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
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“I thought it (the Mastermind) was really a different way to get a wider perspective from a wider area hitting principles from all over. Until the Mastermind, I had these really good opportunities for learning, and I definitely learned and grew. I didn’t have the opportunity to benefit from a wider perspective on school leadership.”
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Limitless Leadership Inspiration
So check in with yourself right now. How are you feeling at this moment about your career? How are you feeling about school leadership? Maybe you have high or low positive energy around that question and answer. Maybe it’s high or low negative energy. There’s no right or wrong. I’m not here to judge. But one thing that I do know at Better Leaders, better Schools, we often overdeliver in terms of re-energizing and inspiring those Ruckus Makers that we serve. Whether you need it or not, come to a BLBS experience, and I guarantee you’re gonna leave with more energy than what you came with. Today’s the second part of a two-part podcast conversation. Last week, we talked with Loren Brody and talked about dreaming big and connecting with students and staff. In this part, we’re gonna hear about his Mastermind experience because the truth is, it’s kind of hard to explain what it’s like. There’s this model that’s transforming professional development around the world for school leaders just like you. Let’s let in to how Loren has grown and the results he’s achieved because of the support he gets in the Mastermind. Hey, it’s Danny, Chief Ruckus Maker over at Better Leaders, Better Schools. This show is just for you, 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 right back after these messages from our show sponsors.
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All right, I’m here again with my friend and Ruckus Maker, Loren Brody. If you don’t know who Loren is, you need to go back to last week’s episode where Loren was really talking about connecting with students, with staff connecting showing up in an authentic and real way, which I think was really impressive, what he shared. We were talking about dreaming big, what it’s like to have me come out and lead a workshop, the importance of agreements versus expectations. It was an awesome show, and definitely go back and listen to that today. Loren is back, and we’re gonna talk about his experience in the Mastermind because the funny thing is a lot of times, I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced this yourself, Loren, maybe your colleagues have asked, but people ask you what’s a Mastermind like?
And the most common answer is like, it’s kind of hard to explain. You just have to experience it. I think they’re doing these conversations and these case study conversations. We can pull out how you’ve grown the challenges you’ve overcome and that kind of thing. I think people will understand the value a little bit better. Thanks again for being on your show for the second song. There’s only a handful of guests that have been on the show twice, and you did this, two weeks in a row. Anyways, it actually is quite a distinction, so that’s kind of fun. How would you describe Life and leadership prior to joining the Mastermind?
Prior to joining the Mastermind I enjoyed being a school leader. I’ve always enjoyed learning from whoever would be willing to help me out orI was part of a resident principal program for a while. I learned a lot from mentor principals along the way. There were all these learning opportunities. I got to this point a couple of years into being a principal where I felt like there were just some challenges I had that I was stuck with. There were challenges with how do I take school culture to the next level? How do I deal with some difficult situations and handle the pressure of needing to produce results as a school leader? One of my colleagues at the time knew about the Mastermind. I thought it was really a different way to kind of get a wider perspective from a wider area. Hitting principles from all over. Until the Mastermind, I think that I had these really good opportunities for learning, and I definitely learned and grew. I didn’t have the opportunity to benefit from a wider perspective on school leadership.
Was it Jen that you’re talking about? Or was it somebody else?
Loren (06:32):Yeah. Good memory. Yeah.
Honestly, I remember everybody that’s been a part of it, and especially folks from the early days because they believed in the idea. They believed in me before other people did. It’s easier to believe today because back then there might have been like seven people, one or two cohorts. There’s 11 cohorts. As you and I are recording right now, by the time this releases, there’ll probably be more and 95 leaders in it. It’s kind of crazy right? How it’s taken off. Jen, if you’re listening, you’re amazing. We miss you and hope you’re doing well. Shout out to you.
Yeah, shout out Jen, for sure. I just wanted to echo that?
Absolutely. Yeah, definitely. Was there a number one goal you wanted to achieve? You talked about some of the challenges prior to joining, but was there a number one goal? Like there might not have been, but hey, I’m joining this because I wanna accomplish xyz.
I think back to it, I wanted to, if I could sum it up, I’ll say I wanted to gain more confidence about how to be a school leader in the way that I wanted to be a school leader. I had these opportunities to learn and grow, and I saw a lot of other school leaders, and I definitely learned from them making that transition from seeing these different ways to learn and deciding this is the way that I, Loren Brody, want to be a school leader. This is the way I wanna show up, and these are the kind of relationships I wanna have, the kind of culture I wanna have. But how do I, and just how do I do that? And how do I navigate all the challenges that are coming at me so fast. Every day and all the decisions I have to make and still be able to have that confidence to have that kind of culture.
Tell me more about the way Loren Brody wanted to show up and tell me more about the culture you wanted to have? I get it as an idea, but how you and I might define it would be different, and that’s okay. But what does that mean to you?
One of the challenges I’ve always had as a school leader is that I’m a more quiet kind of school leader. I wanna lead, I really lean into wanting to serve others. I really lean into wanting to create collaboration. And where I’m strongest is where I bring together the ideas of the team and help to elevate those ideas, to help, to really nurture those ideas. I’m not as much a leader who will just stand up and say this is how it needs to be or this is what’s right and this is what’s wrong, and we just need to go down this path. There’s a real value to that. I’ve had some wonderful colleagues who’ve been stronger in that area. But I really wanted to have more of a very collaborative culture, both in terms of tools, working together, teachers, working together, creating the culture we wanted for students together. And also figuring out how to have more fun in the ways that I like to have fun. You know, in goofy, silly ways and so forth, and in ways of music. Through you know, my violin playing and that kind of thing. I didn’t have the confidence to do that and I found a, like in the mass amount, I found colleagues who really to you listen to you for who you are. When can you play violin for your students? When are you gonna do it? And really, but it’s not just like cheerleading. It’s like, okay this is important to you. When are you gonna make it happen? How are you gonna make it happen? And We’re gonna help you think it through. And then there’s this feeling of we’re gonna hold you to it, because you said this is important, and we’re gonna ask you about how it went afterwards. You’ll have some creative ideas for doing it. So that kind of culture that’s unique to kind of the talents that I bring and very collaborative in nature, that’s really what I wanted to do and really I’ve been so fortunate to work in school communities with people from so many different backgrounds. Last time we talked, I spoke about the challenges I had as a teacher just learning how to connect with students from different backgrounds, from my own. And then as a principal, learning how to do that too. And then when you’re the school leader, it’s how do you bring everyone together? There are lots of real challenges with that. And these are wonderful opportunities. However, you need to be able to problem solve situations that come up and bounce ideas off other school leaders and get feedback and be able to do it in a way where you feel like you can just open up and it’s okay. And you can learn that way. So you, you talked about like a resident program, I think you called it that.
Daniel (12:12):I’m sure you’ve had other professional development experiences as well, but what I’m wondering is what makes the Mastermind different that it could deliver in terms of you showing up more authentically or building the culture that you wanna see? I’m just curious, could you view it from, why the other ones weren’t able to deliver on that or why the Mastermind did deliver on that. What makes them different?
It’s different because you get this time called the hot seat. This is one reason why it’s really different. The hot seat is when it’s your turn on the hot seat, you share a big problem. You can share very specific issues that you’re working on, and you get to really articulate what it is that is the challenge that you’re dealing with. And your Mastermind colleagues are gonna ask you clarifying questions. They’re going to share their ideas, and then you get to listen before you reflect. And hear so many different perspectives. You hear so many different perspectives and valuable perspectives because you’re getting fresh ideas and from colleagues that are like some things that are really consistent about school leadership, probably wherever you are. And then there are different resources, different structures, different ways that different schools or even school districts do things. And you get to hear some of those other ways of handling situations. It helps you in turn get really good ideas that you wouldn’t necessarily have thought of before. And that’s one thing and having that in every Mastermind session, that hot seat opportunity. I learn a ton from listening to other people’s challenges too. For one, I feel like I’ve had a challenge similar to that. I feel better. I’m not alone and having that challenge. I also get to hear someone else think through it. And then sometimes I hear about a challenge I haven’t had yet, but it helps me anticipate certain things and then I can also kind of connect it to the things I am working on. Having that structure in the Mastermind really works. But then it’s the culture behind the structure in the Mastermind too, because there’s a way of thinking the best in everyone. I wanna say it is embedded in the Mastermind culture.
It’s thinking like, Mastermind members think the best in one another. You think the best in us or other Mastermind facilitators think the best in us too.They’ve carried that forward. But then there’s also assumption when we do look at problem scenarios that the students involved, like, we think the best of their staff members. I really feel challenged in a good way. Every time I bring a problem to the floor it might be okay to vent, but ultimately there’s a real person behind every situation or real people behind every situation. What’s their reality, what’s going on for them. And that underlying message in everything all the conversations we’ve had at Mastermind has been an inspiration to me because I feel that it’s helped me see the best in everyone that I work with. Also helped me be authentic because I have to see the best in myself too.
What was your biggest fear or reservation about joining back in the day?
I was not one of the early adopters for the Zoom platform. Because we had, we were in the Mastermind virtually. There was some anxiety around being online and being on video interesting with colleagues. So I say that that was part of it. And then fear of opening up. Maybe there’s something wrong with me, maybe it’s just me having these problems or not being able to figure these things out and I’m gonna get in this Mastermind and be with all these other school leaders. Maybe this isn’t for me. And I guess I could have discovered that, but it’s not what I discovered part of what you helped me realize, Danny, I think even when you were helping me think through whether it was something I was interested in and you were kind of seeing if I was a good fit as well. You kind of focused on this is your story, you just wanted to hear my story. And that’s it goes back to that culture of the Mastermind where each person’s, each principle story is really important. And then we are able to apply that in really good ways to work. We’re trying to do our best.
Do you remember the moment you decided, all right, I’m joining this thing?
It’s when you met with me and you asked me some questions and I know you told me to think about it, but after we were done talking, because I’d heard it from my friend and mentor Jen and I could tell that you were really listening. You listened to my story, you actually put my story back to me. And that in itself was like, I want to be in an environment where I get to share like that, but also what I’m sharing I’ll hear back and I’m gonna learn from that. And so it was right after our conversation, to be honest with you.
Daniel (18:24):I love to answer these questions because everybody’s answer is different. I so appreciate you sharing your story.
I was gonna share Danny, I know I’ve been sharing a lot of ideas about the Mastermind experiences, but there’s just so many nuts and bolts topics. We get the cover too. For the listener, they know I benefit from problem solving if you’re going through a hiring decision and you’re trying to figure out who should be part of that hiring process. And maybe there’s certain deadlines associated with when you need to do certain steps and you gotta coordinate with your school district and there’s just lots of practical issues that come up. Maybe there’s a student behavior issue that you’re really grappling with. You get to share that story and share what you’re doing and get ideas and feedback. There can be really big topics and really detailed or nuts and bolts topics too. I learn so much from all the different challenges that we discuss. And that’s part of the design. You should be able to walk away from me to experience that the Mastermind was something you could implement that evening or the next day to get a result, a positive result in your school.
Daniel (19:46):I appreciate you bringing up some of those topics that we’ve helped you through.
No, I was gonna share one more. Because one other feature of the Mastermind I think’s really important is when we Mastermind members get a chance to lead sessions and when we get a chance to lead, you get a chance to try something out. It’s basically risk free once you get to know each other a little bit and you say you realize like, we’re really working together and we’re really listening to each other. I’ve Tried out different stuff first in the Mastermind. Whether it’s like a mindfulness routine or what I do with my teachers or a goofy song you know, about a topic I wanna share with my faculty. I get to try those things out with the Mastermind and that’s a big part of it too.
I remember I was texting too because somebody else was presenting it. I think it probably was Beth, but I could be wrong. But the 5 4 3 21 grounding technique, and you texted me cuz you did it with your parents. And there was a risk. How are they gonna respond to this thing, right? To bring them, the point is to bring them in the present moment to minimize and let go of the distractions so that they’re fully here with me, the principal and the parents. And so you took a risk. I’m pretty sure it was Beth. It might’ve been Karen. I remember that. It totally worked right? They’re PTA media, I sometimes use that as a slide did of my presentations just to be like, Hey, we teach stuff. You could use it tomorrow and get that positive result. Alright, let’s take a break. Let’s get a message in from our sponsors and when we get back, come wanna ask you a few more questions, of course, about the Mastermind. But we’re gonna ask about what surprised you the most when you joined The Better Leaders Better Schools podcast that 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. I Deeply believe that every single person on this planet has superpowers. And it is our job as educators to tap into them and unleash them. Learn more about the program and apply at Better Leadersbetterschools.com/harvard. When classrooms come alive with conversation teachers and students both thrive. Last year, teachers using Teach FX increased their student talk by an average of 40%. Can an app really do that? Even trying something like embracing extra wait time to create space for student talk can feel like a risk. But with Teach FX teachers see the power of those practices in their own classroom level data. It’s like having a personal instructional coach on your phone, tablet, or laptop. Best of all, Ruckus Makers can start a free pilot with their teachers today. Go to teach fx.com/betterLeaders to learn how and get started. That’s right. Go to teachfx.com/betterleaders and start your free pilot with Teach FX today. Teachers give it their all to empower their students. But what is it that truly lays the foundation for learning what sets all students up for success?
As you know, unless students develop a solid foundation for learning, it doesn’t matter how great teachers deliver content or how emergent the technology is, or even how engaging a lesson might be when students hone executive functioning skills, those seemingly intangible suite of habits and behaviors, teachers’ efforts find fertile ground and everyone succeeds. Ironically, did you know that executive functioning skills are not taught? Rather, they are best learned when students get practice using them by virtue of engaging in a predictable daily learning routine? Our friends at Organized Binder have created a new course that will teach your teachers how to set students up for success. And you can learn [email protected]/go. Help your students [email protected]/go.
We’re gonna keep that in. I’m telling you right now, I share this joke all the time when you’re on Zoom, if you’re talking and just rock and unmute, I want you to come off mute and say, I’m sorry, this is my first time on Zoom because at this point, you’ve been on Zoom. Well, what I was, who knows what I was trying to say? Let me just ask you a question. When you joined, was there anything that surprised you about the Mastermind experience?
I think a couple things. One little thing that’s a lot of fun that I wasn’t expecting is the family photo that we do at the end of each Mastermind session. One of the ways we wrap up a Mastermind session is by asking the question, what do we want our family photo to be? And a family photo is literally a photo with our cameras on everyone who’s been in the Mastermind session that evening doing some kind of interesting or fun or special pose for the camera would take the FO scan or very inappropriate. It usually captures something. You try to capture either a serious message or a fun message from the session. So that was a surprise and actually something that when I certainly, when I’ve had virtual meetings, I’ve been able to use that strategy Nice to have some fun too. So, that was a nice surprise, fun surprise.
But I’ll say from a bigger perspective I was surprised how genuine and caring a space it is. We talk about our work, we also talk about our families, we share what we’re comfortable sharing from our personal lives because that’s part of how we have relationships together that support the kind of trust that we need to problem solve together and to kind push ourselves in a good way to be our best. I remember one of the comments from one of the Mastermind sessions that I think you shared with us. Danny was around professional development, like that term. Professional development, and what about people development might have been what you said, or just like developing ourselves as people and in the school leadership work that we do you know, so much of it is who we are as a person and what we bring to our school communities. It’s almost impossible to do that without, as I know we talked about in the last podcast sharing about yourself as a person and Mastermind sessions, we get the chance to do that. Sometimes the warmup question you have the choice. You could talk about something going on at work or, but you can also talk about something that’s going on in your own life that you wanna share.
Yeah. Got it. Earlier,Loren, you talked about a reservation being like technology. How will people respond when I show them who I really am? Was there anything else that, or not anything else? What do you think? What you got in it, what was the hardest part of actually using the Mastermind, so to speak?
I think part of it is making the commitment because you really need to be there, you have to be in it consistently you know, it doesn’t mean things don’t come up and there’s sometimes we can’t always be there, but you know, if they decide this is important. This is something thatI want to commit to and stick to and invest in. I had to come to the conclusion this is so worth it for me. And I came to that conclusion because I saw I was learning and growing and having fun at the same time doing that.
Daniel (28:35):Did you ever feel like quitting? And if so, how’d you overcome it?
I think there was one time actually I wasn’t gonna tell you about this. I think I even sent you a message right. How can I get graduate credit for this class, Danny? And I had to like, catch myself after I was like, why am I so focused? You know, that’s important for sure. There’s a time and place for that. I was like I had to do so, so I did think I could spend my time in other ways. And I could have something on paper to show for it, which might be really helpful. And I’m not saying I would never do that, but I decided against that because you know, just when, just the conversationsI get to have with colleagues. I think it goes back to what you said, every time I was a master, every time I’m in a Mastermind session, there’s something I take away with it. There’s a quote that I, it might be a quote I write down. The best indicator of student success is the relationship among adults in the school building. It might be a quote like that. I write down and then I’m gonna use it, or I’m gonna, and I’m gonna reflect on it. Or it could beI got to share a problem and I got all theseI ideas for, okay, these are different ways you can address it. You could think of it in this other way. You weren’t thinking of it before. You could reach out to this other person to talk to him about it. And you didn’t, might not have even thought of reaching out for support in that kind of creative way. And so that’s why I decided not to because I kept coming back to I’m learning and growing each time and every time. And also we do the readings together. I shouldn’t, that’s a hard part, Danny, the readings, but it’s a great part. You expose us to current, sometimes current books related to the field of education or sometimes other fields that are just social science fields and organizational leadership. And like a lot of the work that I’ve been able to do as a school leader recently around culture it goes back to like Culture Code, one of those books that we read together. Keeping up with the Rings, but you know what, there’s some grace there and then you realize the value when you do the readings and you discuss ’em together.
Daniel (31:21):Awesome. That’s why I didn’t quit. Awesome. Thanks for sharing that. Yeah. Can you remember either your first big win or a moment where it’s like, oh man, this Mastermind thing is actually working for me?
I remember working on staff culture and something I continue to learn and grow on and been able to make great strides this year. But it’s been something I’ve been working on. Going back to my first days as a principal, and I remember when I joined the Mastermind, I just felt like I had to carry it all myself. I had to figure it out all myself. I had to kind of organizing it all my, like, these are the events I’m gonna have with staff that these are the things the way these are kind of what, these are the events you know, whether it’s a coffee with staff or like, this is a way I’m gonna showI’m gonna something I’m gonna get for them that’s gonna help show them my appreciation. But one of the wins was just getting some reflection from you and from Mastermind members. Who are some of the other people on your team you could bring into this? It’s not just Yes, you’re the school leader and who’s really, and like that question, like, who’s really good on your team with this? Like, maybe you’re gonna acquire this ability. But maybe it’s not like it just doesn’t come to you so naturally, but doesn’t come naturally to anyone on your team. And you helped me think through who that was and I went to them started working with them on it and started to be able to weave in more of that kind of appreciation and time with staff that I wasn’t doing and I was stressing so much about. We started our conversation like what life and leadership was like before the Mastermind. How would you describe it and how is it different now and why is that important to you? Life and leadership are now is, it’s exciting. It’s exciting it’s exciting because the challenges are huge. It’s exciting though. Like even though there are, there’re constraints there are finite resources to an extent with what we have to like tackle these challenges. There’s limitless kind of energy and inspiration, innovation within ourselves to address these challenges. It’s a combination of things from the Mastermind that I really supported feeling so excited about school leadership. This is my eighth year as a school principal, but I’ve never felt as enthusiastic as I feel now. Mastermind is a big reason for that. It’s book study. Because I’m gonna be using a book study with my own staff and I’m really excited about that. And that kind of collaborative like study of an issue around really being an inclusive school community and how do we continue to work on that? That’s a book study coming up, and I’m super excited about it. And it’s a book that we read together in Mastermind Inclusive Conversations. And so just those practical tools together with the support from the Mastermind about how to think through how to do it, and from Mastermind colleagues who are so encouraging around it. So that’s a big change. And I’d say the other big one is I’m committed to showing up to be the school leader who I am in the way that I do it. And I feelI feel that each of us in the Mastermind gets to bring ourselves to the Mastermind. We get to learn about each other, and then we get to encourage, Hey this is something that stands out about you that you’re really good at. When you facilitate our Mastermind session this is a way and that’s another part of our Mastermind session. Whether it’s you, Danny, or one of the other facilitators, or just one of the other members, like, after you’ve helped lead a session we give kudos. You know, this is a way that you really for example, like, you really held the space this way and or your questions really inspired us. And then we get to bring that piece that helped to inspire each other to our teams and feel good about that. It’s huge.
Daniel (36:18):Loren, what advice would you have for someone who was in a situation like you were before the Mastermind?
Reach out, reach out for mentorship, reach out for coaching and reach out for perspectives, maybe outside your immediate situation. Mastermind definitely has been a great way to do that for me, but look for those opportunities that kind of support and to network with your colleagues. But if you can find a network that is really about sharing stories about yourself and about your leadership and helping each other in those really genuine and caring ways that will really, really support.
Daniel (37:16):We’ll end with this.Loren, how would you describe your Mastermind experience in just one word?
Loren (37:22):Just one word. I only get one word.
Daniel (37:25):I mean, you’re Ruckus Maker, so if you do like two or three whatever it’ll still make the show.
Oh, man. I’m better at photos than at one word. But if I could sum it up, I would say super fun and super real.
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 dismissed.”