PR for principals- How campus leaders can leverage communication pathways and strengthen their school brand and community w/ Veronica V. Sopher

Episode 3 June 08, 2023 00:50:05
PR for principals- How campus leaders can leverage communication pathways and strengthen their school brand and community w/ Veronica V. Sopher
Love, Sweat, & Tears: Ingredients for Transformative Campus Leadership
PR for principals- How campus leaders can leverage communication pathways and strengthen their school brand and community w/ Veronica V. Sopher

Jun 08 2023 | 00:50:05


Hosted By

Beth Hernandez

Show Notes

Veronica V. Sopher is an award-winning communications expert and visibility strategist with over 25 years of experience. First she shares with us a bit about her background and what led her to public school communication and public relations. Then we dive in deep to specific tools and practices principals and campus leaders and implement to harness and shape their school brand, communicate that brand with their commmunity, and build their teams through effective leadership and SEL practices. 

You can find Veronica at

You can find her podcast, "Saturday Soundbites" on Apple Podcasts -

Or on Spotify here -



View Full Transcript

Episode Transcript

Beth Hernandez 0:07 Hey y'all welcome back to love, sweat and tears ingredients for transformative campus leadership. Today I sit down with Veronica V Sopher, who worked as a chief communications officer and a large school district in Texas. She's been in communications for and public relations for over 25 years. And now she does consulting work with campuses and districts and administrators to help kind of leverage current communication channels, and bridge the gap between schools and admin and parents and families and the community members at large. She has an amazing podcast herself. It's called Saturday's sound bites, you can find that on Spotify and other podcast channels wherever you get your podcasts from. It's been featured on Fox and ABC and NBC and NPR and various other networks. It's really awesome. I hope you go check it out. She's got other resources available on her website as well, you can find that at Veronica V. Sofer, as S O P. H. E. R. I hope you all enjoy and learn like I did. Hey, everyone. Thanks for joining us live. This is kind of a new thing for responsive learning. And now we have one of our very own content partners to go live with us. Thank you so much for being here. This is Veronica V. Stouffer. She has six now amazing courses on campus leadership, and like, PR for principals and brand building and all the things we need for schools. Yes, yes. I'm so excited to talk to you about that. But before talking about that, I want to talk about Veronica. So tell me a little bit just about what your experience in school was like, as a kid? Wow, that's a really good question. So I was one of those kids that moved around a lot. I think I've calculated that I went to eight different schools, between kindergarten and high school. Okay. And I had my first go act. So my first campus was a Catholic kindergarten, okay. And then I got into public school when we moved to Texas. And then we moved around almost every year. Wow. Yeah. And so that was really challenging, whole different city, where we stayed in Houston, we stayed in New Smyrna, we went to different elementary schools. And a lot of that was just a function of this transient population that we have. My mom was a single mom. And so the need to move around for economics and for jobs, and all that kind of played into that. And we have a whole population of students who don't get that consistency in schools. And I was one of them. But by the time I got to middle school, in high school, things had settled and we'd figured out our way, and Veronica V. Sopher 2:56 I was able to go to the same high school for four years. Okay, so that was pretty, that was pretty a big deal for me, because I never really had that consistency. But what it's done is it's allowed me to have friends over full spectrum. And so friends from this school and a friend from that school, and then we met back up in middle school, and then somehow we ended up together in high school. So that that's been a good, it's been a good experience. I think at the time, it was probably really difficult. But um, you know, just like a lot of our kids today, they find a way they're really resilient. Kids are really resilient. Yeah. So when you graduate high school, what do you like? What's your path towards where you are now? So I either wanted to focus on getting a degree that was going to lead me into a really good law school. Okay, so I come from a family full of lawyers and journalists and public servants. And I knew that was my path somehow. So, but I was really passionate about journalism and storytelling. So I decided a journalism degree is probably going to be my path. And then I get to the University of North Texas in Denton. Yeah. Yes, wrote for the, the newspaper there and loved my time, and very quickly realized I am a storyteller. And I needed to find a way to really put those passions together and public relations was one of the degree plans in the School of Journalism, the way born School of Journalism, which I'm now on the advisory board for, which is, which is lots of fun, really full circle, full circle for New York City, Nortek, Texas, and go mean green. And that was really eye opening for me. And then I realized that law school probably was going to be nearly as fun. I'd worked in lots of different law firms. The idea of billing my time and 15 minute increments was not what a storytellers passion is about. So pursued that and really enjoyed my time in North Texas. Beth Hernandez 4:49 Cool. So you graduate from North Texas, you got this journalism degree? Where do you go from there? So Veronica V. Sopher 4:56 I immediately went to Las Colinas Country Club, okay. Hey, doing internal communications, whatever that means, right? So I had had I had a job, I had the job two weeks before graduation. So I felt like I was winning. Yeah. And I did that for a little bit, got into hospitality and then went straight into banking. I had been a bank teller in college pretty consistently all through college. So I was the Marketing Officer for a bank in Denton. Okay, which I loved. And I did that for two or three years, then got into public health care, and Fort Worth. And then at 2728, got hired as the communications director for Arlington ISD. And that's what started my path on public education, education. Beth Hernandez 5:37 Awesome. Cool. So as you kind of make that journey, what do you find the similarities between all of those different places, as you're telling stories about where you're working, Veronica V. Sopher 5:50 I think everyone wants to find something that they can relate to. So when you're telling a story, whether it's in healthcare, or hospitality, or even banking, you've got to make sure people can make a connection, an emotional connection, it's got to be memorable, it's got to touch them some some way somehow. And if it doesn't, in that moment, it may in the future. So how do you plant seeds for the future as a storyteller? And people might say, that's really hard to do in oil and gas? Well, that's really hard to do in finance, it really isn't it, you just have to find that creative way to get that make that connection. Beth Hernandez 6:27 So what was it like jumping from these other kinds of industries into education? Veronica V. Sopher 6:32 Well, you know, other than having gotten a public education, you know, having a public education, I didn't know much about it. I didn't know much about school finance and some of the challenges. But I come from also a family of public servants. And the ability to see that the work I was doing was impacting what was happening in the classroom, was really touching for me. And so I fell in love with public ed, been doing it 27 plus years ever since. And I just knew that when my team and I put an event together, or we put a campaign together, or worked on a project, we were helping teachers, we were helping principals, and we were helping students. And so that brought a lot of joy to me. And that's what helped me feel fulfilled. And then when I had two children of my own in the public school system, it was even more important that we were supporting what was happening. Beth Hernandez 7:20 So what sorts of things were you doing for the ISD? At that point, Veronica V. Sopher 7:24 you know, everything from media relations, one on one, being able to be a spokesperson on camera, doing interviews to strategic communication, marketing, election work, if there was a bond election that we were doing, really trying to share with the community, the importance of public ad and what we were doing, and then highlighting the great things that were happening in our buildings, that was really important to us. We were building trust with the community, we were building rapport with our employees, helping morale, really celebrating the great things that were happening on campuses. And so sometimes those projects look like a big event, or it could be a State of the District event that we were putting on for the community. Or sometimes it was just a community forum with parents, but we were bringing them in. We were sharing our story, we were listening to them. And then we were responding to their needs. Beth Hernandez 8:15 At that point in time, what platforms were you using to do all of that communication? Veronica V. Sopher 8:20 Well, we started out with fax machines. So we did when I was first starting, we did have internet and access, but we weren't, we didn't have websites per se, they were really just landing pages with some PDF. So you were there. I don't even know if they were PDFs, but they were something you could download a look at. They were not interactive, there was not engagement. We really didn't see the advent of two way communication until probably the early, maybe 2006 2005. Hurricane Ike some of the bigger events that happened. Katrina, you know, those kinds of events, we started seeing emergency communication tools where parents could get text messages or emails. And then we started shifting to social media. You know, we we were not very prolific and how to communicate with parents at the time. Sure. And part of the reason why is because those parents didn't know how to use social media. Sure. Today, our parents were born using social media. And so that was a different way to communicate. And the expectation of if there had been an incident on the campus, the expectation was that the parents would be told by the end of the day, and oftentimes it was a printed out letter that got cut off into maybe thirds or quarters on a piece of paper, and stuffed in a folder. The expectation to now of parents is that they'd be told instantly if there's an incident on campus or some sort of event that's happening. So the expectations from our parents have changed drastically on how we communicate. So the idea of transparency from a parental level is just completely different than what it was 1015 years. Beth Hernandez 10:00 So you're kind of working at the ISD. How long are you there for? Veronica V. Sopher 10:04 So my first district I was there about seven years, okay. And then that was in the DFW area. I was with Arlington, ISD, large district, I think I had about 80 campuses at the time. Sure, get in early 2000s 2003 2002. And then we moved to Leander ISD. In the Austin area, much different community, it was not a traditional sub, urban, suburban type district. Do you know, in Arlington, we were right, nestled between Dallas and Fort Worth. So you had all that population, and we were landlocked. And then I went to a district that was not landlocked, was considered a fast growth district where we were building schools and schools and hiring teachers, and trying to have some continuity in our curriculum and in our programming, which is really important when you're opening two or three new schools a year. And that district, I think, when I got there, we had maybe 30,000 students. And then I think when we left, maybe another 15, between 22,000. So I left about seven years later, and went to the Houston area, and went to Fort Bend, ISD, okay, and did that. And as the chief communications officer, and then there again, 80,000 students, about 80 schools, 82 schools and a different community, you're in a very high urban community, and very diverse in that district, we have 25%, Hispanic, Black, Asian, and white. So when you have a very diverse community, your communication needs are different. And how you respond absolutely to the community is completely different. When you're in a community that's a little more homogeneous, there are some different values and expectations. So you have to be mindful of all of that things like holidays, or, you know, those kinds of familial traditions that maybe you weren't exposed to your kids are now exposed to them, and what kind of learning opportunities is that for them? And then how do we celebrate it as a as an institution, as a district. So that was very, very, I would say exciting, because it was something new that we got a chance to do. And so I just wrapped up six years and just left Fort Bend. And now I'm on my own doing my own K 12 communication consulting. Beth Hernandez 12:14 So tell me tell me more about that about what you're doing now. And why you're excited about it. Veronica V. Sopher 12:19 I you know, I've always been a teacher at heart. Sure. And a storyteller. Yeah. So leadership has been a passion of mine. And anytime I got an opportunity to present to principals or other school leaders, and share what I had learned and show them or share my story, I would get excited. And I thought, Man, if I could just do this all day long, and not necessarily talk to the media, or write press releases. Those were all things I love to do. But we talked about our zone of genius. Right, right. Okay. Genius. Yeah. And then there are things that you're really, really good at and skilled at and you can just do in your sleep. But is it really what you're passionate about. And so as I matured, in my career, my passions changed. And customer service was really the thing that my heart just went to, because during COVID, I saw so many of our teachers and principals and frontline employees getting crushed during COVID, right, they wanted to help those kiddos in those families, and those families were struggling. And oftentimes, our paraprofessionals on the campuses were struggling at home too. So I redesigned some curriculum that I'd worked on over the years and really made it centered in self care, and self awareness. So in our trainings, we talk mostly about how we have to put our oxygen mask on ourselves first, before we can put it on others. And that's really the root of of the customer service training that we do. So in this next chapter in my life, I'm touting the benefits of self care, mindfulness, all the things we want our kids to be thinking about in the classroom. I'm just bringing it to the staff level. Because oftentimes we say, Do as I say, not as I do, right. And now we need our district employees to take care of themselves. Yeah. So they can be there for kids. And so that's, that's where really where my focus is right now. Beth Hernandez 14:06 Okay, awesome. So you started that just recently that this in the last couple of weeks, I had no idea that's really exciting. So you've designed some courses for sponsor the learning? Are those kind of in that same vein of leadership and self care? And Veronica V. Sopher 14:25 absolutely, absolutely. self care is really the key to strong leadership, any type of program that you're doing. And you know, our principals are juggling all kinds of things on the campus level, whether it's day to day discipline, budgets, schedules, you name it, and their leadership is really dependent on how well they've taken care of themselves. Are they are they spending time feeding their soul? Are they taking care of their bodies? Are they staying hydrated? I mean, some of the basics right? Because they're running around all day. along on campuses taking care of their teachers and their students. And in order for them to be their best, we need them to take care of themselves. And I also share a lot about team building one or two of the courses that I have there on the platform with responsive learning is about team building. Because you've got to be able to get that collaboration and that synergy moving in a really positive way. And a good leader can make that happen if they've taken care of themselves. Beth Hernandez 15:26 And I just I can hear the principal say, I don't have time, I can't Yeah, like how, what are some realistic and practical things that campus leaders can do to find time to keep take care of themselves? Are you talking about this? during the school day before the school day after the school day? Like, you know, practically, what can a exhausted busy campus leader do to better take care of themselves? Veronica V. Sopher 15:55 Yeah, that's a really great question. And the answer is, yes, I can do all of that at any time of the day. Because really, all we have to do to recalibrate our physiology, is to stop for a moment, take a deep breath, you just do it a couple of different times, your blood pressure will change, the way your digestive system works will change, your mindset will change all that takes just a few seconds. So sometimes it's just as simple as getting some oxygen in your brain. So the chemicals in your brain can just readjust, even if it's before, maybe a training that they're going to give or maybe they're gonna have a difficult conversation with the parent. And there's a little bit of anxiety or, you know, they're just not, they want to make sure they get the words just right, taking a couple of deep breaths, and really just being present in the moment, will let your body relax and get some of that adrenaline that maybe you've been pumping to just resettle a little bit. And so, you know, walking is another great way, principals are always walking the campuses, assistant principals, they're always on their walkie talkie. They're always walking the building. And sometimes they needed to take it outside. Maybe they can just walk the perimeter. Real quick. A lot of us, especially in Texas are having to do door checks. Yeah, oh, the door to door checks, right? So one door that never quite right. So make sure that you can still be working and you can still be taking care of yourself. Sure, take it outside, get some sunlight, let that sunlight, you know, really impact your body and get that those vitamins that you need from the sun. And you're watching the trees kind of swaying, all of that relaxes the body in the subconscious. So taking a moment to do that is going to be really important. And then my favorite is to just build in time on your calendar, four minutes, three minutes. It doesn't have to be more than five minutes. Okay? It can literally be while you're making your to do list. What about a gratitude list? Five things on a gratitude list. It'll take you 60 seconds, write it down. Because when you write it down, that tactical function of writing it down, will bring that gratitude present to you. And again, in your subconscious. When you're holding that moment of gratitude. You cannot be holding anxiety or stress at the same time, because they're conflicting. They're conflicting thoughts. So those are some really simple things you can do right? That take no time. You can do it in the morning, lunch, dinner, anytime you want it and it'll make a big difference. Beth Hernandez 18:23 Alright, campus leaders, you're going to breathe. You're going to get outside and be mindful. You're going to move your body. And we're going to make a gratitude list. Simple tomorrow. Today, Veronica V. Sopher 18:35 the day Yes, start today right now. Beth Hernandez 18:37 Yeah. Love it. Now that you're kind of in this private sector, you're providing these services, what other services are you providing for school leaders? Veronica V. Sopher 18:49 We're doing a lot of retreats. Okay. So not only are we doing the customer service training for staff, but we're doing some retreats. We've done some for some Cabinet members and executive team members. But then we've also done some for female leaders. Because that's a passion of mine as well. Just anyone can kind of sign up and you know, the professional development teams say, Hey, if you're an aspiring aspiring leader, in our district, we've got these PD opportunities available to you. And so I've been invited to come and speak. And then coaching communication, school communication professionals, one on one, because sometimes we get communication professionals that maybe haven't been in media for a while, maybe they had their degree 1015 years ago, but then they went into the classroom or they went into the principalship. And then they get hired at Central Office as a communications director or chief communications officer, but they've been out of the game a little bit. And things have changed how we communicate, and how we respond to the media are completely different. So they bring me in so that I can do a little bit of coaching and just kind of bring them up to speed and get them where they need to be to be ready to tackle some of these really difficult topics that we're we're dealing with and public add. Beth Hernandez 19:58 Okay, so So this, you know, our kind of main audience for this podcast is specifically campus leaders. And so I would love to go through some of the most common problems that are easily fixed, that you see campus level admin making, when it comes to specifically like team leadership. What are some things if a, you know, school principals feeling like, yeah, I need some tools, but I don't know where to find them? Or how to use them? Or where to start? Can you speak to that a little bit? Yeah, Veronica V. Sopher 20:35 you know, I would say the first thing you need to do is do an inventory of your team. Okay, know where your team is emotionally, know where they're at in their skill set, and know where they're at in their aspirations for movement. Because sometimes you might have a hidden gem on your team, that they haven't articulated, that they're looking for growth opportunities, and that could be the perfect leader on your team to help you maybe develop some some team building opportunities. So as a leader, if you have had some really great one on one time, with every one of your team members, you'll know where they're at. Maybe you have a team member who might be dealing with some family issues, and they're usually your go to, they're the one person that you can count on to make something happen. But maybe you don't realize that they might be dealing with maybe an ailing parent, or maybe a team that's struggling, or they might be going through a divorce or something. So you don't need to get into the personal lives of your team if they're not ready to share all of that. But if they're willing to share that you as a leader need to do an inventory of where everyone is at, ask them what their next steps are, what their path is for the future, or how they envision it. And then you can kind of see where everyone is on the bus and make sure that your seats are in order. And that really is gonna help with your team building. Because if you don't know your team, you're not going to be able to put them all together the way you envision, envision and happening. Yeah. Beth Hernandez 22:01 And I can see, you know, principals just saying, well, we don't have time to have that to make like that. That's a stretch to make that time. But you can't lead people you don't know. Veronica V. Sopher 22:12 Yeah, really finding opportunities for some just morale boosting, you know, one of the things we like to do, in teams I've been on is maybe have a dip day. So everybody brings a dip, and we put it on the teacher's lounge. And we do chili contests. And that's a really great way to keep the door open so that when maybe someone wants to come and talk and share a little bit more about themselves, that that that rapport is there, you've established that it doesn't have to be formal, one on one meetings that are set, it can be more of a casual way of connecting with people. And it doesn't have to take a lot of time. It really doesn't. And I have found that people are open to those kinds of conversations. And they're thankful that their campus principal has shown an interest maybe maybe they want to take a team lead, maybe they're thinking about a master's program. Or maybe they're considering getting their superintendency certification. It's good for principle to know what people are thinking in terms of the horizon. Beth Hernandez 23:14 Cool, what are some other things that campus leaders can do to kind of enhance their internal campus culture and thinking about branding and culture? And what are some ways the campus leaders can strengthen this team, this sense of unity the story? How can we use storytelling to kind of build that culture into our schools as leaders, Veronica V. Sopher 23:38 one of my favorite ways to see principals do this is on social media, because it takes no time. And it's free, it's absolutely free. So we know that principals are walking the buildings all day long. Yeah, they're poking their heads in the classrooms, they're reading on the floor with their little ones, they might be out there on the playground with fourth grade or fifth grade playing a sport. And so when our principals are doing that, one of the best things they can do is just take a picture, of course, make sure they've got the right students in the photo and consent has been given all that privacy issues have been addressed. Take a picture, and celebrate what the kids are doing, and acknowledge the teacher acknowledging the teacher is really going to be a bonus. So be mindful of when you get a chance to celebrate Miss Smith or Miss Garcia or Mr. Jones, that you are if not tagging them that at least mentioning them by name, because that's what's going to build that morale. And it's really going to help with that team building and make them feel appreciated and validated. Right, you know, and seen because that's the beauty of social media. And so then you you start branding your campus as one of excitement as innovation as one with high quality teachers delivering high quality instruction. And parents then become part of that team and they become part of that brand awareness and I have found that when you do that parents then want to share on their social media, their students been recognized with their families and friends. Beth Hernandez 25:09 So I've kind of been thinking of it as there's internal team building. And there's external PR. But it just doesn't seem it seems like it's just, Veronica V. Sopher 25:19 it's all threaded together. Yeah. And that's the beauty. I mean, yes, there are things you can do internally. Sure, that'll make a difference that aren't appropriate necessarily, for families to, to engage for Yeah, I mean, like did day or college day or whatever it is. But there's an opportunity to piggyback off of that. And if it's a if you do a college day, and the teachers all wear their college T shirts or things like that, and you can do some internal competition stuff, but then you can also take pictures of it and get all the Aggies together for a photo and put that on social media or all the Longhorns together. And so there's, there's a lot of fun ways to kill two birds with one stone, because your internal audience is so important. And they will make or break your brand. But your external audience can be just as powerful. Yeah, Beth Hernandez 26:08 well, that reminds me on our campus, we have one, one admin went to UT, and one's an Aggie. And so you know, every time they play, we'll they'll put little, just little stickers all around the school. And they'll just keep flipping each other's upside down all day. And then all of the other kind of staff members get in on it. And it's such a sweet thing. And the the kids are all like, what's going on. But most parents don't know anything about that. And I have no idea that, you know, our team is so close knit, but our parents don't get to celebrate that at all. And that's such a good point that, you know, having those things connected, helps build cohesion and tell your story. Veronica V. Sopher 26:50 Absolutely. And we know that people need to be exposed to our campus brand, repeatedly. Yeah. You know, back in the day, they'd say, Oh, well, five to 10 impressions a week. It's not that way anymore. Our brains are processing so much information, so much information. But again, you can help your brand by putting it out there more often. Maybe not for consumption, but for exposure. Sure. So that's a different way of looking at it, you know, the human brain, basically is exposed to 2.3 million bits of information a second, but we can only process about 120 176 bits of information per second. So the rest of that information is just going in our subconscious, right. And it's a great way to create impressions without really engaging people. And we don't think about that as marketers or as storytellers. But that's essentially what's happening. And advertisers have known that for years, right in the public education space, that was not information we utilized or tapped into, but we're competing, right now today for public education dollars. Yeah. I mean, at the end of the day, principals know what their attendance is, because central office is telling them and central office is telling them because the budget office, I mean, it all trickles down, but the competition for students is fierce, Beth Hernandez 28:14 and even yod even, you know, the schools that have great branding and have even if we don't call it that parents are moving kids to those schools, because of all of this engagement and branding. And so I mean, that's, that's attracting dollars, like there are there's funding at state for campus that especially campus leader that doesn't feel confident on social media that doesn't maybe doesn't feel like they have a good awareness of a campus brand. What are some first steps to take towards branding your campus and then communicating that branding? Veronica V. Sopher 28:51 Well, the first thing you can do is just start, okay, there's not a great way of doing you don't have to have pictures that have been cropped with a logo, they don't just start, okay, just start, just get out. Just get out there, start put on your phone, you know, turn the camera around, and film yourself go live. It's scary, it is scary. Don't worry about what your hair looks like don't worry about really celebrate what's happening because what people want to do is relate to someone who's authentic. And let that natural organic communication start, right. So if you're too polished, and you've got too much production, they may not think you're being genuine. Yeah, especially on a campus level, right? So just start, that's the first thing to do. And then the second thing to do is just be consistent. Don't do it two or three times and then stop for three weeks and then start back up. Right be consistent. You don't have to do it every day. But but be consistent. So if you want to commit to two or three times a week, do that. And it can just be a picture with a caption, hashtag your school, tag your campus, tag your district. There are some key things that you can do that will will really help spread the word. There's natural threads that just kind of happen on social media. And the algorithms, you don't need to know all the formulas because it changes every other week anyway. But just be consistent with a couple of hashtags, pick one or two that you'll always remember. Okay? Tag your district if it's appropriate, and be consistent. So just start, okay. And you'll find ways to make improvements. And then all of a sudden, you'll see what other people are doing. And you'll want to try to shift gears a little bit. And there's a natural growth and a natural improvement that comes with social media, but just start, yeah, Beth Hernandez 30:34 for a campus admin that is new to a campus, or does it have strong bonds with their team yet? What are some ways that they can kind of incorporate that team building into the branding of maybe if the campus doesn't have a strong brand? How can someone new come in and help this existing team build something new and kind of get them on board onto their, their boat? And kind of rather than, you know, you know, also, often we get a new admin? And it's like, Okay, let's see, like, if this one's gonna try to come and ruin everything that we've got going or, you know, so how can we help foster that community and communicate that without teachers feeling unsupported or without them feeling bulldoze? Yeah, Veronica V. Sopher 31:17 well, that's a really great question. And the advice I usually give new administrators is don't go in and try to change everything right away, honor the past, honor those who have been there, and ask for their support and ask for their guidance. So if you've got a campus teacher, that's been there 2025 years, and you're a brand new administrator, and that particular teacher may, you know, have some reservations about your leadership style, go to them and ask them to help you adjust to the culture and and help guide what has worked well in the past and what hasn't, okay, get some insight, use that that institutional knowledge that they have, and leverage it so that you can start celebrating some of the you know, what was great about the good old days? What was great about when that two or three principals ago would do certain things and say, You're a Mustang? What does it mean to be a Mustang? If I was a new administrator, the first thing I would do, if, you know, say the mascot wasn't messing? Because I'd go to some of those veteran teachers and say, what does it mean to be a Mustang? What do you want our kids to know? What can I do as the new leader to become the type of Mustang we want our kids to be? And then I'd probably turn that into a social media campaign. And every Monday, I do Mustang Monday, yeah, and highlight some value that the school has, that I didn't necessarily bring in. But that as an as an administrator, I'm adapting to, to honor the past and to honor the campus and honor those who came before. You know, things may not have always been great on that campus. And there's always ebbs and flows. But there's always something good, you can celebrate. And so honoring that is probably one of the best pieces of advice I would give to a new administrator. Beth Hernandez 33:03 I love that question. Like, what does it mean to be a whatever the mascot and communicating that on social media and having kids, kids, students get on board with that even that's exciting. So some specific tools or resources for a campus leader that feels like they're failing to create a healthy team culture when we're talking about team building? If you know, we've got a couple of tips that they can implement right now, what are some other resources or books that you've liked or classes that you've taken or created, where we can go to learn more to help create that team? Veronica V. Sopher 33:41 I think the core of building a team is finding what people have in common. What are some shared values and some shared vision that they have, sometimes administrators brought in because there might be conflicts on a campus, or there may be some struggles or, you know, cliques that just no one's been able to break through. And I have found that when a principal can go in and start doing some retreats, some team building that centers around shared vision. So let's we all know that we all disagree about X, Y, and Z. But what do we agree about? Let's find the one thing that we all hold dear, and oftentimes, it's student success. And oftentimes, it's the one thing that brought us all to public education. And I call that finding your true north. So when I go in, and I work with a team, I help them identify their TrueNorth. And sometimes that takes hours, because there has to be some consensus. But usually, it's at its core, it's helping kids, helping students really, really getting to the nitty gritty. And when you can simplify that, then a leader can build on that. Yeah. But if you don't have that fundamental, what do we all agree on? platform it's going to be hard to build. So I think that's usually If we're really good leaders start is finding that shared experience that shared value and then building on it and letting them help drive, what that next step is, because you, as a leader may have read a great book, have gone to a great workshop or great training, and you have a vision of what you think it needs to look like. But that might not be the right fit for your campus. So let them help drive what's next. And as a good facilitator, you can find ways to draw out what people want willing to do a book study is a great example. You mentioned a book study. But what if your teachers don't like doing book studies? What if there are doing another thing to do? But what if you all agree to listen to a particular podcast? Yeah, or maybe watch a documentary together and build some time in the day? So let them help drive what's next? Once you have identified that shared value? Beth Hernandez 35:53 Yeah. Okay. So kind of what I hear you saying is, there's not a one size fits all everyone should go to this thing. It just depends on the team and your people and your shared value. Veronica V. Sopher 36:05 Yeah. And you know, the other thing to remember is, there were things that worked really well for us before COVID. And then things that we tried to re implement after COVID no longer worked. Yeah, because we are a dynamic, a team is a dynamic entity. What works one day may not work 12 months later. And so we have to as leaders, remember that we have to create dynamic experiences for everybody. Beth Hernandez 36:30 Yeah, so true. As a storyteller, I would love to hear a story, a success story that of a team that you took through this process and how that went and how it turned out. Veronica V. Sopher 36:42 Yeah, well, you know, you don't really know what you're you don't know you're building a plane as you're flying it until you've landed it. And you're like, Oh, we just built, we just built that plane. Yeah. You know, in Leander ISD, we did a lot of professional development. And we spent a lot of time building structures in place. And one of the things that we did was bring teams together when we were working on the profile of a graduate, which was some years ago, and we thought it was going to shape out one way. And then we started bringing parents into the fold, and the campus administrators into the fold. And we were used to doing traditional strategic planning. And we were used to doing like building Charettes, we'd work with architects, as new campuses were being built. And so we were used to feedback and input and that was part of our campus culture, or our district culture. And then as we were putting this new profile together, it was research based it was database. But it really started shifting gears when our community and our board was helping us put all this together. And it was part of the guiding documents. And so the board who are elected officials felt very passionate about this. And they had a vision of what they wanted. And so when we started with the end in mind, we thought we knew how what it was going to look like. But when we started having parent and community meetings, it shifted, how did it shape it shifted, because we were calling things, we were identifying terms or strategies that we that were very academic in nature. Okay, so we were using education type words, and the community and the board who were not necessarily educators wanted us to speak in layman's terms, and what it meant for parents. And so all of a sudden, you started seeing some of the language shift a little bit. But the beautiful part was it created some ownership. And ownership is key. So when you use that same model, and you see that you're open to variables and to dynamic changes, then you start to realize that a campus principal can do that, too. When you start working with parents, and when you start working with teachers, it may shift a little bit too. So in the example that I gave working on our profile of a graduate and what that would look like it, it took shape, and it ended up becoming a new creation that was really, really honored everyone's opinion, in a way that still was true to our original intent, but didn't get made the way we thought it was gonna get made. Yeah, and I think a good leaders are open to shifting, so that in the end, they can get the result that was meant to get to be gotten. And that's and that takes a lot of I think it takes a lot of being humble, because we're like, well, we're gonna have three community meetings are going to be on a Thursday at six o'clock. We're not Oh, yes, we do need to make it open on. Yeah, no, we're not going to stream Yes, we are going to stream No, we're not going to stream. You have to be flexible and all of those different scenarios, because what we found is that the community wanted to be involved, but maybe they couldn't. Yeah. So what other ways were they able to engage? And so those are some of the things you have to be flexible about and it's okay to shift gears. Yeah, You can have a plan. Yeah. And that could have been a plan that worked previously. But you've got to be open to a new plan sometimes. And so I would say in Leander, we were very good about being flexible. And that's a really good example of how we still ended up with a great product. We just went about it a little bit differently. Yeah, Beth Hernandez 40:16 cool. What are some things some some campus leaders can do to help them identify other leaders on campus that will help them, you know, our principals, and even our APS, they can't do all of that by themselves. So what are some things that you've used to identify folks that are also have these leadership skills that can help build the brand and help build the team culture? Veronica V. Sopher 40:41 We think number one, that inventory we talked about earlier is a good way to start. But the other thing is just being really observant and listening, when you hear maybe a department chair phrase, a new teacher, or someone new to the team, listening through the lens of a leadership opportunity, and how can I use that person's skills and their passions? You know, maybe you've got a new teacher, who was really involved when they were in high school or in college, and in particular club or program and you know, you know, animes, a great example, or robotics or gaming, gaming is another great example. Now that it's a URL. Beth Hernandez 41:16 i Oh, yeah, you know, how does Veronica V. Sopher 41:19 it principle say, Who here on my campus is a great gamer and wants to start a gaming club, listening through the lens of what your team members have a passion about is really going to help you connect and then bring, bring more resources to your kids, right? And giving them the experience to go out and tap into someone who's already got a natural talent or has experienced doing it? You know, that's a great way to, to find new ways for kids to stay engaged, because we know when kids are engaged and connected to a campus, they're going to succeed. Yeah. So who do you have on your campus that can create an anime club or a manga group but and you know, all those kinds of a niche things that our kids are into, and let them connect? You know, you don't have to know a lot about gaming? Right. But if you've got someone on your campus, who does, let's tap them for some leadership opportunities to help kids, Beth Hernandez 42:11 you've kind of already answered this question. But just in case, there's another another answer. What is like the number one thing that you would have campus admin start today? Like, what's the one thing they can walk away from this episode and start doing today? Do you? Is it is it that inventory? Is it the SEL kind of stuff? We talked at the beginning, what do you think would be the the priority one thing for campus leaders to take away from this? Veronica V. Sopher 42:37 Those are really great takeaways. Yeah, and I would love to see them do that. But if there's nothing else that they take away from this is, I would suggest getting a little mirror and putting it next to their phone. So when they're talking to anyone on their campus, they're talking to a parent or talking to central office, they are getting a reflection of themselves, because our facial features, and the way we, especially on the phone, are responding to someone is a good indicator of where you are self awareness. is my point. being self aware, taking a little inventory of where you are. Are you on the right seat on the bus? Are you being the best administrator, you can be today? Are parents hearing you smile? And can they hear the concern when you're on the phone? When you're talking to your admin in the room next door? Are you smiling? Are you are you being who you want to be as a leader? So all those things are wonderful. Yes, read journal, take a few minutes. But if you do nothing else, get a little mirror, put it next to your phone and see your reflection. Beth Hernandez 43:46 That's so good. And even just having that reminder there, even if you're not looking at it every single time just having that thought of what am I communicating? Am I communicating what I want to be communicating? That's really, because when Veronica V. Sopher 43:59 you have a mirror in front of you, and you just see yourself, roll your eyes, right? You're mortified. You're like, did I just roll my half? I hope they didn't hear me roll my eyes on the other line, right? Maybe you're talking to the business office or assistant superintendent or maybe it's a heated conversation, having that awareness of how you're communicating can make or break your leadership experience. Yeah, so that would be my one piece of advice. The one thing you can do today, okay. Yes. Beth Hernandez 44:28 Um, so for our folks out there that are listening to this or watching this and they are into it, they want more. Where can we go to get more Veronica and our lives? Veronica V. Sopher 44:37 Well, I've got six courses available on responsibility platform. Yes, that's right. And then I've got my website, it's Bronica V. sofr. The base for Victoria. People, people ask, okay, people ask me that all the time. And then what's the V for so it's Veronica visa And you can connect with me easily. I love working with school districts and campuses and leaders and supporting them in a lot of different ways. And so that's the best way to reach me. Always also on LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook for Beth Hernandez 45:05 the the campus admin that's wearing all these different hats that already has more on their plate to do than they can. Why is building a brand and pouring time into communicating that? Worth it? Veronica V. Sopher 45:20 Yeah, great question. So what I will remind people is that your brand is your promise. That's really as simple as it is your brand is your promise. And so as a building principal, whether you are at one campus or move to another level, or go open a new school, or maybe change districts, your brand follows you. So your promise has to follow you. So if people know that you are, you know, the, the proud principal of whatever campus, you can interchange that campus name, but you but your brand is the proud principal of right. And that builds trust, and that builds continuity. So a brand is important, because not only is it your promise, but it also is a good indicator of what you're willing to do and how you're willing to show up for people. Yeah, so I always tell principals, yes, your your campus brand is important, you want to continue that long, rich legacy of being the Bulldogs or, you know, you know, being the the wolves or whoever you are, but you, as a principal, have a stand and a commitment to the community, to your students, to your staff and to your parents. So when you can reinforce that brand in your social media, in your newsletters, in your video messages. You know, I had a superintendent who would always start every video with Hello, I'm the proud superintendent. And that was his little stick, if you will, but it was, it was a continuous, recognizable brand that people knew. So when they heard it, they knew there was a message that they wanted to listen to. And so I think principals need to do that too. And then for teachers, it's just as important because as a teacher, you know, if you're a science expert, or a math expert, or just even a generalist, you know, you're the pre K, Teacher of the Year on your in your district or something you can, you will always be that you may not be for that year anymore, but you can still always be that teacher of the year, that brand awareness follows you. And when you've got more of that on a campus, parents are going to trust you because what our parents our parents today are, they're smart shoppers, you know, their Amazon Prime. So their expectation of, of identification is really important. Parents read reviews before they make purchases. Well guess what? They're transferring all of those buying patterns onto public ed. And if we don't have a strong brand, as a leader, and as a teacher, then you're going to not instantly get that trust that loyalty, we call it brand loyalty in the commercial space that you need in the education space. Yeah. And when we talk about conflicting ways of doing business and public ed, this is where we're at. We're I was at a conference recently. And the entire message was public education is about marketing today. Because there are so many outside forces and parents have so many different choices through. So it's not just I'm zoned to this school, right? So how do you convey all the wonderful things happening in your classroom, if you're a teacher, or all the wonderful things happening on your campus, if you're a principal, if you're not sharing your story, and it's not branded? Right, so that's why I think that administrators especially need to build time in their professional development in identifying what their brand is, and then leveraging it in their communities. Beth Hernandez 48:55 Great to have you. Yeah. And there you have it, folks, Veronica V. Sofer. She is amazing. I love the way that she tells stories and provides practical tools within a story to help you remember, it's it's my bread and butter. I love it so much. Again, you can find Veronica at Veronica v She's also on LinkedIn and Instagram and Facebook and does lots of really great webinars and live events and all sorts of cool stuff to help you learn how to communicate your message, what you want to get across in a way that will be received and listened to and heard well, as always, our production and editing of this podcast is done by Erwin saalbach, who also does the music that you're listening to right now. Our logo and design work was done by Alana coy. And this whole production is a labor of love from the folks at responsive learning. Thank you so much. I hope you have a great rest of your day. Transcribed by

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