Pablo Muñoz is the managing director of Muñoz & Company, an educational and leadership consulting organization. A first-generation high school graduate, Muñoz earned a bachelor’s in psychology from Yale University and a master’s in educational administration from Columbia University.
He has thirty years of experience as a teacher and administrator and was a
superintendent for sixteen years. Muñoz was named one of the George Lucas Educational Foundation’s Daring Dozen—a prestigious group working to reshape the future of education.

He is the son of Luz and Pablo Muñoz, both from Aguada, Puerto Rico, and the proud father of two daughters, Cecilia and Sadie.

Show Highlights

The Leader’s Algorithm,” is a simple equation you execute consistently with public accountability to transform your life, work, and schools.

Unique word association for interviews to assess candidates’ understanding of the instructional core.

8.5 × 11 paper holds a leader’s true north to stay focused amid distractions and challenges.

Public education sits at the center of raw, brass, knuckle, bloodsport politics. Important actions you need to take as a leader.

The three L’s that provide students with learning experiences beyond the classroom.

“Personal Theory of Action” is crucial for leaders to stay focused and accountable amidst the noise.

Getting ready to fail kindergarten reflects on the questions and conversations all leaders must have in their learning communities.

“Improving the lives of children should be everyone’s legacy in education.”
- Pablo Munoz

“It’s important for the Ruckus Makers to know why I wrote the book. And for me, it was one word, ‘help.’ I wanted to write a book to help aspiring, new, and current school administrators. My vision for the book was to share what I learned from my 30 year journey in public education, 16 years of that as Superintendent of schools… My hope is that aspiring current and new administrators, school administrators, will read the book, and then they will use the book to create a leadership framework and strategy to lead and manage their schools and their school districts.”
- Pablo Munoz

Dr Chris Jones

Pablo’ Resources & Contact Info:

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Read the Transcript here.

Navigating the Path of Educational Leadership

Chief Ruckus Maker: Danny
Well, hello, Ruckus Maker. Today I am joined by Pablo Munoz, who’s the managing director of Munoz Company, an educational and leadership consulting organization. A first generation high school graduate, munoz earned a bachelor’s in psychology from Yale and a Master’s in Educational Administration from Columbia University. He has 30 years of experience as a teacher and administrator and was a superintendent for 16 years. Munoz was named one of the George Lucas Educational Foundation’s Daring Dozen. He’s the son of Lou’s and Pablo Munoz, both from Aguada, Puerto Rico, and the proud father of two daughters, Cecilia and Sadie. Pablo, welcome to this show.

Pablo Munoz
Daniel. Thank you for having me. I’m looking forward to our conversation and the questions that you have.

Chief Ruckus Maker: Danny
Brilliant. And just to let the Ruckus Maker know who’s listening, Pablo recently wrote a book called “The Leader’s Algorithm: How Personal Theory of Action Transforms Your Life Work and Relationships.” And we’ll be chatting about that book today, and we recommend that you pick it up. Pablo, let’s start at the beginning. Tell us your leadership.

Pablo Munoz
I was born, raised, and educated in Elizabeth, New Jersey. And for all the Ruckus Makers out there around the world, Elizabeth is about 16 miles southwest of New York City. If you traveled to Newark International Airport, that airport sits on some of Elizabeth’s ground. So that’s where I grew up. I’ve been living the last 26 years in a town nearby called Maplewood, New Jersey. And like you said in the introduction, my parents are from Aguada, Puerto Rico. They immigrated to the United States as teenagers. And my father has an 8th grade education, and my mom has a 6th grade education. And the type of work my dad did was mostly restaurant business work. He started washing dishes. Someone saw promise in him, and then he eventually ended his career as a banquet chef, serving thousands of people’s lunch and dinners. My mom started working in a factory making plastics, and eventually she transitioned to becoming a seamstress. I lived in a home with my maternal grandmother, my mom, dad, and my younger sister Doris, and my aunt Lydia and my three cousins. My father is one of 15 and my mom is one of five, so I have a lot of cousins. Mom and dad and I recently were driving somewhere together, and we decided to count them. So I think as first cousins go, I have about 70 of them since our last count. I graduated from Elizabeth High School. I played baseball most of my life, and like you said earlier, I have an undergraduate degree from Yale in psychology. But when I was there, I also participated in the teacher preparation program. I taught at Wilbur Cross High School in New Haven, Connecticut.

Pablo Munoz
And when I was student teaching, I also volunteered as a pitching coach on the baseball team. I have a master’s degree in Educational Administration from Teachers College, Columbia University. And then when I became a full time teacher, I returned to the Elizabeth Public Schools. While I was a full time teacher and actually also as an administrator, I continued to coach baseball. I’ve coached baseball at all levels, from Little League, where I coached my two daughters all the way to professional, where I was a minor league pitching coach with the Chicago Cubs. I was a teacher of social studies, then I became the supervisor of social studies. Then I became the director of curriculum instruction, and then I was the assistant superintendent of schools. And in 2005, I became the superintendent of the Elizabeth public schools. I did that for about eight and a half years, and in 2013, I moved into another city in New Jersey called Passaic, and I was superintendent there for about seven and a half years. I retired in 2021, and immediately after that, I started my educational and leadership consulting company. I’m an adjunct professor at Lehigh University. And like you said in your introduction, I’m also an author now of the book called “The Leader’s Algorithm.” And the thing that I’m most proud of, and you mentioned it a little bit earlier, are my two daughters, Cecilia. She’s 22, she just graduated from MIT in June, and she’s just started her work career this month at the Boston Consulting Group. And then my younger daughter Sadie is 19, and she’s a first year at Northeastern, and actually her first year is actually in London.
So that gives you a sense and gives the Ruckus Makers a sense of where I came from, what I’ve done, and where I am today.

Chief Ruckus Maker: Danny
I love you sharing that story. It’s a rich history. I could relate to the big family. My mom, she has a number of brothers and sisters, so there’s five of them, but there’s also adopted kids, and so that’s a big group. My wife’s family, her grandma was having a kid, basically every other year type of thing. And there’s tons of what we call it because it’s in the Shauna language, which is the Zimbabwean language. We call them Ambuyat and Sakura or Termites and Baba Mukurus. But this is just the way I’m saying uncles and auntie right in Shauna. Appreciate you sharing all that. I want to talk about getting ready to fail kindergarten, and what’s the story there?

Pablo Munoz
Well, that’s a pretty interesting story. What I remember from kindergarten was mostly good stuff. I remember the ham and cheese sandwiches in the aluminum foil. I remember the Welch’s grapefruit juice back then in a little can with a little pull like a tape tab. I remember having a lot of fun with trucks and blocks. But the failing kindergarten story has stuck with me for a long time, obviously. And it’s just one day that the kindergarten teacher pulled my mom and I aside into the coat room area, and if you can picture it, big classroom and kind of an air with cubbies. And she told my mom that if I didn’t learn my colors, I was going to fail kindergarten.

Pablo Munoz
My mom just kind of looked at her, she started to cry, and then I grabbed her leg, and I started to cry, and I knew my colors just fine. I just happened to know them in Spanish. I didn’t know them very well in English. My mom and I worked our tails off. I did end up passing kindergarten and ended up doing okay for the long haul. But the teacher didn’t even realize at that point that my mom was conversational in English, but she wasn’t literate. She went to night school a few years later to learn the English language. I’m coming from a Spanish speaking house, and I’m going to fail kindergarten because I didn’t know my colors in the English language, but I would eventually learn them.

Chief Ruckus Maker: Danny
That strikes me as an almost oversight of the school in terms of meeting you, where you’re at. You have the knowledge you can name the colors in your mother tongue, and maybe not yet in English, but we can build a bridge there. And like you said, your mom was conversational in English but had some additional learning that could happen within the language as well. And it’s maybe just a missed opportunity. I don’t know how you feel if you agree or disagree with that assertion, but if there’s anything you’d like to add to it?

Pablo Munoz
I think from the teacher’s perspective she was working really hard, but she could have been a little more Schultz, a little more empathetic, asked a couple more questions about what was going on here, what was going on in the home, giving us actually some suggestions, giving us some picture books or whatever. It was just the event told. We cried, and then there wasn’t really any support. No support to do that. I think it was also to be fair to the larger school system, it was the 1970s, so it was probably in the early stages of bilingual education, or probably no bilingual education at that point. Maybe they were starting to transition across districts across America. But obviously later on during my superintendents, we had a whole lot of ESL, English Language, English as a second language for English Language Learners, and bilingual classes. Depending on the number of kids that you had in a targeted language, you could provide bilingual education for a few years until they transitioned into their regular education classes. But yeah, it’s in my introduction to my book. It’s something that’s really stuck with me through the years. You think about it as a person that I was five years old, I’m in my fifties now, and it’s still something that I think about as a teacher because now I’m not teaching high school kids anymore, I’m teaching graduate students. If I don’t understand something that’s going on with one of my students, I prefer to ask a question than make an assumption and kind of make a declarative statement about failure when a small conversation can really get down to the issues and the accommodations. And by extension, I had a high school teacher who four years later, after graduating high school and finishing college and going back to my own high school, was still teaching there. And I remember him being one of my favorite teachers, Mr. Taylor, and he taught us history, too. So this was my junior year, and I remember I needed to work and he had a big assignment due. And I went to him and asked him because I was handing everything in on time, I was getting good grades, and I just told him I didn’t think I was going to be able to make the deadline. And we talked about it and he gave me an extension. Actually, I ended up getting it in on time. I was anticipating that I would not because I was starting a new job as a teenager. And when I thought about who I would emulate as a teacher, it would be him, because he was rigorous in the assignments that he gave and the requirements, but he was caring, he would laugh with us. You felt loved by him, and that was kind of my role model. So juxtaposition my kindergarten experience to a teacher that I always thought about trying to be like. I don’t think I ever reached his level of teaching because he was fantastic, but at least I had a goal to shoot for.

Chief Ruckus Maker: Danny
Love, compassion, empathy, these are some things I’m hearing within your stories. Why does that matter so much in leadership?

Pablo Munoz
Wow, that’s a good question, and that is a tough question. It does matter a whole lot. And leaders come in all shapes and sizes, literally, physically, but in their approaches. And I think we need to be clear about what we mean by love. There’s all different forms of it. And in this context, what we’re really talking about, whether it’s loving your students like you love your own children, or loving your staff and your team and the people that are helping you, or loving the parents and the community members, it’s the two big types of love. One, universal love, being selfless, loving, unconditionally, having compassion and empathy, and then enduring love about commitment and patience and tolerance. And then when it comes to staff, you also have the kind of person you want to try to create family love, even though they’re not your relatives. You want to kind of create a family among your team members and build another type of love around friendship. Love is important in that type of love. Not romantic love, but those types of love. Love in leadership is critically important because you convey passion if you lead from the heart as a leader, and that’s what I hope most people do. It displays to your team, your followers, and your other leaders that you really care about them and that you’re going to ask them to do some very hard stuff. In my context, I work in two urban centers. A lot of poverty, 86-88% of the students were low socioeconomic status.

Pablo Munoz
You’re asking them to transform school districts from low performing to high performance and bringing in higher standards. And you have to connect with them. And if you can connect with them and they feel like you love them, unconditional love, universal love, enduring love, friendship. When you demand higher standards for them, they’re more likely to come along if they think they’re just a tool for your Englandizing, then they may follow you for a little while, but you’re not ultimately going to be able to accomplish what you want to do, which is very hard work in the urban centers. If people don’t feel like they’re part of something important, and if you can convey that through your loving actions, I think you’re much more likely to succeed.

Chief Ruckus Maker: Danny
Let’s talk about a leadership algorithm, even if you’ve written it in a book. It’s called the “Leader’s Algorithm: How a Personal Theory of Action Transforms your Life, Work and Relationships.” What is the leadership algorithm?

Pablo Munoz
The Leaders Algorithm, in its most basic form, is a book on educational leadership. It’s important for the Ruckus Makers to know why I wrote the book. And for me, it was one word help. I wanted to write a book to help aspiring, new, and current school administrators. My vision for the book was to share what I learned from my 30 year journey in public education, 16 years of that as Superintendent of schools. I wanted to share what I learned from my advocates and my mentors, and I wanted to share with them what I learned from the Broad Academy and what I learned from my book mentors. All the books and all the case studies that I read about leadership and management, teaching and learning by authors that I mostly never met. And in addition, the leaders algorithm, the book. My hope is that aspiring current and new administrators, school administrators, will read the book, and then they will use the book to create a leadership framework and strategy to lead and manage their schools and their school districts. So that is the larger concept of why I wrote the book and what the basic essence of the book is. But the Leader’s Algorithm, which I go into in chapter one, in defining the leader’s algorithm, is basically a simple equation that puts strategic thinking to work. So what you do is you write and then you share a personal theory of action. You don’t leave it as a theory. Then you actually execute your personal theory of action consistently and with public accountability. If you do that, then you will transform your life, your work, your schools, and your school districts. So that is the first algorithm that’s in the book. Personal theory of action plus execution plus accountability equals transformation. The second algorithm that’s in the book is the heart and soul of the book, which is the personal theory of action.

Chief Ruckus Maker: Danny
Brilliant. The importance of a personal theory of action. Let’s talk about that now.

Pablo Munoz
Yeah, so that’s a great question. So what is a personal theory of action? A personal theory of action is what you can do personally and through your team to achieve your goals. It’s written in a logical chain of if then statements that lead you to your ultimate goal. And usually your ultimate goal is your mission statement, or you’re paraphrasing your mission statement. Said another way. And here’s the second algorithm. If we do A, B and C then we will get results x, Y and Z. And for me, this written personal theory of action, which fits on an eight and a half by eleven sheet of paper. One side was my leadership framework and strategy that I used to lead and manage the Elizabeth Public Schools and the Passaic Public Schools.

Chief Ruckus Maker: Danny
Can you bring us to that moment looking at the eight and a half by eleven sheet and give us a peek inside what it looked like?

Pablo Munoz
I think what’s important for folks to know is that we all have a personal theory of action, and usually they’re in the form of mental models. They’re in your head, your values, your beliefs, the way you’re going to approach leadership. If these things happen right, they tend to change over time. What I argue in the book is that as a leader, you need to write down your personal theory of action.

Chief Ruckus Maker: Danny
You need to take that as important.

Pablo Munoz
Because usually, and I think those of us that are in the field, especially running school districts, and especially if you’re running urban school districts, there’s a lot of noise that goes on all the time. All the time. You have to realize that public education sits at the center of politics. And politics could be just regular policy agreements and disagreements, or it can be what I experienced in Elizabeth, which was raw, brass, knuckle, bloodsport politics. So you’re going to have a lot of noise and you’re going to get distracted, and you’re going to get pulled away from what is important for you as the superintendent. So if you have it written down, it’ll act as your true north. It’ll be your constant compass.And as the noise distracts you and pulls you away and the problem of the day happens, or if you’re fighting a political battle, you can always go back and know that these are the important actions that I’m going to take as a leader.

Chief Ruckus Maker: Danny
Keeps you grounded, keeps you focused.

Pablo Munoz
It keeps you grounded, keeps you focused. And by sharing it keeps you accountable. And it allows people not to guess how you’re going to act. So writing it down and sharing it and then executing it keeps you accountable for your actions and your results. But it clearly outlines for people what you believe in, how you’re going to approach your leadership. So right back to your original question. How did my personal theory of action break down? I had four if statements, and then I had the one then statement. The first if statement was about how I would lead, and then there were three major actions that I would take. The second if statement was how I selected my leaders and what I wanted them to do. The third if statement was organizational, strategic actions. And the last if statement were guiding principles for the organization. If we did all of these if statements, these actions inside these if statements, then we would get the ultimate goal, the mission.

Chief Ruckus Maker: Danny
I get that if we do these things, if for you, we had four levels, so ABC and D, then we can expect this one result. It sounded like the first part was you. Second part had to do with the team. There was a piece about organizationally, how we would behave and then a piece about sort of guiding principles, if I got that right. Can you share what that sounded like in reality, though?

Pablo Munoz
I can, because I think that’ll.

Chief Ruckus Maker: Danny
Make it really clear right, for that Ruckus Maker listening.

Pablo Munoz
Yeah. Let me walk you through a few of them. Let’s start with mine. The first if statement for me was if I leave with a focus on three items. Number one, keep the school system focused on its vision and mission in an effort to produce excellent results. Number two, select effective leaders to carry out the mission. And number three, get the resources into the classroom. As a leader, I have a lot of things to focus on and a lot of things to deal with. But those were the three most important actions that I could take. Especially that last one. Get the resources into the classroom. Everybody’s fighting for resources. And in the urban centers, oftentimes the resources aren’t making it into the classrooms because maybe the board wants the money to go somewhere else. I saw it as my job to make sure that if I was going to move a poor performing district to higher academic standards and higher performance, that I needed to get the resources which were initially money, but ultimately got translated into programs and services for students, making sure the bulk of that money reached the kids through their classroom experiences. The second level of the if statement was how I picked administrators and then how I told them I wanted them to behave. I would select leaders that would focus on six things: vision, mission, the instructional core, teamwork, trust, and high expectations. And the interesting thing about it is, usually before I would recommend them to the board for either their first appointment or a promotion, I would bring them into my office and do something. I called the final interview and I would do a word association game with them with these six words or groups of words. And I would say to him, listen, bear with me, this is going to be awkward. You’ve probably never had an interview like this before, but I’m going to say a couple of words and I want you to react to them and I want you to tell me what comes to mind. You can give me a sentence, you give me a paragraph. Don’t go on too long. And then I said I’ll explain afterwards why I did this. So I would just say vision, and then they would react. And I would say mission. They would react and I say instructional core, and they would react. And after the end of the six, I would say thank you.

Pablo Munoz
And then I would tell them, listen, this is the reason why I do this before I recommend you. First of all, I wanted to create a memorable moment. I wanted you to leave my office saying that I’m never going to forget that. That was the weirdest interview I’ve ever had. But two was I wanted you to remember it because these were the six things that I wanted you to focus on. And then I would go into those six things and describe to them what I expected from them with regard to vision, mission, and the instructional core. Teamwork, trust and high expectations. And I would tell them, there’s going to be a lot of noise that you’re going to be dealing as an assistant principal and principal. You’re going to get pulled away.But you need to get back to these six things, and especially focusing on the instructional core. So that’s how I ended up using that second if statement and how I conveyed it to my staff and how they knew those were my expectations of them and how I wanted them to operate. The third if statement was the organizational strategic actions. And what I ended up doing with that statement, it had seven actionable items. Since it was an organizational strategy, I drafted a board policy, which was an organizational theory of action, provided it to the board would adopt it. In both of my school districts, the board adopted the organizational theory of action, and now I have some power to execute what the board is asking me to execute. They passed this policy. It has seven broad statements of activities. Since it’s a policy, it’s three or four pages long because you put in a preamble and a lot of other words to fill it in. But it boiled down to these seven things. Create and implement, align coherent and detailed curriculum. Number two, develop effective teachers and leaders driven by a culture of high performance. Number three, provide a comprehensive professional development system. Number four, set clear standards and measure progress through formative and summative assessments. Number five, build a comprehensive student information system. Number six, establish interventions for student teachers, administrators, in schools. And number seven, measure performance, progress and growth. So two things were happening here. One, I had the board adopt a policy, which told the district, hey, this is what I expect management to execute. These are the broad strategic things that budgets, programs, services, personnel, professional development had to follow.

Pablo Munoz
But it was also part of how I operated. So it was included inside my own personal theory of action. And what’s important for the Ruckus Makers to know is that your personal theory of action is not written in stone, right? It’s on a piece of paper. And as time goes on and you learn things and the context changes, you can modify your personal theory of action. And I did like in Elizabeth, the fourth if statement was guiding principles that I called the three L’s love laser like focus on teaching and learning and leadership. But when I moved to Passaic, I changed the final if statement, the guiding principles, to a two Q strategy, which was quantity and quality. And that was very particular to per se, because of the conditions that I found that district in at that particular time in 2013, that I needed to rewrite my personal theory of action to be able to lead in this new context. And with regard to quantity, it was about providing students learning experiences above and beyond what was happening in the classroom. So they had after school programs and Saturday programs, summer programs, and we had to make productive use of the instructional times and think about partnerships with colleges and think about digital learning platforms. And with regard to the second guiding principle, which was quality, we really had to do a good job of defining what effective teaching and leading was. And then we had to provide frequent and meaningful feedback, evaluation and professional development.

Pablo Munoz
So that gives you a flavor of what’s inside of personal Theory of action. A bunch of if statements. I operated around this. I shared it with folks. I encourage my staff to write their own personal theories of action because we all have them, right? And they’re in our heads and we read a lot and we experience a lot. But if you don’t write down what you believe, then how do you really know? You get hit that day, figuratively, and you get lost. And then you gotta come back and remember what it is that you’re trying to accomplish. But if you have it written down and you share it and actually it buys you a lot of credibility as well. If people know what you stand for and what actions you’re going to take and what your belief structure is, yeah, it keeps you accountable, but buys you a lot of credibility. People understand what you’re trying to do. It’s not a mystery to them.

Chief Ruckus Maker: Danny
I appreciate that because it grounds you. It focuses you, gets you that credibility, that accountability. I appreciate you talking about defining what quality is at the end there, because quality teaching or what’s best for kids, all these things, they can mean a million different things to a million different people. So you have to define what that means for us, for our organization, so that people have a shared understanding of what you’re even talking about. And thanks for sharing the practical examples of what your theory of action looked like because I hope that interests and engages the Ruckus Maker listening to check out your book, the Leader’s Algorithm. And so put that into practice, taking it from theory, taking it from your head, where you’re almost potentially acting automatically or unconsciously by writing it, know, it really makes it more permanent.

Chief Ruckus Maker: Danny
And as I said, focus and grounds you. I’d like to move on to the last few questions that I ask all my guests. And thanks for being with me here today, Pablo. But if you could put one message, just one message on all school marquees around the world for a single day, what would your message be?

Pablo Munoz
Wow, that’s a good question. I would dare to live the life you have dreamed for yourself. Go forward and make your dreams come true. It’s a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Chief Ruckus Maker: Danny
Awesome. And if you were building your dream school, you weren’t constrained by any resources. Your only limitation was your ability to imagine how Pablo would build his dream school? What would be the three guiding principles?

Pablo Munoz
This one is the heart and soul of who I am. So it comes pretty naturally to me. And it was part of my Elizabeth personal theory of action and it’s actually the guiding principles of my company and Munossing company. It’s the three L’s. It’s a love, laser-like focus on teaching and learning and leadership. And for me, when we talk about love it would be the driving force for all that we do and we have to love our students like we love our own children. When it’s about a laser-like focus on teaching and learning, it would be that our priority would be to provide our students an excellent education that is rigorous, increases student achievement and closes the achievement gap. And I believe that students can do whatever we ask them to do. We would think deeply about what we’re asking. And when it’s a laser like focus on teaching, learning, it’s really about staying focused on improving the instructional core, improving the relationship between the student, the teacher and the content and getting in front of students’ tasks that are cognitively challenging. And then the last L is about leadership. And my book, even though we talked about the personal theory action, the rest of the book chapters kind of expand all of that and give a lot of leadership principles and a lot of personal and professional stories to amplify them. But for me and the guiding principles, the leadership is about setting the course with ideas that generate from a good heart in order to inspire and motivate people to deliver superior results with incredible passion and energy and that we would lead from the heart.

Chief Ruckus Maker: Danny
Pablo, we discussed a lot today and of everything we covered, what’s the one thing you want a Ruckus Maker to remember?

Pablo Munoz
All Ruckus Makers out there, I would say the one thing to remember is what will be your legacy. I believe that your legacy is not about awards and recognition. At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself one very important question: what have you done to improve the lives of children? And if that ends up being your legacy, that the work that you did in public education or in whatever field you are is about improving the lives of children, then you’re going to have a legacy that is fantastic because you’ll live on in those future generations from the work that you’ve done to improve their lives.



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