I’m so excited that you’re here today, would you mind telling our audience a little bit about yourself and your background as well as your work up to this point?
Okay, no problem. I started teaching in 1990 and I said that to an audience recently and a young teacher went dang made me feel real old, but I started as a middle school teacher in 1990. I taught 7th grade social studies and I had I didn’t intend to go into middle school.
Yes but didnt. I didn’t intend to go into middle school. It just kind of worked out that way. I wanted to be a coach and really affect you young people through athletics. But I’ve developed this love for middle school. Then I became a middle school assistant principal and I spent the bulk of my career as a middle school principal. And so it 19 years as a practitioner in the last school I got a chance to lead. I had a pleasure to be the principal at two schools. In last school I got a chance to lead. We used a professional learning community model, the Rick deform and Bob Baker model to great success. We went from a school that was by many considered a dropout factory to becoming a National Blue Ribbon School. It was quite a feat.
So in 2007 the late Ridaour asked me to take the risk to leave my very comfortable principals position and start to work with schools on PLC and what I found was everybody wasn’t as excited and overjoyed about collaboration as my faculty was, and I started to run into a lot of resistance and just illogical, confrontational behavior, behavior that really puzzled me. So that’s what sparked my interest in studying organizational change in school culture. And since that point I’ve had the pleasure to have two books coming out this year to write 11 books on the topic authored or co-authored. And it’s been kind of my life’s work since 2 Thousand and Seven. So that’s brought me to this 0.34 years in the field. I feel like I have another 34 left. I feel young and vibrant and there’s still a lot of work to do.
Wow, well, that’s an incredible story. First of all, the fact that you managed you love middle school. That’s God bless you because we need people who love middle school to be in middle school right U and so fantastic. And as somebody who has an administration degree studied. Ritafor knows that model, I can also attest to the power of a PLC but what I find fascinating is that you when you found that people were not as enthusiastic as your other staff instead of kind of backing off, you got curious and you dug in, which I think is such a wonderful model for so many of us that when you are presented with a challenge rather than backing away, you dig in and I think one of the ways that you did that was through your book Time for Change. And so I’m curious about that book. What was the catalyst specifically for the Time for Change book about transformational school and district leaders?
Okay, well, that book really was an expansion of chapter seven from my book Transforming School Culture as I became curious about why some schools were more enthusiastic and en engaged in the change process compared to others. I wanted to go study it and I studied 34 schools and I wanted to pick schools that were demographic mirrors of one another and I matched 17 schools apiece and they were mirrors of each other and school A had three or more years of progressive impact on students’ growth development. They were progressive and School B was constructed just like School A demographically, socially the size, the structure, but they had three years of more stagnation or regression. So the question became what separates a healthy from a toxic culture because it couldn’t be the difference in these schools, couldn’t be the size, it couldn’t be the location, it couldn’t be the demographics. My theory was it had to be the culture.
And my theory was true and chapter seven of that book was a factor or variable that I found in all of the schools that had healthy culture, and it was directly related to leadership. And what I found was that the leaders in healthy cultures behaved profoundly different than those in toxic or low impact schools. And I found four particular skills that the leadership possessed in the schools that had healthy cultures compared to those that didn’t. Dr. Louise Cruz is one of my associates and he loves transforming school culture, and he kept bugging me for years. That chapter seven needed to be expanded.
Chapter seven was a summary. Time for Change is an expanded version of those findings from Transforming school culture, and he bugged me for years about it. Till finally I challenged him and said. Why don’t you help me. Instead of just you know, saying I need to write this book. Why don’t you help me? And he agreed to? And that was the catalyst to writing time for Change. I wanted to make the book very practical. I pride myself on being a thought leader and providing educators with insight. But of the books I’ve had the chance to write this one is the most practical. It’s the book I wish I had when I was a new principal because it cuts through a lot of the minuta and then helps helps a leader figure out from our evidence. What has the highest leverage in in encouraging your staff to change? And what have we learned is ineffective or waste of time? And that was the catalyst writing that book.
So clearly, you’re an advocate for systemic change, but my question for you, one of them, is oftentimes when I walk into schools. I hear teachers talk about all this change is happening all the time and it doesn’t seem to get them anywhere, and they get really frustrated. So how do we know as leaders when we need to change or when we maybe don’t need to change? How do we know that?
Okay, well, one of the synonyms I use for the term change in my literature is a disruption.
Change by nature is disruptive and it’s uncomfort and it creates a dilemma in life. I mean most of our decisions are based upon how disruptive will that decision be. So one of the ironies of life is that everybody loves improvement, but not everybody loves change. I mean it’s kind of an irony. We’d love to have a growing bank account but still spend frivolous. I mean you can’t have both. So one of the things the leaders have to do is to be intentional about change. Whenever you change something it will be uncomfortable and that goes back to the first skill in our Time for Change framework is that people tend to be less reluctant about change if they know why it’s necessary and why is directly connected to communication.
If I just order you right now to close this podcast and run for the hills, you probably look at me like what’s wrong with this nut. But if I saw a fire behind you and I said. Oh my God, the fire is closing in on you. You need to run. You wouldn’t care about running into the elements because the disruption was worth your sacrifice. So when leaders simply order people to change without any connection to logic or rationale or engage them in an intellectual standpoint, it seems like a misuse of authority. Now what I have to also address with teachers is that you can’t make the argument that if our evidence doesn’t show us that we’re highly successful in an area that you were justified in continuing with that same behavior. So they try to make often change. The enemy changes the gateway to improvement, but it needs to be the right change for the right reason and done collectively and strategically. So the answer to we change too much, can’t you leave me alone and let me close my door and do what I darn well please please. Because in many cases that’s the case, it’s not. We call it irrational resistance. It’s trying to make a case to be left alone. Well, if I can make a case that what we’ve been doing, whether we’re looking at disproportionality and suspensions.
If we’re looking at overrepresentation and special edit, if we’re looking at stagnation and literacy or numeracy, a leader has an obligation to make a logical case that the pathway that we’re on is not leading us towards the target or the excellence that we strive for. So therefore we need to take a different direction and this is why this direction is more logical than what we’ve been doing now. I like to add, as I close. I am perfectly fine, with teachers and others disagreeing with the leader’s position.
Now what they can argue with is the evidence. If we’re looking at the special ed classes and their 90 percent boys and 90 percent boys of color, then you can’t argue with the need to change. But you can propose an alternative to what’s being proposed so you can disagree with me. Susan, all i’d ask you to do is to provide a more evidence-based, more logical alternative. I love that. That’s and that’s where power struggle leaves the equation. We’re not disagreeing about the fact that there’s something that needs to improve. We’re disagreeing on how we change and what direction we go. And that’s an evidence-based disagreement as opposed to a power struggle to understand teacher’s frustrations. But they also understand leader’s frustrations. The days of letting teachers close their door and do that whole thing, trust the teacher. What does that even mean?
I want a Doctor Who has a track record of excellence and track record of success. I just don’t blanket trust Doctors, I’ll trust Evidence I’ll Trust track record. And if you have a bad track record then no. I don’t trust you. Ye trust has to be earned. So the assumption that I know best just because I’m a teacher. Or just because I’m a principal or superintendent is what undermines the credibility of our professional respect that often suffers in the public and suffers among parents. Trust has to be earned.
I mean, so many gems in what you just shared, and I really kind of want to pick out a couple of them to focus on. Just a minute you said that change has to be worth the effort. So what if a teacher doesn’t agree with the how that has been proposed? More perfectly fine right. And that’s totally fine because the effort, perhaps to make that change does not align or the how doesn’t align right? How do you select? What if a teacher comes to you and says I have an evidence-based solution that I would like us to try, and it’s the evidence is even with what you proposed?
That’s a great dilemma to have. First of all, because you have two well-intentioned ethical people, yes, with different ideologies about how to address a common, commonly accepted problem, my simple responsibility, thats create two pilots. Have that teacher and her team or his team try whatever evidence-based methodology, because when we say evidence based, the best we can do is produce a hypothesis. Yes, that the evidence shows whatever evidences I’ve gathered that this is more likely to be effective than that. But you don’t know until engage into in an experiment.
So why not let the third grade try Lee cantor’s progressive discipline and let to 4th grade try pubis because the goal is positive impact on student bevior. Yes. So why not allow in a professional environment people to try out professional theories and then come back objectively in a semester or after a year and look at the impact and if your way works best. I am so grateful. Thank you for speaking up. And providing an alternative perspective. We’re going have the whole school use Cantor, but if my way works best, I’m expecting the same level of professionalism in humility, because ultimately that’s a test of how we really feel about our impact on kids.
Yes, yes, and I think that’s fantastic, and I wish more people, both administrators and teachers, would be willing to allow for that kind of evidence-based test to occur. Oftentimes I’ll hear that we don’t have time for that. I don’t have time to see to run an experiment because we’re working on test scores, and I think that all gets lost right, which has been which have been stagnant since 2001.
Exactly so we’re too busy being ineffective as opposed to being more methodical and more pragmatic and testing theories. I hate to term research and evidence based because they’re misused. The best evidence is how it affects your students. When you look at meta-analyses and studies, you have often no idea of the sample that they’re using the methodology the extraneous conditions that can give you some insight on what’s more likely to work or not. But you don’t know ultimately until you do action research in your own environment, yes, yes, absolutely. That’s why I think micro credentials are so helpful because they are based around action research. It’s not sitting and getting. It’s learned the what the process is and put it into place in your classroom and see what you get. I do want to go back to the you said, trust teachers, what is that? And I want to clarify because I, i don’t want people to misunderstand what you’re saying there. I think I understand what what you meant by that in that rather than blanket statement, trust all teachers all the time. If there is evidence that they have that they’ve been using and that they are effective teachers, you would trust them right absolutely. But the blanket statement that.
It makes the assumption that all teachers are homogeneous and they’re not. Yes, we’re talking about 100 of thousands of American teachers. We hear of teachers doing miracles and helping kids grow several years in a year. We also see headlines of teachers sleeping with kids Yes or physically abusing kids yeah. We need to take that out of our vocabulary.
I trust your evidence, i trust your intentions. I can give you the benefit of a doubt, yes, but blanket trust without verification is just foolish.
Just so you shouldn’t just trust every administrator or trust every superintendent. Trust is something that’s built, yes, it something that is tangible and that’s the second key behavior in our framework for leaders. Teachers can’t follow leaders, they don’t trust and trust is something that has to be built through a demonstration of certain behavior over a protracted period of time.
Absolutely, and I really think that is the key where we’re missing some things right now, particularly in our schools after Covid, the trust factor has been decimated a bit on both sides and it and I people are not are weary of trust and moving forward in that. And so my question another one that I have for you is I would love for some specific examples of strategies that you can use to solve problems when there’s negativity or doubt or maybe mistrust that’s prevalent in the school.
Yeah, well in the book Dr. Cru is and I breakdown trust. Trust is a very complex construct and one of the things that makes it complex is that it’s abstract. Yes, so let me give you a scenario. Let’s say both of us are teachers in a school. You’re brand new, you just finished your student teaching. You don’t have a set of experiences to face your interactions with. I’m a 22 -year veteran. I’ve been through eight principles, some benevolent, some are are dictators, some that are collaborative, some that are autocratic. So my ability to trust has been compromised by my experiences, both good and bad. So a leader walks into that situation with 4050 60 people with very different emotional experiences. So trust for you may happen a lot quicker than trust for me based upon my personal experience. So that’s why Dr. Cruz and I agree that of the four leadership skills that produce a culture of change and progress, trust is the most challenging.
Because the nature of trust is challenging, communication is based upon logic and logic is very concrete. We even have classes we offer in college on logic. I mean logic has a structure to it is evidence there’s the case, even the practicality of professional support, the how is much more practical, even accountability is much more practical. But trust is pretty abstract. So we try to do is to make trust much more concrete and we break it down into two critical elements to build trust actively. Number one is empathy, so empathy doesn’t mean that I agree with you. Empathy means that I hear you. I see you and I validate your experience. So a principal that comes in and I’m a veteran has’s been through nine principals. That new principal didn’t go through that, but I did. But to acknowledge what I’ve been through, to try to understand my perspective and that could include listening. Active listening that could include trying to validate where I’ve come from, even if I disagree with you. Consider it like a customer service agent. When you call a customer service line and you’re flabbergasted, you’re not. That agent didn’t do anything to you, but what it can do is it can help calm you emotionally if that person has an empathetic ear and tries to validate your experience. So one of the things that helps anybody trust is to know that the person cares about their experience. I like how. Simon Sine said. Simon Fine said. Empathy is when you ask someone how they’re doing, you actually care about the answer. Yes, it’s validate. That’s what therapists do, and that’s something that leaders can just listen. But the second part of that is a lot less emotional and that is credibility that is built over a protracted period of time. Some use the term consistency, but I like the term credibility to me. Gravity has a lot of credibility. I don’t have to like it, i don’t have to be in love with it. But if I drop my water bottle, I’m pretty certain of gravity’s response. So people get caught up in is inconsistency and illogical behavior where I don’t have to like you to trust you. But I have to know that you’re credible and reliable. So if I know that Susan, you’re a staunch student advocate and I know whether I like your decisions or not. I can trust that they’re always going to be rooted in what’s best for kids, even if it’s slightly inconvenient for me now over time that might not make me fall in love with you. What it will do is it make me trust you. I can. One of the things that Max Vader pointed out in his research in organizational theory is that one of the greatest goals of a leader is to reduce uncertainty.
One of the things that teachers are suffering from emotionally is that there’s no certainty during Covid, we went from Zoom to face to face to mask, no masks start stop. The volatility of that environment creates emotional anxiety, but it also erodes trust. When you don’t know what’s going to happen day to day, then that person is an agent in your own anxiety. Teachers tend to trust people who they know, care about their well-being, and are principal people who are consistent and incredible in principals in which they articulate. And if leaders could do that, don’t worry about being liked, worry about being trusted and I don’t have to like you to trust you. I’d like to like you, but it’s more important that I trust you. It means that I can go into the battle with this person and I can predict and know they have my best interest and the best interest of the mission at heart and of the four skills that takes the longest to build. And it’s the most abstract and and most complex.
I mean I’m blown away because it’s you’ve hit the nail on the head exactly with where I think people are right now in schools and why they’re so frustrated but also an avenue to moving out of that. And that’s been missing from this conversation for a long time as a solution to move forward out of the negativity and how to do that together. And I think one element that we’re not talking about today but that probably I could see this definitely fitting into the framework you just shared is the relationships between teachers and parents and administrators and parents and again using trust as credibility and empathy for both parties in order for all of us to come onto the same page. I think that’s just fantastic. We’re running short on time, so I did want to go over the you talked about the trust pillar. What are the other skills that are essential for transformational change?
Okay, I’ll go over to four, give it people sequentially okay. The first one is making a logical. We call it a meeting of the minds. That’s the why. When people’s intellectual curiosities are not quenched and they’re just ordered to do something, there’s a natural apprehension that emerges. So leaders that are able to create a meeting of the minds through communication. Communication is, to me, is the most essential leadership skill because I can’t read your mind and you can’t read mine right if we’re going to be synergized. I have to be transparent in any relationship, whether it’s a romantic relationship, whether it’s a parental relationship. Communication just creates this shared understanding that allows us to move forward. So that’s the first one. Communication.
Number two is building trust and building trust is I call a connection of the heart.
It means that I get where you’re coming from, but I don’t know if I trust you yet. Ethically, morally, personally. So that’s that. Building trust that’s number 2.
Three is building Capacity. Personal is why they need to do it. They trust me, but they don’t know how to do it. Dr. Cruz and I agree that this is the lowest hanging of all the fruit, and with effort and attention, attention can be addressed relatively quickly. I’d like to impress upon leaders who are listening that it is unfair to ask somebody to do something that they don’t know how to do. Yeah, hear all the time, we just use the data to drive your instruction. What does that even mean right? Make your lessons culturally responsive? Do you know how hard culturally responsive teaching is? Yes. I hear we just differentiate. Differentiated instruction is is tough? Yeah. I mean. Carol Ann Tomlinson has written volumes of books on differentiation, so the third pillar is to be mindful of the tools and your teacher’s toolbox to actually execute that function. That can include training, time, resources, support. So we found that when people know why they need to do something, they trust the people are leading them and they know how to do it. That for most people, that’s enough. But there’s a 4th pi pillar for what I call over my dead body, people. Dr Cruz calls them Cave People – Colleagues Against Virtually Everything – we call that form of resistance. Irrational, they get it. Trust isn’t an issue and they know how this is where they come in. You can’t make me that at that point is a challenge of authority or power. So at some point if you’ve made all of these investments in communication, building, trust, training, infrastructure, technology, at some point, any good investor has to expect to return on investment. So i’d like to ask some of the leaders who are listening to rethink the concept of accountability don’t look at accountability as the leveraging of authority. Look at it as an expectation of a return on investment. It doesn’t have to be malicious. It doesn’t have to be confrontational. If I’ve given you everything, you need to be successful in this very essential change that I’m asking everybody to participate in.
I need to figure out how’m going to gather evidence that you’ve been engaged and for most people, they don’t mind because they’re engaged it. The small group of people who just refuse. Now I’m using the evidence. What part of this is an expectation? Did you get? Do you not understand? Is it trust? Is it capacity? It can’t be that because 98 percent of your colleagues are doing it. But for some reason you think you’re special. And you are at this point because you’re going to get all of my attention because you can’t give me a reasonable explanation about why you just challenge my authority. Here’s the sad part. I have more authority, and at this point I’m going to use it. And if you don’t want me to use my authority, then engage like everybody else. We found that I found in my Transform School culture study, there were leaders who got right to that door and stopped, and their inactivity allowed anyone else who was voluntarily engaged to voluntarily disengage. Yes. Todd Whitaker said an organization’s culture is shaped by the worst behavior a leader is willing to tolerate.
So true that was and I remember back in my training days as an administrator, that was when you got to that, that part, that pillar part that was when my administrators was like, that’s why they pay you the big bucks. That’s why you sit in that chair because you have to make those hard decisions and that that’s a heavy cape to wear sometimes, but sometimes necessary.
Exactly, and it really comes down to, it’s your ultimate challenge test to your rhetoric about how much you care about kids. Yes, that when a rubber hits the road, are you really willing to change your behavior? Yeah, and if you’re a leader, demand others and along the way, you’ve given people a chance to give input. You listen to their concerns, you’ve dealt with trust issues, you’ve made investments. So our golden rule rule, if you get a chance to read time for change, is that support has to come before? Accountability. Accountability is the natural result of support, yes, but you can’t demand if you haven’t provided the resources and the means to engage. But it’s also ridiculous to make all that investment and not expect a return on your investment. Yeah, absolutely.
This has been a phenomenal conversation. I’ve learned so much as a leader of an organization just from you. In this short period of time. I want everybody out there to go get your book time for change. We’ll put a link to it in our show notes to make sure you go grab that. Where can people get your book and stay in touch with you? Well, the books are on all the platforms, my publisher, a Solution tree. So if you go to Solution tree’s website, you can get that directly in all my other books. I do have a new book coming out in February called The Way Forward and it’s about school struggle to move into full PLC commitment and an extension of Rick defor’s work and learning by doing which most are familiar with is the handbook for PLC. The 4th edition will be out in May and myself, Mike Meadows, Bob Baker, and Tom Manley revvaped that book. It’s one of the highest selling education books of all time and the 4th edition will be out in May. So the Way Forward, which is my new book, comes out in February. 4th edition of Learning by Doing comes out in May, so Ive got two new books coming out this year, a time for change. Of all, the books I’ve written is the most practical and you can go to SU and trees webs. You go to Amazon, any place it sells books I’ve had. I’ve had a street going every book I’ve had a chance to write, it’s been a bestseller, so pretty much any platform you go to will have.
Any book reseller will have that book absolutely and you know we’ll put the links to all of those books, including your upcoming ones into those show notes. Thank you, how can people stay in touch with you?
Social media. Facebook under Dr. Anthony Muhammad. Twitter or X, whatever it’s called now at New Frontier 21 and those are the two primary. I don’t get much in Instagram or… I’m on linkedin too great under Dr. Anthony Muhammad so, LinkedIn, Facebook. Twitter. I haven’t haven’t got to the end. I don’t. I don’t get the Instagram done.
Thank you so much for your time today, it’s been an absolute joy.
Thank you and thanks for your audience for listening and all the educators out there. Thanks for what you do, but our journey’s not done. We got a long way to go.