You’re rule number six and you kept reminding us of that and Yeah. I t was that kind of fun and genuine time together that helped us reset as a staff. Andwhen you ha wai twe’re so fortunate to have the experience on our team and like all these different life experiences among our teaching faculty and all of our staff members. You helped us get on the same page for making sure that we’re really communicating with each other and developing our relationships. One of our mastermind great mastermind colleagues Fran been hasI love listening to him in our mastermind group sessions. And he would always reference, that quote about the best predictor of student success achievement as a quality of relationships among adults In the building. And that’s what that inservices data you facilitate with less was all about.
Fran’s idea there really has influenced me as well turned into, you don’t see it because I’m gonna put it up behind me, but I’ve had all these images designed that represent like values that I have towards education leadership. And that idea that Fran inspired me was to create a circle. But it’s quality relationships equals a quality culture. Right. And when you got that quality culture, it keeps feeding each itself. You know what I mean? Once you get that going, like the momentum just can’t stop. I do wanna justI wanna challenge the Ruckus Maker listening to Dream Big no matter what it is that you’re doing because just awesome stuff can happen. And I think that’s why it helps to have a coach, that kind of thing. because they can see what’s in front of you, but you might not be able to see. And when you shared that you had that special partnership with the, it’s like, well what shows are going on? This kind of stuff. one you might have heard of called Hamilton.and that’s who came, I forget the young lady’s name, but it was I think 20 something professional right. Performer. And she came in, sang songs from Hamilton and songs that she wrote and just talked about her experience as a student and where she was going and how her teachers supported her. And like, people were crying, you know what I mean? It was a very emotional moment, but the answer’s always known unless you ask. Kudos to you for having the courage to do that.
I was gonna say, yeah, she was Mika. Yep. Yeah. Amazing. Performer. She sang a song from another she was part of the Hamilton cast, but she sang a song from another musical that she shared with us. And she talked the things she talked about with us afterwards, like how she approached singing. And then you had us reflect on what did we learn from listening to her sing. We also talk, listen to her talk about her life experience and her experiences in school and what kind of motivated her and kept her going.
Absolutely. Well, Loren I’m really enjoying our conversation. I could talk to you all day, but we need to pause here just for a second to get some messages in from our awesome sponsors. The Better Leaders Better Schools podcast is proudly sponsored by Harvard’s Certificate in School Management and Leadership. I know many mastermind members and many Ruckus Makers who listen to this show that have gone through the program and have loved the experience. But don’t just take it from me. Let’s hear how some of the Harvard faculty describe the impact and their heart for this program. Leadership is joyful work, empowering others to do their best work. Principals do that with teachers and teachers do that with students. And empowering others to educate themselves or to be educated is just one of the most important things we can do in this world building. We’re building people, we’re building the next generation of leaders and educators. Learn more about the program and apply at BetterLeadersBetterschools.com/harvard. You know what student engagement sounds like? Students ask questions, they build on each other’s ideas. The classroom’s alive with conversation. Creating that kind of classroom is much easier said than done. Teach FX helps teachers make it happen. Their AI provides teachers with insights into high leverage teaching practices like how much student talk happened, which questions gots students talking. Teach FX is like giving each teacher their own on demand instructional coach to help them boost student engagement in learning as well as their own. It’s eyeopening for teachers and scales. The impact of every coach and principal. Ruckus Makers can start a free pilot with your teachers today. Go to teach fx.com/bl bs to launch a free pilot for your school. Again, start that free pilot by visiting teachfx.com/blbs today. As students progress through their K-12 experience, schoolwork only gets harder and more complex.
At the same time, students are asked to be more independent in their learning. Young people struggling with executive functioning skills will follow further and further behind the pandemic. Let’s be real. It’s only made things worse. The remedy is found in equipping students with executive functioning skills. Our friends at Organized Binder have released a new self-paced course and it teaches you how to teach these executive functioning skills and set up your students for success. Learn [email protected]/go and start setting up your students for success today. Again, that’s [email protected]/go. All right, and we’re back with one of my favorite Ruckus Makers, Loren Brody, who is a bow tie extraordinaire husband, father. Amateur violinist, dedicated swimmer, new vegetarian cook, and a mindfulness devote. And he loves some of the worst sports teams ever to play professional sport for some reason. A lovable call quality about you. I think before I ask like how the work has progressed throughout the year since I’ve been there you talked about agreements or being flexible and connecting Mika’s story with like education and we talked about dreaming big. But if there was like one moment that, that really stood out to you or the most impactful thing we did, what do you think that might have been from the talk, the workshop that we did together?
There were so many things that resonated that day but as I think about it now after a few months after we had that day together. I think about what I keep coming back to with my staff members, it’s really those okay. Agreements we came up with together. And I say that becausethere nd then mm-hmm.
How would you, explain what agreements are? I mean, you and the staff shared that experience, so it makes sense to us, but for the Ruckus Maker listening, they might be like, what the heck is an agreement?
An agreement is kind of the, I’m gonna say the better version of an expectation. An expectation is okay as the principal, I’m gonna say, this is what I expect of you as my staff members. expectto do X, Y, and Z. As an agreement, not agreement didn’t just come from me. It came from all of our staff members brainstorming.W hat do we wanna agree on as a staff? we wanna agree on, for example, assuming best intentions. We wanna agree on all of our students are all of our students. And these, these were some of the key agreements that not just one, but multiple staff members said, really appealed to them. So we did a brainstorm first. Everyone got a chance in groups to brainstorm what those agreements might be be, but then we did a gallery walk where we went around and everyone’s able to kind of indicate their energy with all the different agreements out there. So we could see after. I got to tell everything up where the most energy was, which agreements were going to lead us through this school year.
That’s awesome. And they are different than expect expectations are top down. Agreements are, bottom up. They’re collaborative. And Steve Chandler’s a coach who really influenced my thinking, and I wrote about this in the last book, which is a best seller, by the way, mastermind. But the other thing about agreements and expectations, you think about it, somebody doesn’t meet your expectation, whether it’s your kid. Or a staff member. How do you feel when they violate it or don’t meet it? You’re upset probably or disappointed. There’s some type of negative energy around it. Now think if somebody meets the expectation, how do you feel? You just kinda, most people are ambivalent. It’s like, well, that’s what they’re supposed to do. So agreements, because they’re co-authored and collaborative people love to keep them and to honor them. And since their voice was a part of the process, it’s a reallyit’s a really powerful moment. I think before I ask you the last three questions I asked all my podcast guests is there anything else that you’d like to share with the Ruckus Maker listening, just in terms of how the works continued right. Since we did the workshop, but are there any highlights, anything That you wanna celebrate? Or anything you wanna share?
For sure. I mean, being able to focus on our on our staff culture has just helped us and helped me so much. And two of the highlights are one is having one-on-one meetings with every staff member. And that’s something that my assistant principal has been an amazing partner with me. she and I have had many of those meetings together with each staff member. And then I’ve continued having meeting with staff members and they gimme such valuable ideas and feedback, like things I wouldn’t have thought of. I get to ask every one of them what’s great about working here? what’s not so good about working here? What’s become my favorite question, what would you do if you were principal?
It’s been really eyeopening for me, and then I report back to the whole staff the things I’m hearing. I get to get great ideas for continuing to improve our school culture, that strong foundation together from those meetings. But just the process itself also helps build trust and relationships. So that’s definitely been a big highlight. Another one is having lunches together with different, with each team. My assistant principal and I are having team lunches, and part of the inspiration for that is the cat together that day. We ate together we spent time together that wasn’t just about the work and the work, super important. However, we need to we need to be able to have fun together and spend time together.Having lunch together with our teams, it turned out to be real, highlight this school.
Sweet. If you could put a message on all school Marques for one day, what would your message read?
Believe in every student. Believe in every staff member. And let’s make it happen together. Let’s make it happen as a community.
Now let’s talk about your dream school. You’re building your dream school from the ground up. There’s no constraints in terms of resources. Your only limitation, your ability to imagine. So how would you build his dream school? What would be the three guiding principles that is there’s a lot to that question.
The dream school would foster opportunities for as many opportunities as possible for learning to take place together with families. Bring bring students and their parents or caregivers together with teachers with administrators learning together and coming together for learning activities. And for community events eating together, spending time together. that’s gotta be one of the pillars. Thinking creatively about how to build connections into the community. Opportunities for students to be out in the community. Internships for sure, but other opportunities, like how can we get more, have more teaching opportunities, field trips, yes, but even more in-depth experiences, seeing different, different jobs just from fields being students, being able to be in different environments. That would be one of the pillars as well, for sure. And I think I need one more to make it three. Sofor it to be a dream schoolI need to say, maybe it’s my bias, but the arts and music have to be there. We have to have a great performance space we have to have a place for that creativity.I want there to be maybe more than one, multiple performance spaces, yes. In auditorium. Butto go back to the Kennedy Centerschools with creative spacesbeyond the traditional classroom spaces where students be involved both with music and other art forms really really tapping into their talents and bringing forth their creativity.
Well, thanks Lauren, for being my guest today. We covered a lot of ground of everything we talked about. What’s the one thing you want a Ruckus Maker to remember?
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@betterleadersbetter schools.com 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 BetterLeaders Betterschools.com and talk to you next time. Until then, “class dismissed.”
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.
Last year, teachers using TeachFX increased their student talk by an average of 40%. TeachFX uses AI to help teachers see the power of high-leverage teaching practices in their own classroom-level data. It’s like having a personal instructional coach…on your phone, tablet, or laptop. Start your free pilot at teachfx.com/betterleaders .
Why do students struggle? I’d argue that they lack access to quality instruction, but think about it. That’s totally out of their control. What if there was something we could teach kids there was something within their control that would help them be successful in every class? It’s not a magic pill or a figment of your imagination.
When students internalize Executive Functioning Skills they succeed.
Check out the new self-paced online course brought to you by OB that shows teachers how to equip their students with executive functioning skills.
Learn more at organizedbinder.com/go
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