Hale Welcome back to love, sweat and tears ingredients for transformative campus leadership. Today we have Martin Silverman on he was a principal for I think 30 years was what he said, and just recently retired and it's kind of moving into that coaching space. Because then he's got some great skills and stories. He talks about some of the failures he experienced and how he grew from them. And I just love the skills and resources he has. And he's just great to listen to you. I know y'all will enjoy it. Marty. It's so great to have you on love, sweat and tears. I would like to start just by you telling us a little bit about yourself where you are right now what you're doing.
Marty Silverman, I am a very recently repurposed. I have a friend that uses that word. And I think I'm going to use that maybe upcycled. We're going to I will see which which one of those works best elementary principal here in beautiful San Antonio, Texas. I am a you know, I grew up in Brooklyn, New York. A definitely a New Yorker all my family's still up there and still one of my favorite places to go. But I've been in Texas my whole career. I just finished my 40th year in Texas public education. I moved here right out of college and started teaching in Houston. ISD. I worked in San Antonio ISD Medina Valley istm. For the last 25 years, I've been in Jetson ISD here in San Antonio. father, husband, Grandfather of four with two on the way to grandkids come in, so and the oldest of which right now is three. So lots of little kids and babies. And yeah, so a lot of a lot of fun. Spending time with some very little people.
And are all your kids and grandkids in the San Antonio? Er, they're
all within about 15 minutes, so Oh my god. That's the light. Oh, for sure. Absolutely.
Yeah. Oh, so tell me about growing up and Brooklyn, what school was like for you? What were you like as a student?
Yeah. So I grew up, we, you know, my parents were children of immigrants, right. It's all for my grandparents, you know, immigrated. Back in the early 1900s. And my parents were the first generation born here. So we grew up. My we grew up, you know, for lack of better word, we grew up poor. I lived in it. When I was born, we lived in a housing project in Brooklyn. We lived there till I was seven years old. My parents never owned a home, they we rented apartments, my whole life growing up. And it was it was a, it was a actually kind of a great place to grow up at a great time. Although, the time in New York, it was kind of a tumultuous time. But for a kid, especially the youngest kid of four, and the only boy, it was a very good, you know, a very good place to grow up. My parents were my dad did not graduate high school, it worked in a in a factory and in the garment district in Manhattan. My mother had gotten a she had a high school diploma with a, like a what now would be considered a CTE. Like it wasn't, you know, a college bound program. It was a secretarial, kind of program. And she worked when I started school, she's she started working and she was the secretary, she ended up working for the city and New York Police Department and worked for them for many years. And that's where she retired from so you know, working class people who, you know, like I said, you know, didn't have homeownership and all that and so I was one of the, the I'll call it a crowning achievement, right of my childhood is because I am because I am the age I am. I was the first group of kids that went through Headstart and pre K in New York when that was established back in 1966. And so I was a I was a product of pre k and that was a brand new when it started the Euro was for and and so I got to you know, having grown up where I grew up the part of town I grew up and you know that was a focus was working with low income families and so there I was, I was that guy.
Interesting. So what what was it in your life that made you want to pursue higher education
so you know, you hear a lot of times about people talking about their families pushing college like, you know, families that said, you know, you're gonna go to college. And I think the expectation, you know, growing up in the 60s and mostly 70s That, you know, upward mobility was seen to be a thing, that was a thing now, so, you know, my parents not being formally educated, we're still pretty educated people in that reading was a big thing. You know, there were books all over the house, they, you know, read newspapers, they, they, they were, they were readers. Okay. And so that model was definitely imprinted early. And so it was a really, you know, I always felt like the expectation was that poor lower middle class kids, you know, you just go to college, it was, I don't remember it ever being, like, formally pushed, but, but it was certainly, you know, it was certainly a thing that was seen to be a good, a good thing. And so, yeah, and my, you know, being the youngest, my sisters all went to college, my oldest sister actually didn't finish college till much later. But, you know, the two that were right ahead of me, they went, you know, they just did the four year thing right out of high school, went to college, and did that. And so the model was definitely there to do it. I was the only one of us that went away to college. I didn't go to college in in Brooklyn, like my sisters did. I went to a college in upstate New York, and, you know, had kind of like that adventure. But, but it was, it was definitely seen as a and it was very accessible and available. College was easy. Now, my parents couldn't help navigate it. They did a lot of it was done on my own, and through, you know, whatever resources I could kind of find myself or through, you know, through the high school I went to, and I went to a a magnet public high school in Brooklyn that was very progressive. It was based on John Dewey theories, John Dewey High School is what it was called. And it was a non graded, non graded situation where things were done independently. And so like I graduated when I was officially graduated when I was 16, from high school, because I had amassed enough credits to be done, you know, but right before I turned 17, and so the self determination to achieve was a big part of that high school. And so I think that helps when you're when you know, when you're trying to navigate college, being a first generation college student,
when was it that you kind of knew you wanted to pursue education? Was it before you started college? Or did you discover that along the way, you
know, it's funny, because I look back at school was always a good experience. For me, I was a pretty good student. You know, there were the same troubles that people have in school. Don't get me wrong, but but but school in general was really positive. And so there was a time when I look back at like, even in elementary school, being a teacher was a thing that was like, on the radar, possibly, but I didn't, I didn't pursue it. Initially, when I went to college, I went as an undeclared major, my parents would have loved for me to be a business major. The sisters before me had been an accounting major and economics major, you know, the two right before me and so, you know, that was a, you know, a Jewish kid growing up in Brooklyn, that was a thing that parents wanted you to do write go and go into business. And but I but I didn't, I didn't ever bite on that. For sure. I went as an undeclared major, I became a communications major, a Speech Communications major. And then, you know, talk about an epiphany this moment, so I was getting ready to go into my junior year and people would ask me with a with a communications degree, like, what are you going to do with that? And I had this real vague, you know, like, Hi, how about public relations? I don't know, you know, like, something in communication, but I didn't really have a certainly it wasn't career based for me. And so I was getting ready to pre register for communications classes. My for my junior year. And I had literally I was standing in line I was talking about this moment, because it was it was real seminal in my, you know, my ringing, I was standing in line to get to pre register for courses, and they opened the door to the room to pre register and something struck me and I still can't You know, describe exactly what it was, but I stepped out of that line and walked over to the education department and changed my major, like, you know, not ever having certainly verbalized, you know, like, this is something I want to do, I'm sure it was there. And so like, you know, it was it was always there, I guess, in the, in the undercurrent, but it was never, it was never something that I went knowing that I was going to do. And man, I'd switched education as a major and just got all into it, I was, you know, I wanted to still graduate, you know, in four years. And so I doubled up a lot of classes, I took, you know, a 24 hour, semester, one year, you know, one of the times just to be able to catch up, and, but I also got the best grades I had ever gotten, because it you know, it suddenly there was a purpose to it. And so, you know, when you have purpose, right? You you work when you have more to do, you get more done. And when you have a purpose, you get more done. And suddenly I had this purpose and and I got it done, I you know, I finished and graduated with my, with my class, even though changing majors late to a whole different thing that it just worked out for me. And I was also a, I had a teacher when I was in junior high, the teacher that was the most impactful to me. She was my seventh grade Spanish teacher. And so I was I became like, in love with learning language and, and taking language. And so starting in seventh grade, I took Spanish all the way through to sophomore year of college, I had also taken two years of French in high school, I took Spanish and French at the same time. And so after my second year teaching, I became a bilingual teacher for a year. And that was a and, you know, I, when you talk about the influence of people, you know, she and luckily, as we you know, as I was in my career and social media became a thing, I was able to connect with her and tell her, you know, this is this is I became a bilingual teacher because because of something you did. And so I was bilingual teacher for a year. And yeah, it was, I mean, just all kinds of positive, mostly, almost, you know, I stayed for two years, that so there had to be positivity in, in that people don't stick with the career as long as as I did and hate it. Hopefully, hopefully they don't and and so it was it was a lot of loving what I did for sure.
What did you do on those those hard days? And maybe those hard years? That when you found yourself thinking like, is this still worth it? What were what were the things that you would do? Or tell yourself to remind yourself like, yeah, it is still worth it,
you know, and how you how you phrase that question is exactly right. Because you do have to tell yourself that you do have to remind yourself, because it's so easy to get caught up in tornadoes of negativity. You know, as as a leader who has helped other leaders, I've told people if you, you know, you'll find tornadoes of negativity, and if you don't, if you allow yourself to get caught up in that vortex, and nobody's got their feet on the ground. And so kind of early, I realized that, yes, there's there are definitely, you know, bad days, bad weeks, bad years. But but in reality, nothing is all great or all bad. And so when you specifically and intentionally look for, and remind yourself, you know what, yes, this is this is bad. What will the impact of this be in five minutes, five hours, five days, five months, five years? Right? You can, it's a lot easier to bring yourself back to the fact that most, you know, most difficulties are, are transient, they're temporary. And that really that good way. I mean, like, so far outweighs the bad. When you're doing something that you enjoy doing, and then you're good, you know, so, it that that is it was just about being intentionally aware that things are you know, are not permanent, and that bad things are not permanent. And that and that you can you know, and that you draw on the the all the good experiences, you know, I'll give you an example of this. So as a teacher, I taught for seven years in the classroom, I was an elementary teacher, and I was a I taught first grade I taught fourth grade I taught fifth grade and I taught a bilingual as well. And you know, one of the things that I wanted to create in my classroom was that for kids so that you know, yes, you're going to have they're going to be struggles they're going to be times when things you know are not easy. They're gonna be times when you're not getting along with people even making it you may not be getting along with Have me, you know, I may not be getting along with you like those things happen. But But what I tried to do intentionally as a teacher, and then as a teacher leader was to provide enough positive experiences that the negative didn't, you know, cause collapse that you could, that there was kind of a strength in a base that existed, like, you know, my students, I would tell them, you know, I love you, right, I love you, I care about you, I need for you, I want you to do the best that you can. And then when we had, you know, and I deliberately did a lot of things to show them that I cared about them that I loved them that I wanted them to do well, so that when difficult things happen, you know, you can you have that base of, alright, I have support, I have love, I have, you know, many, many good experiences that this bad experience is not going to dilute all that good.
Talk to me about, you know, as you're in the classroom for these seven years, at what point did you kind of feel like, you might want to transition into administration.
So I'm going to tell you that that happened, actually, in my first year of teaching. Not it wasn't it wasn't as specific as that. But I started teaching at a school in Houston, that as a first grade teacher, and I was on a team of, I think there were five of us, maybe four other first grade teachers, and one of the teachers there had been teaching for 29 or 30 years, at that time, teaching first grade at that school. So she had been, you know, there all that time. And, and one of the things that I thought initially was, I don't know that, you know, and this is even just starting out my first view, you know, my first semester there was, was, I like this, this is what I want to do, and I'm not ready to, you know, go immediately, but, but that I need to set myself up, because I don't know that I could do the same thing for 30, the exact same thing for 30 years, you know, she was able to do that. And she drew it, she was joyful. And she, she wasn't a bad model. It wasn't like that she hated her job. After 30 years, she still enjoyed doing what she did, but it was, but I knew myself that that was not going to be workable for me. And so I think it was even my second semester teaching that I enrolled in a master's program at initially at University of Houston to start taking classes to eventually, you know, create something that would be something else at some point. Yeah.
So when was it that you kind of got that opportunity to transition into did you go into an AP role first for a few years.
So what I did was, after three years in Houston, I moved to San Antonio, and I started working in San Antonio ISD. And in my, in my fourth year there, so my seventh year of teaching, there was a, an opportunity for people who had well, okay, let me let me back up a little bit. So the, at that time, the teacher appraisal process, required every teacher to have two observations, two formal observations, one by their supervisor, and one by what was called other appraiser, okay, and so, in, in San Antonio ISD, at the time, elementary schools didn't have assistant principals. And so the, you know, the principal was the supervisor for everybody. And so what the district did was they hired this cadre of teachers, who were who got trained to be teacher appraisers, and then they were the other appraiser, right for for and so they, they took them out of the classroom, they trained them in the, in the, you know, formally in the, you know, got certified as appraisers, and then and then those people went around to schools and did formal appraisals. And so I was able to get chosen to be one of those people in my, you know, in after my seventh year of teaching, and so that position was like, I can't even tell you how amazing and experience that was. In a year and a half, I did 450 formal appraisals from elementary to middle school. So pre K to eighth grade, and and had this amazing experience. What I would do is I would go to a school, I would, you know, be assigned there for a couple of weeks, I would do all the formal appraisals and then kind of move on to the next school to the next school to the next school and so the the intense amount don't have instruction, both phenomenal and terrible that I got to see in those, you know, in that really short period of time was transformational. I mean, that's, nobody gets to do that, you know, and get paid for it. I mean, it was, yeah, it was, it was a phenomenal job. It was a phenomenal job. And what at that time, San Antonio ISD often chose for that position, people who were interested in administration, and so when what ended up happening was, I was in my second year in that position, but the, the school that I had actually taught at that my wife was still teaching it, we hadn't we met, you know, teaching that. And we talked together, she needed an assistant principal. And so about December of that second year, she, that principal, chose me as an assistant principal. So I did that for a year and a half. And then I became an assistant principal after that, but, but having left and come back, the amount of instructional knowledge that I had, was just, I mean, it was, it was phenomenal. It was just incredible things that I had seen, and then could, you know, could work into this is, uh, this is, you know, I've seen different ways of doing things different, you know, methods of organization, and, and, you know, of social, emotional, and just all of those things. And then I could be a much better resource to teachers than when I went back because I had seen so much. Yeah.
Right. So I want to hear a little bit about your first few years as an administrator. What did you learn? What was that transition, like, into a leadership position? And I'd love to hear some more of how you use all of that experience to help coach your teachers.
Yeah, so initially, so for that year and a half, I was, you know, I had done the appraisals for a year and a half. And then I was assistant principal at the school that I had taught at, for a year and a half. And what's funny is my wife still work there. So I was I actually went back and I was the assistant principal at the school she taught at, also the guy that had been the best man at my wedding taught there. And yeah, it was like it, but okay, yeah, but it was, it was a great assistant principal situation, but it wasn't a realistic one. Because, you know, you don't usually get to go back to the place where you've been, you know, kind of nurtured and, and all that, and you had you had friends there, and, and all that. So, but I will tell you that being as young as I was, I was 29, I think 28 or 29 When I left the classroom, and then here I am now, I've been an appraiser for 28. Right? So then I was 31, at the end of my second year as assistant principal, actually a year and a half as assistant principal at the school that I that I worked at, and I was 31. And luckily, you know, when you're 31 you know everything, right? You. You there's a there's a supreme confidence that comes with being 31 in an administrative role, because, you know, you already know everything. And, yeah, and so I, back in the in that time, this was in 1993, you know, not internet job searches or anything like that. You look for jobs in the newspaper, and there was a news a little ad for a principal position in a small, rural suburban, but at that time, mostly rural district, right outside San Antonio, about 15 minutes outside of town. And it was for a primary a pre K through to elementary school with 475 kids. And I applied for it and short version of the story is I got that job. And so here I was 31. And I was named principal at this, at this little school. And I was coming in with all kinds of confidence and you know, already knew everything. And remember all my experience up to that I grew up, I'd grown up in Brooklyn, I worked in Houston, ISD in the city, and I worked in San Antonio ISD in you know, in the city. And so I was going to this rural, mostly rural district, knowing everything and, and my first you know, what I learned was, was how to make mistakes and then get myself straight. So, you know, I went in with all these ideas of, you know, this is what needs to be done like we have to, I met with the Secretary I got hired in July and you know, teachers weren't back and I and the Secretary agreed to meet me up at school and and show me some things and, you know, I, I had all these ideas that we're gonna start, you know, we're gonna hit the, we're gonna hit it hard and do all these make all these changes and all that. And what I learned was that that was a spectacularly terrible idea. And but I went in and I did it anyway, don't don't get me wrong, I was 31. And I did it anyway. Yeah, it wasn't like, it wasn't like, you know, I had a moment before it happened. It was, it was because it happened that I that I had a moment. So I go in, I make these changes peep, the guy that I had, that I replaced, had been there for 15 years, he was local. There were some issues with some serious issues with school performance in the school. And in the district, though it was a primary school, it was there was some like T aid in the Texas Education associate or, yeah, Texas Education Agency, you know, intervention. I wish I didn't know before I was hired, but the superintendent was was new, she was hired to you know, kind of make some changes. And then I was her first hire so and we didn't know each other it was you know, just kind of out of the blue. But, but what I found is there were a few people that were very just like, you'll find anywhere, there were a few people that were ready for change they wanted, you know, they wanted change. And they were they were in my corner right from the beginning, right. They, they wanted somebody to come in and fix what they appeared to, you know, and then there were a significant number of people who were ambivalent. And there was a significant number of people who didn't, you know, thought things were just fine the way they were, as you this is no surprise to anybody. Except it was a surprise. It was a surprise to me at the time, because I just assumed, you know, everybody would know that I was coming in with great intention. And with wanting to, you know, all of us experience all these, yes, all these great ideas from the city. And, and, and, and it did not go over. Great. So initially, there was a, there was a survey done, I want to say about mid year. And and I was floored by the negative comments on that survey, because because I'll tell you this, but you know, I went in with a positive, you know, I didn't think that people there were doing anything terribly wrong. I, I was a teacher, I was coming in still, you know, with the heart of a teacher still have heart of a teacher, hopefully. And it was not that I was going in saying, you know, y'all are doing everything wrong. Here's the right way to do it. It wasn't that it was it was here's a better way to do what we're doing. And, and I made the mistake that leaders make all the time, which is I was thinking about five steps ahead of where people were, you know, in practice, and I was, I was trying to get them to that place five steps ahead where I was, and, and without considering the interim steps to get there. And so yeah, because I was just gonna go in, and we're just gonna fix I mean, like, you know, we have to fix this, let's just, let's just fix it. Right. And so, and so the survey that year, and I used to keep a copy of that survey on my desk for years after that. Be just as
this was a survey like that the teachers had response. Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. And
we're, and we're saying, you know, new principal is not an improvement. And, you know, like, there were, there were comments that were, you know, just telling me all the things that are telling all the things that I didn't give the survey was like, either the district did, probably because they were required, probably because they're required by TA but, but it was, but the survey did not go very well. And, but, but what it did for me was say, okay, it, you know, like, stop it, stop trying to, to force change, before setting up the stage for change to be able to happen. And so the focus for me just changed completely to that, because you know, what this is, this is how I felt like I was initially hurt. I'm a human, you know, like, I was hurt by the comments, right? I was mad about him. You know, I went through all the, the, the, you know, the stages of the Kubler Ross, you know, Stages of Grief kind of stuff. I was like, Yeah, I but, but what I realized was, you know, initially I was thinking, I'm fretting about this, I'm like, not sleeping and whatever, and they're sleeping fine, right? The people who wrote the stuff were fine. So I had to initially get to that point where I'm saying, Okay, this is not necessarily personal to me. The it's not me, they they don't care for specific. I mean, there may be people He didn't care for me, specifically. But, but but it was really my way that was causing there to be an issue and I can fix that, you know, I can fix the I can fix the approach and I needed to fix the approach, that approach is not you, I've seen that mistake, my mistake has happened so many times, there's so many people that that didn't need to happen. Because if you if you see that the approach, and that the taking those steps, you know, but of course, I didn't know that at the time. And nobody had coached me to that nobody had coached me there, because I had been as an assistant principal, you know, I was working with my friends and my wife, and my, you know, like that, and everybody was fine, right. And so now, you know, on my own, trying to do this, it was, it was a whole different thing. And so and so I did, I really, really learned so much from that experience, that helped me then move forward in a much, much more inclusive and much more collaborative way that needed and also to be a lot more patient with people who were not quite there yet, in my way of thinking, or in a way of thinking that was going to solve problems, rather than, you know, perpetuate them.
Yeah, I'd love to hear we talk about this a lot on this podcast of how a new principal can come to a new campus and fix things in a way that's respectful and honoring of the good things that they've got going for them and honoring of the past. While also especially if there's a growth plan, or some like that in place, where it's like, also, change doesn't have to be bad. So what are some specific things that you changed about your approach that you feel like started to work better,
you know, the first thing that I did, that I consciously did was to really dig into what the, what the culture was of the school when I got there, and, and, and to not be adversarial to that culture to find, you know, just like I was talking about my classroom, to find what the positive things were in the culture to find, you know, where the, the levers were, who the who the people were, that were influential, and, and just what what things were sacred, and shouldn't be changed in a, you know, in a way that is heavy hitting. And so really, a lot of it was that it was it was taking a step back, you know, when I stayed at that school for five years, and when I was looking for a position to move, this is I could say this is, you know, specifically what I learned. I interviewed for a position. And I was asked, What would you do in the first 90 days? You know, that's a kind of a typical question, right? And, and what I learned was five years later, that when I interviewed for this position was my answer was nothing. What I would change is nothing in, in my first 90 days, I would not have said that in my you know, in my first interview five or five years earlier, what I was what I what I said was just what I'm saying to you now is what I would do in the first 90 days is use, you know, my two eyes and my two ears rather than my one mouth. And, you know, and, and listened and, and see twice as much as I said, to find out what was really kind of going on there before starting to find a place an opening, where change could be done in a way that we knew would be successful.
I want to talk a little bit about that shifting from a deficit mindset, you kind of mentioned that earlier, of not focusing on just what's wrong or what's bad. I want to I want you to talk to me about why that's important to you and what how you've seen that deficit mindset in education. So we kind of understand what we're talking about.
Right? So remember, I started teaching as a first grade teacher, and I worked at that first school principal that was pre K through two, eventually, in the five years, I was there, we added third grade, but it was all a little bit, you know, like it was all little kids. When I left there were 845 I think pre K through three kids. So a lot of little kids. So and you know what, what, and I had little kids at that time my when I got hired at that school, I had a two year old and a six month old. Right? And and what I realized was kids were leaving homes where they were treasured for the most part where they everything they did was cute. Every approximation of a word was celebrated. You know if they When kids were learning how to and this is, this is for a majority, like a great majority there, there are kids that have tough situations, don't get me wrong, but for the most part, you know, if when a child is learning how to talk, and they say, you know a word incorrectly, it's not, we don't hammer at them. We, you know, we're like, yes. You know, we're like, you know, they say something for something else. And we're like, yes, you know, that's your right, that's, you know, tree, if they say, fee, you know, like, we're like, you know, they say, look at the fee, you know, we're like, Yes, look at the tree. And we, and we build on the fact that we build in them a confidence in being able to try stuff, and not being, you know, hammered out because they did it wrong. And what, what happens when they go to school initially, is that, because of the way school has been structured, for lack of better word, is, you know, all of a sudden, there are these, what I'll call arbitrary, you know, like, when you're four, you're supposed to be able to do this, when you're five, you should be able to do this. But, you know, what was initially meant in Early Childhood Research, as, you know, kind of benchmark suggestions, became like, you know, benchmark, like, you have to meet them, or you're, or you're not, you know, you're, you're, you're a problem. So, what, what, what happens in school, a lot of times when that when that's the focus, even as early as pre K, and K, kids will come in, and they are, you know, coming off of being allowed to make mistakes, and, and, you know, their, their approximations are good verbally, and, you know, physically and, and they learn how to take turns and share and all those kinds of things. But we, we, you know, we work them through it, all of a sudden, that now becomes a mark on a report card that says you are not, you know, you don't know enough letters, you don't know enough sounds, you don't know enough words, you don't know how to stand in a line, you don't know how to sit on a carpet, you don't know how to share blocks, you don't know. And, you know, and what we report to, to parents eventually, but to kids initially, is you're not doing that, right? Like not? Yes, you know, you're, you're saying this letter, you know, you're you know, my gosh, you know, this many letters, it's like, wow, you don't know 10 of your letters, you don't know, you know, 15 of your sounds, you don't know this many numbers. And and then we start reporting it that way to parents, we start saying, Well, this is where your child is, you know, week, this is where your child needs help. And I'll, I'll say this, there has been a conscious effort to change that. But I don't know that we do a great job of, of reporting the good, you know, like, they'll always say, right, start with something positive. Put your concern in and then end with something positive. Right. But what are they the positive sandwich, right, when you're when you're having a conference, but, but really, a lot of people I've seen teachers do this, not because they're bad people, not because they want, you know, to create a problem for kids or parents, but what they the positive stuff is not as enthusiastically reported as the deficit, like we get right to deficits. But when I started teaching in 1983, we there were not state tests yet. And so, you know, we hadn't started doing the No Child Left Behind, you know, any of that kind of stuff. So, it was there were certainly expectations for kids. But there were, but approximations to, to that were okay. So, you know, I talked about my first couple of years, and my first two years was before class size limits in Texas. It was before you know, it was before conference periods. It was before a duty free lunch, right. But I had 31 Kids my first year in first grade and 30 for my second year in first grade, and no conference period, and we had to be on you know, we had to eat lunch with them as well. It was but it was doable, because while there were expectations we we were on a more I feel like a more sane timeline to get to those expectations. Like every kid was expected to at the end of first grade, be able to read the first grade level books, right. But but there was time to develop that if they there wasn't a focus As on what they you know, what they couldn't do, if there was a focus on command, you know, y'all can do this, let's get to, you know, let's build your skills so that we can get to a place testing, change that in a lot of ways. Because then there was this hard line of if you don't do this, then something bad happens to you to your school, you know, embarrassed as your parents, it gets reported in the newspaper, and people start thinking that the local public school is not doing a good job, you know, there's, there's so much, there was so much of that, that got into it. And what I believe is that started us as a, as a system on focusing on deficits, because what ended up happening later was, you know, principals would get a stack of test scores from the end of the year state tests. And the first thing they look at is who didn't pass, who didn't, you know, who didn't master who didn't move up a level, and you start focused, that becomes where your mind is at, not, eventually, you look at, oh, these kids grew. And you know, this kid who hadn't passed, you know, now suddenly was passing, but we started putting so much stock into that, that our whole system became focused on, on fixing deficits, rather than right, intensifying strengths, you know, we stuck?
Well, because we, as the teachers, and administrators are more afraid of the sticks than we are rewarded by the carrot. Like, nothing's really gonna happen to you, if you're if your test scores are stellar. But something's gonna happen if they're terrible.
That's exactly right. And, and all of Yeah, and when I say all of the I mean, I really don't even say that, with hyperbole, it's all of the additional funding all of the additional support, you know, all of that goes to kids who are quote, unquote, not, you know, they're in need of tutoring, and they're in need of, it's very easy to cut gifted and talented programs, arts programs, you know, like library programs, when, if the budget requires you to put money towards remediation, but I feel like that's kind of flipped the wrong way. It's, it's flipped the wrong way, rather than rather than living in the, you know, in the remediation space, we should be living in the, in the positive space.
How can principals do that? When they're kind of confined in the system that doesn't do that? What can our administrators do to at least on their campus and with their language, and their teachers kind of tried to shift that mindset towards being, you know, focused on the strengths, rather than just the deficit?
So one of the ways you know, I think I feel like where that starts is in school culture, if, when that becomes the school culture, so one of the things that, you know, it occurred to me actually, it occurred to me late because now I'm not there anymore, at you know, in a school, but So it occurred to me really late, it was that actually at the conference where you and I eventually got connected through through Tommy, and so, I was thinking about that I was at that conference, and I was presenting a session on nurturing a culture that promotes teacher retention, right? How do you how do you make your school a place that people want to be? And what I was one of the things I was talking about is that at our school, we had adopted this, just three easy word saying, you know, you belong here, right? So I said, if we, and I'm saying it that way. And now I'm going to tell you how that's evolved in my head. So what we were trying to provide at our school, we were saying, this is a this is a good public school, that we you know, we're we're good things happen. And sometimes bad things happen. Don't get me wrong. But But mostly, this is a, you know, a good school. So how do we promote the culture here so that people know that this is a good school and a good place for kids to come and people to work and for parents to feel comfortable leaving their kids. And so we have come up right pre pandemic, like literally, right pre pandemic, we'd come up with this idea, this this kind of a broad, you belong here. And the idea was we were going to create a culture where there was something for everyone at some point, not all the time. We can't be everything to everybody all the time. But But what we wanted to create was opportunities and this is students, staff families to connect at some point with the school so that when something was going on that was maybe not As connective, it was not, oh, this school doesn't connect with me, it's like they don't this particular activity event, whatever may not connect, but I know that something is coming up, you know that that I will connect with so that so. So the purposeful thinking about what makes people want to come to a place and that is when something who they are or what they do, what they're good at is honored, right. And so we started talking about providing opportunities in during the school day for kids to have something to look forward to. So if you're, you know, academic, there's something for you, if you're artistic, if you're musical, if you're athletic, if you're, you know, a thinker, if you're a reader, if you're whatever, and so that and, and so that at some point in the school, there would be some thing and, and therefore, because it's an elementary school, someone to connect to that, you know, that meets your needs. And so the idea was you belong here, there's something for you here, there's something for you. It's at the school I was at, you know, Salinas Elementary, you belong here at Salinas. And, and so what we had initially planned, which then got literally was supposed to start right after spring break of 2020. which never happened, which never happened was we were going to start a pilot program with first graders where we were going to have like an in the day club period, and teachers were going to use their, you know, we had a teacher who was into yoga, who was going to teach yoga, and we were going to do you know, athletic things, and, you know, things for kids who were into technology, and we had we had we had bought all this stuff. And then of course, that didn't, that didn't happen. And but but the idea kept on and so what, what we did, specifically this past year, because we're now you know, we were now second year, passed the COVID shutdown, but kids were still not like, we realized we had a bunch of kids that had never been on a field trip, because, you know, no field trips, and 20 no field trips in 21. And so all of a sudden, we had kids that were that had never been anywhere. And and and what we you know, when people that's fourth grade, right? Right? So what when people talked about learning loss, which is really kind of a miss construed and probably miss worded phrase, they didn't really lose learning, they didn't have it to begin with, you know, they didn't have the opportunities to begin with, they didn't lose something they had they they lost, maybe the opportunity to do things is we that was the idea was we need to provide so like, you know, if you're a reading person to provide schema so that kids could then connect things, experiences with, you know, things they read, and, and all that. And we know that that's something that's specifically helpful, right. And so, what we did this year, specifically, and I had a PTO that was very, that became very involved. And what I told them was, I want to I want to provide an activity every month, that is for kids, and or families that create an experience that they have maybe not had before. So for example, we did a in September of 22, we did a Back to School Bash, and we had vendors and we had one of those foam. The thing that spit out foam, you know that the foam gets three feet high. Yeah. And, and we had some guy come dressed as you know, one of the, like, a robot from you know, we we specifically provided we provided music, we provided stuff for families to engage with each other and kids to have an experience. Then in October, for indigenous peoples days, we had a you know, the Kickapoo Tribe down here in southwest Texas is is a thing and, and a guy came in, he brought artifacts and you know, and a teepee that was, you know, traditional, and he talked to the kids about traditional things. In November, we, you know, we had this great plan that got rained out and we had to change it but we were going to do we have a playground behind our school that's up on a hill. And we were going to do s'mores on the Hill kids. You know, we were gonna give kids the opportunity to make s'mores and sit outside by fires and read stories and whatever, we ended up having to move it to an indoor thing. The weather didn't cooperate, but we but we made s'mores for all the kids as a as a thing, and then gave them the opportunity to you know, like, experience that all together. And there were things throughout the year that were provided to to deliberately provide scheme I called it First Friday. We did it we tried to schedule it the first Friday of every month. And then what it occurred to me when I was doing that presentation was that the words in you belong here were The most meaningful and so this is now going back to, to what you originally asked, which is, you know, when when we look at you belong here, if you if you the idea that is you belong here, put the emphasis on you, right. So we're talking about our kids, our teachers, our staff, our families, you belong here, and then you belong here, like belong is the is, if you if you put the emphasis there belonging is, you know, something that we want to we want you to connect with, with our school, because the school that I was at was not, you know, some schools have the benefit of being the school for a town, the school for a neighborhood, whatever, we were not in a neighborhood, specifically, we drew kids from a bunch of different neighborhoods, not from any particular geographic, so there was not a connection that we had to create, you know, Salinas as a, as a place where you belong, and then you belong here. So you put the emphasis on here that like, this is the place where, where you belong, like when you see the building, when you walk into the building, you know, here is a place so we were talking about you who the people were, belong being the you know, the, the operative word, and then here that the place being the place. And so when you think of it that way, there is a lot of power to that, and a lot of power to those three words. If you can create a place where you belong here, you belong here, and you belong here. Does that make sense?
Yeah, totally. I love it. How was that received by the community? I'd love to hear just stories of how those events went with your students and your staff. You know, was it still, you know, I mean, I'm been the president of our PTA at our school for a few years. And so you know, every time you put on a new thing, it's like, all the stress, and then it's always great. So what was that, like leading that initiative, finally getting to see it, you know, exist after having planned it for so long
it was, it was so incredibly well received. Certainly by the community, the community loved it. Now we were, you know, our district, what is a in one way and open enrollment, our district and our school, right, so people can choose if you live in, in our school district, there are 20 elementaries. And you can't you're allowed to choose, you know, with space available to go to whichever school you want to, and, and our district is also open to students who are outside the district. And so if you want to, if you live in a neighboring district, or anywhere, and you want your child to go there, you know, we accept those transfers in and our school had had. Between, I think it was just right under 200 kids that were not in our zone, I think it was, I think it was like in the 180s or something like that of people who chose to come to that school. And so much of it was because of that focus, people would say that, you know, like, I'll choose to go to that school, because that school, you know, not only meets our needs, academically, but certainly socially and provides an experience for our kids that we want. So the, you know, it's the work is incredible. And it was and I put that all on my, on my volunteers, the PTO, and it was not a whole ton of people that did it, you know, as as you know, as a PTO. Mom yourself. You know, you have these grand plans, and then people but what it took was, I will say this, I had a PTO president who also worked at that school, and his kids went there. And she, she was great at getting community partners to volunteer to donate to, you know, participate in events, like we had food trucks that events because she called people to bring your food truck or we had vendors that events because she you know, or like, we're having this activity and I need cookies donated so the kids could decorate it. We did a holiday thing in December and we need and, and people would do it so because because really the big part, as you know is asking like if you, right don't just come to you, they don't just they don't just show up. But if you ask people will will typically do something. And if you were to see the poster that we had up of our sponsors for the year for different things, there were dozens of people who did a little bit because you just you don't need one person to do it all you need a bunch of people to do a little bit and, and that's what that's kind of how that was and that also brought in the greater community of people who then also got a positive image of our school because they had volunteered because they had donated stuff and they were like, Oh, this is a this is a good school because they do Things to, you know, create an experience for kids. Yeah,
man, that's awesome. And that gives me you know, this time in the year as always that like, okay, like, I don't want to do any more I'm like, it's just I'm finished the year out well and thinking about the next year, and so it's just good to remember, like, why we do this, and what a difference that actually can make. And that's like, that's what we want to do is like, make that difference. One of
my big focuses is on teacher retention, I'm writing a book on that, that's going to be published at some point. And, and one of the things that I can say about our school because in these times, you know, teachers don't stay in places, so certainly in places that they don't want to be. And it's not all money, you know, we can't control money, and we can't control, you know, state mandates, and all that kind of stuff. But we can control the culture in our building, and our in our community. And so I had, when I left a couple of weeks ago, out of a staff of 90, I had three people who left one, two of them moved out of town, one out of state, one, two Rockport, and then one only one who switched districts fairly locally, though, it was still a little bit closer to their home. So so people did, you know, buy into the fact that they were working in a culture where it was, you know, where they were there, also their needs were honored. And so there there are a lot went into, into that as well creating, you know, a place where teachers could teach, and kids could learn and families could, you know, be connected. That's not something that happens overnight. And, you know, going back to something we talked about earlier, when you talk about lessons learned is, there is I've been a longevity guy, so I was at that school for eight years, I was at the school previous to that for 13 years, right. So the last two schools I've been at, you know, 21 of my 25 years in the district have been just at two schools. And those cultures develop over time, they're not you people want to go in and change culture quickly to make quick gains. And there are some things you can do quickly to make quick changes, you know, like to make quick improvements. But, but culture building takes time. And you have to be willing to kind of be all in where you're at, at the time, you know, and not be like ready to go to the next thing already, and be able to commit time to developing to developing a culture because it doesn't, it doesn't get to that point, you know, in your first year,
that's good to remember. We're kind of coming up on time, I can't believe it. It's been almost an hour. But before we go, I would love to ask just, you know, what would you say to a new principal? Who is maybe been in the role for a year or two? Or would you say to Marty, when you were in that space? Like what? What kind of words would you like to leave us with today,
you know, one of the best pieces of advice that I have been given and I give them they're actually two, two quotes that I've given to, and I will tell you that that one of the things I'm proud of Beth is that every assistant principal that I had, that wanted to be a principal became one, like, I had 100% success in people who wanted to become principals becoming and so and so I'm gonna, I'm gonna say that, you know, a lot of that is is, is circumstance, but But what I feel like I gave to them, which is what I would want to somebody have said to me, and is, is two different things. One of them is, uh, you know, going back to the experience that I told you that I learned from is Make haste slowly. Right? That's I've printed that out for people to keep in their desk or on their thing, you know, make haste you have to, you have to do it, but you have to do it slowly. Change doesn't come in, in, you know, big dramatic sweeps. It comes in really small, small bits, I talk about the the example act to give us sometimes a tsunami is a big wave that comes dramatic like on TV and in movies, you'll see this big, you know, wave that's as big as a building come in, but really, right, but really what it was, you know, the other way that that probably more likely comes in is that the tide gets higher, but it doesn't recede and then it gets higher and it doesn't recede and it gets higher and it doesn't recede and that's really the tsunami that educators, leaders need to need to you know, try to work for not the big crashing wave that destroys but the you know But but improving a little, and then not falling back and then improving a little bit more and not falling back and improving a little bit more. And that also is more humanly possible than creating, you know, bunches of big waves. Just a big wave, right. So, so that that's more sustainable. And the other one is, you know, it's just the basic people want to be seen valued and heard. Staff wants to be seen, valued and heard kids want to be seen, valued and heard. Families want to be seen, valued and heard. And, and so, what you what you have to do there is to give not, you have to be able to not be the be your community, not be your staff, you be you have to be you, you have to be you in the position that you're in. But you have to be able to, you know, accept and honor and, and, for lack of better word work with people who you know, think differently, look differently, act differently than you and kind of take again, not looking at deficit, because when you look at what is, you know, if you work in inner city, like I have a lot of my career, the people who come in our families who come in may not look like me, they may not act like me, they may not dress like me, they may you know, whatever, they're not my age, but when we if, but if we start to look at all the things that are different between us, that's easy to find, too. But if we look at the things that are the same about us, where you know, humans were, we care about the kids, you know, the kid were connected to the school where, you know, there's so many things that where we can start on a, on a place where we have things in common. And when you find those first, you know, you're in a much better position. So the advice I would give is to find the commonalities before you find the difference.
That's good. Marty, it's been so great chatting with you. Is there anywhere on social media or online where folks can connect with you if they'd liked?
Absolutely, I would love to you know, now that I'm retired, I you know, I tell people at that, at that conference, like, you know, connect with me because I don't have anything else to do now. So I'd love to be connected, you know, hope to still stay in the, in the education realm at some point in some capacity, for sure. But I'm on Twitter at Mr. Silverman 116 is my Twitter handle and I would love to you know, I tend to Twitter Doom scroll. And so I would love to see some positivity on my Twitter feed. So definitely connect with me and and bring some positivity to that you know, I'm on Facebook as myself and that's has been school stuff and family stuff can see my cute grandkids I'm on Instagram, the five Silverman's but that's more I've kind of devoted that to my hobby of cooking. And so I you know, there's just pictures of food on there. Mostly, it's not educational content. I'm on LinkedIn, as well, you know, under under my name, and so definitely connect and love to have dialogues about education. And I look forward to being connected to people. Yes.
Awesome. Thank you so much. It was so great chatting with you. Same
here. But thank you so much for for the connection and reaching out. And I've been looking forward to this. It's been just an absolute pleasure.
Oh, thank you so much. Hopefully, we'll get to do it again soon. Yes. Maybe when your book comes out? Yes. That'd be great. Thanks. What a great conversation. Marty. Again, thank you so much for joining me that day. It was so fun to talk with you and hear all your stories. In fact, after the episode, I think Marty and I kept talking about principals and PTA in schools and resourcing our administrators for another 20 or 30 minutes after that. He just has so much experience and I love the way that he's vulnerable and willing to share what he learned from failure and struggle along with what he's learned from his success. And he's such a fun guy to work with. So Marty again, thank you so much. As always, this podcast is produced and edited by Erwin saalbach. Our logo design was from Alana canola at steel Consulting and this whole production is brought to you by responsive learning. As always, you can find all of the resources mentioned linked in our show notes. I hope you guys have a wonderful rest of your day. Thanks for listening
Transcribed by https://otter.ai