Dr. Todd Whitaker

The Change Agent

Dr. Todd Whitaker

Professor of Educational Leadership at the University of Missouri and Professor Emeritus at Indiana State University

The Objective

What Great Teachers and Principals Do That Makes Them Stand Out

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Show Notes

What do great teachers and principals do differently? Dr. Todd Whitaker, Professor of Educational Leadership at the University of Missouri and Professor Emeritus at Indiana State University, discusses the core elements observed in effective teachers and principals and how their example can be used to help improve the skills of all educators.

Host Bio: Dr. Chris Balow is the Chief Academic Officer at SchoolMint.  Dr. Balow has a Ph.D in Educational Psychology and served for 33 years as an educator in various roles with focuses on literacy, mental health, and the behavioral and emotional growth of students. He has worked the last 6 years in the educational technology field to promote student success on a larger scale.

Season 2: Episode 2

Title: How To Be Effective In Education

Subtitle: What Great Teachers and Principals Do That Makes Them Stand Out

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Voice Over (00:27):

Welcome to the ChangeAgents in K-12 podcast. Join our host, Dr. Chris Balow, chief academic officer at SchoolMint, as we dive into thought-provoking, in-depth conversations with top educational leaders. Our goal? The advancement of education and improved outcomes for all students. Listen in, be inspired, and ask yourself, are you ready to be a change agent?

Dr. Chris Balow (00:53):

Welcome to today's installment of ChangeAgents in K-12, the podcast that really highlights the important things happening in our educational landscape. And today I have an amazing pleasure and honor to welcome Dr. Todd Whitaker, who is recognized as a leading researcher, author, and presenter in the field of education. Dr. Whitaker is a professor of educational leadership at the university of Missouri and professor Emeritus at Indiana state university. He has spent his life pursuing his love of education by researching and studying the effective teachers and principals. Dr. Whitaker has served as a principal at the middle school, junior high and high school level. He was also a middle school coordinator in charge of staffing, curriculum and technology for the opening of new middle schools. He is one of the nation's leading authorities on staff, motivation, teacher leadership and principal effectiveness. And Dr. Whitaker has written over 50 books, including the national bestseller. What great teachers do differently. Many other titles, including dealing with difficult teachers, 10 minute in service your first year, what great principals do differently and on and on. So I encourage you to go on Todd whitaker.com and review all of the great resources he has for us in education. Dr. Todd Whitaker, welcome to ChangeAgents in K-12.

Dr. Todd Whitaker (02:21):

Well, thank you very much. I appreciate it. But you need to let your audience know that the introduction is going to be a lot better than the stuff I have to say. So that was kind of the peak and it's going to be downhill since then.

Dr. Chris Balow (02:31):

Okay. Well, we'll add humble to your list of, of great attributes.

Dr. Todd Whitaker (02:37):

I don't know about that either, but, uh, but I'm honored to be here. Um, it's a, it's a real pleasure.

Dr. Chris Balow (02:41):

Awesome. Thank you very much. Um, well, let's talk about your, your national bestseller, what great teachers do differently. I know there's a lot of, a lot of aspects to that, and we know that the teachers are the main factor that, that results in student performance, but what are some of the things you can share with our audience?

Dr. Todd Whitaker (03:02):

Um, that great teachers do differently,?

Dr. Chris Balow (03:03):


Dr. Todd Whitaker (03:03):

I mean, there's quite a few things, obviously. Uh, but one of them is that, uh, it's 10 days out of 10 it's every single day, we treat every single student with respect and dignity, 10 days out of 10. And in every school, there's a few teachers and most of the time, only a few that will treat every student with respect and dignity every single day. And it doesn't matter what day of the year it is, what time of day it is, how they're feeling, what their class size is. They're able to do that. And then there's an a in every school, there's at least a few people that don't even literally don't even know what's possible much less try to do it. And so that's the kind of thing that is there and helping understand the importance of doing it and, and how we feel when we don't get treated that way. And then realizing we've got to make sure that we're not the ones carrying that negative message forward.

Dr. Chris Balow (03:49):

Yeah, I that's so powerful. Uh, Todd, and when I think about that, um, you know, as a former psychologist working with some of the most troubled kids relationship was always my job one. Um, I had to establish that relationship. So treating kids well, um, there's a reciprocal nature. Would you say to that?

Dr. Todd Whitaker (04:11):

I mean sure. Right. I think that that's the way that always is, you know, have you ever questioned, it's kind of a funny thing, go into a place like a shopping mall or someplace maybe pre pandemic that's crowded and hold the door open for someone and then see what they do. And that's just role modeling. I think it has to be much more than role modeling because that's not enough, but just see what they do. You watch 25 people in a row go in, nobody holds the door open, you hold it open. You ever gone to a Starbucks line? I don't drink Starbucks because it's best I never have caffeine, but I get, my wife a Starbucks every day. And it's amazing. How many times have you been in a line where the person in front of you is bought for you or the person behind you is bought for you and how it's amazing. You just do it yourself and they'll have 40 or 50 people in a row who do it, the person who is the first one to initiate it is the breakthrough person. But oftentimes what happens is then we fall right in line because it's a nice thing. We like it when it happens to us. So we do it to other people.

Dr. Chris Balow (05:04):

So in a school, it sounds like it would be, if you can establish a critical mass where it's 10 out of 10, and most of the people are doing that, perhaps everyone would join in. Um,

Dr. Todd Whitaker (05:16):

I think the critical mass that we can all establish as one, if we start doing it, then we have a chance of making it to, to, you know, if you go to go from zero to 10, the hardest person, the hardest thing to do is go zero to one because you've made it safe for other people to join it. And the, the challenge is one, you know, at the Starbucks line, it isn't the fifth person who's the breakthrough person. It's the first person. It isn't the fifth person who holds the door. It's the first person. And that's part of what the idea of what a superstar teacher is. It's someone who's willing to do the right thing regardless of what everyone else does.

Dr. Chris Balow (05:51):

Yeah, absolutely. And you know that what are ways that, that one of one that, you know, a lot I've seen in schools where teachers kind of closed their doors, they aren't interacting with others. And, and so how can we promulgated that? Um, so others can observe and model that.

Dr. Todd Whitaker (06:11):

Well, I think that starts with a leader. You know, I always say when the principal sneezes, the whole school catches a cold, but every change in a school starts with two groups of teachers superstars and new teachers. So the real key is to get one working correctly, then adding someone else to that becomes easy. Then adding someone else to that becomes even easier and adding someone else to that becomes even easier. The other thing is a superstar can never be perceived as the principal's pet, but they'd better be the principal's pet. Cause if they're perceived as the principals pet they actually lose the ability to influence others. But if you think about this, if I would like teachers observing each other's classrooms, I start with a new teacher and my best teachers. And, uh, my, my new teachers, the thing that's really critical, new teachers, induction starts in the interview. It doesn't start once they've been hired, it's too late. And so during the interview, I say, um, Chris, what would you think about going and observing an outstanding teacher? I cover your class. And then they come in your class and steal ideas from YouTube. Chris, what would you think about that in your mind? I don't even know what you think about it, but in your mind, you're going, I'd like this job. So guess what you say, you say, sure. I'd love to do it. You start now and you think that's normal. See, I make new seem normal. You're brand new. Cause I didn't say Chris, would you like to be the Guinea pig that other people might not like they might punch you in the kidney or key your car in the parking lot. Instead I make new seem normal. So you start and you go, when did we start that new teacher exchange? And I go to my best teacher and I asked my best teacher to do it. It's new to them. But you see, it's not near a scary when it's a new teacher than if it was another veteran teacher. Sure. And then I have a mutual exchange. So I don't out that best teacher. I don't make it go drink from the fountain of their knowledge. Instead, it's an exchange. What is the chance of the new teachers going to learn something from, from the best teacher it's really, really high. What is the chance of the best teacher at the very least is going to pretend they learned something from the new teacher, very, very high. Now I have a working example in my school. Do you see how now what happens is we try to add the most resistant person and I always try to add the least resistant person. So then I can go, who's the next person that I could get to be part of this group. And then who's the next? And it's funny because we oftentimes we give away so much power to negative people. It's incredible. And we don't do something cause we go, Mrs. Crabtree, won't do it. Well, who cares if Mrs. Crabtree does it. If the, if two teachers do it, are you better off or worse off? And we're in the improvement business, not the perfection business, but many times we get caught up and we're in the perfection business, not the improvement business.

Dr. Chris Balow (08:46):

I love that phrase. I love that phrase. It's about improvement. And you know, there are studies that there's always going to be a small percent of people. You're never going to change their mind.

Dr. Todd Whitaker (08:57):

But, and I, and I think what's interesting is I think you don't change their mind, but do you know how lonely they feel when you have 45 teachers and 44 of them are doing it and they become insignificant in terms of the resistance anyhow. But if you start with them, they're going to work really hard to blow it up. You could have a teacher that if you forced to do it at the very beginning, they're going to go into the new teacher's classroom and do something to make the new teacher cry. And then, then it's gone, the possibility is gone. It's because you can't mandate effectiveness. Right? And I think when we try it automatically gets resistance. It's funny. I was just talking to a group this morning about changing the culture. And I said, if you'd like to change the culture of the organization, the two words you never say are change and culture. Because when you mentioned them immediately, that gets stronger and more resistant.

Dr. Chris Balow (09:43):

Yeah. People don't like to change generally speaking.

Dr. Todd Whitaker (09:47):

No, no, because that, oftentimes that means you're wrong.

Dr. Chris Balow (09:48):

Yes. And they're going to have to learn some new skills and do some things differently, which can cause a little anxiety.

Dr. Todd Whitaker (09:59):

Sure. Right, right. You know it's funny. If you would like a school to change, it's really funny. And this is really true in middle schools and high schools. If you'd really like to get the whole cluster of people on board, you have to find a disclosing male that's held in regard by the other males or you'll never get the males.

Dr. Chris Balow (10:15):

That's an interesting observation.

Dr. Todd Whitaker (10:17):

Yeah. And they don't, they don't have to be, you can't have a disclosing male. Who's linked with females. That's good, but that doesn't bring the other males and they have to be respected by. And it only has to be one of them. And by disclosing, it could be disclosing a weakness, disclosing the strength, disclose, disclosing the question, disclosing an idea. And once you get one, the ability of the others to cave is almost instantaneous fascinating. And if you don't, then that cluster always stays. And you even have females who attach to that resistant male cluster. So that's one way to think about bringing a whole group along. You really just need to bring one along and understand the dynamic of the group. And it doesn't have to be the leader. Just someone who's held in regard by the rest of the group.

Dr. Chris Balow (10:58):

Fascinating. And so with all of your publications in writing, I would consider this sort of the process of buy-in if you will. Um, I don't like that term, but you know, how do you move a school organization in that continual improvement direction? Do you have a resource or a book you could point people to?

Dr. Todd Whitaker (11:19):

Um, I mean, I'm hoping, I hope, and I have lots of books. I that, for what you want to change, you know, dealing with difficult parents is how you deal with difficult parents. And what it really is, is, is about, is how do you get the confidence to contact parents, but you know how you get the confidence? Cause I teach you exactly what to say, how to say it. And I compare it completely sincerely in high school and college seldom, if ever, would I pick up the phone and call a girl or a woman up and ask them out for a date? Because I didn't know what to say. They always knew what to say. No, but I never knew what to say. But if somebody had been telling me what to say, do you know what's weird, Chris I'd have been saying it all the time. And so what I do is, and I learned this as a principal, I was principal of three schools. My school, my teachers didn't know what to say to parents. And I don't want him to call parents if they don't know what to say, because they'll lose confidence. Sure. And once I teach you what to say and you try it and it works, it's amazing how that changes the whole dynamic. And I'm writing a book called how to get all teachers to be like the best teachers, because that's the only solution I can find the education because in every school, in the U S and the world, at least one teachers crack the DaVinci code. So we don't need to innovate. We need to replicate because somebody cracked the DaVinci code and that school. And they've done it with those kids, with that principal, with that superintendent, with that school board, with that budget, and they've done it. And that's the reason, average people don't like great people because they take away all their excuses. And so what happens is that those people have done it, but I've learned one of the real keys to all this is you have to teach people how to do it instead of telling them to do it. And we do a lot of times, you know, as a, have you ever been told to raise your test scores? Well, how ridiculous is that? Cause everybody always already has their test scores up as high as they know how to get them. You know, nobody holds back on that because it makes you look good if your test scores are good. And the reason they don't teach you to raise your test scores is cause they don't know how. If they know how to do it they'd be teaching you cause it'd make them look good.

Dr. Chris Balow (13:10):

Right? What's that magic, right? What's that? What's the magic bullet. Well, there, there isn't one out there necessarily. There's a lot of different things that, that the teachers do to have success with students. And, and so you, you mentioned the superstar with relationships of being nice to the kids. What are some other, maybe two or three great instructional approaches or, or structures that, that, that superstar teachers do in the classroom?

Dr. Todd Whitaker (13:41):

Um, what's interesting is I think the styles and personalities can be completely different, but there are certain things that they do. One of the things and this it's interesting, cause I just did a third edition of what great teachers do differently. And one of the things we talk about and because I also did a book with my daughters on classroom management. Because if you think about it, what percent of teachers would like their jobs better if they were better at managing their classroom hundred percent.

Dr. Chris Balow (14:04):

A hundred percent. Yes.

Dr. Todd Whitaker (14:07):

But what's really, I think significant is what percentage of teachers would really like their job better. It isn't a hundred percent, but it's a lot. There's a whole bunch of teachers that would like their jobs better. So they're not resistant if you teach them, they're just resistant. If you tell them, if I said manage your class better, you're going to push me away. Cause you're already doing the best. You know how, but if I could teach you some things that would manage your class better, you wouldn't resist it at all. And you start following me around like the pied Piper. And for example, one of the things is, uh, that we've learned in terms of classroom management. There's three components, relationships, expectations, and consistency and relationships. Obviously relationships with students, expectations means appropriate and engaging lessons. And consistency means we do the right thing all the time. People feel like their strength is relationships. And what's weird about social media. You hear now relationships, relationships, relationships, everything is relationships and that's incorrect. You know, it isn't a dinner party. I always say at a dinner party, relationships can be it. Cause you're only there for an hour and a half. If you do not have engaging lessons on a consistent basis, you do. You'll never have relationships with the students. They won't last. And all of us has had a teacher that every day had engaging lessons. We had a relationship with that teacher it's called a learning relationship and you do not become an effective teacher. If all you do is ask the kids about their new puppy. And I like people that ask the kids about the new puppy, but that that's not good enough. And we've somehow gotten confused. And what happens is we an emphasize relationships because one out of 50 teachers does a poor job of relationships, but you know what, it's way more than one out of 50, that does a poor job of instructional practices.

Dr. Chris Balow (15:47):

And, and as you noted, expectations are so important. And that's part of in my view, establishing a positive relationship is having very clear expectations academically, behaviorally. And I think kids feel comforted by that.

Dr. Todd Whitaker (16:03):

Yes, it's funny. My two girls are, our personalities are completely different and they are classroom management machines and they're the two most popular teachers in the school and their own school. There are two separate schools. What's interesting is they did a Twitter chat on what do you do the first day of school from just around the world? And they were like the hostesses and people were going. I do getting to know you activities. I do scavenger hunts. They asked my daughters and my daughter who teaches high school, math goes, I teach math. She goes, I got all year to build relationships. I have to set an environment in which we're a math learning environment and everybody has the confidence to do it. And she goes, that is the foundation of my relationships. Anyhow, my daughter Madeline, who taught third grade, they asked her, when does she do getting to know you activities? And she said, the last 20 minutes of the second Friday of the year. She goes, I've got 10 days to build a, that w uh, an expectation that we are a learning environment, that we are a cadre of learners here in this classroom. I got all year to build relationships.

Dr. Chris Balow (17:04):

Yeah, it's a long process. Absolutely.

Dr. Todd Whitaker (17:07):

And instead, what happens is, it's really funny if you ask, and I'm a former middle school guy, if you ask a middle school kids at the end of the first week of school, who's their favorite teacher and you ask them at the end of the first semester, who's their favorite teacher. There's almost no overlap. The teacher that focused only on relationships was their first, most popular teacher the first week or not, by the end of the semester, they've got to have more than that. Like I said, it's not a dinner party.

Dr. Chris Balow (17:35):

Yes. Necessary, but not sufficient. Um, you also mentioned consistency and, uh, you know, my view is that if you're consistent with how you treat kids, how you evaluate and grade, when you're fair, um, all of that serves to create a great classroom.

Dr. Todd Whitaker (17:55):

You know, somebody just asked me, I was just working with a group yesterday and somebody asked me about something. And I said, what's the secret to being an effective principal. I said, treat your teachers like the best teachers treat the students. And that's really, it treat your teachers like the best teachers treat the students. And if you do that, you're going to be successful. And that's a come to be in a highly effective principal. You have to be a highly effective teacher because it's the exact same skill set. We see principals without the skill sets, but they're not good, but the highly effective principals have the same skill set as the highly effective teachers. You're just teaching the teachers instead of teaching the students. That's what you're doing.

Dr. Chris Balow (18:30):

Sure, sure. You know, you've mentioned, um, about how do we transfer those skills of great teachers to others. And I've always questioned some of the professional development approaches that, that, that schools and districts have used. And, um, as a psychologist and human learning theory, some of the things we've done just that they don't generalize or transfer. How would you describe effective professional development?

Dr. Todd Whitaker (19:00):

You know, it's really funny because I think of every faculty meeting a principal ever has as effective professional development, if they're effective and the minimum goal of ever and in my research for great what great principals do differently, we've discovered that great principals without exception, there's not one exception we've ever found. Chris, great principals have faculty meetings teachers look forward to and value. But you know what else we've never found an exception at? No average principals have meetings that teachers look forward to and value.

Dr. Chris Balow (19:30):

Yes, I've been part of those.

Dr. Todd Whitaker (19:32):

What an example, but the minimum goal of every faculty meeting minimum goal is that teachers need to leave being more excited about teaching tomorrow than they were today. But the difference is to me, that's not an inspirational YouTube clip and there's nothing wrong with inspirational. That's not a negative, it's not cupcakes. And I love frosting it's that I teach the teacher something, or someone teaches the teacher something, or I bring something in the teaches the teacher, something that they can immediately implement in the classroom the next day, that makes them more excited about teaching than they were the day before, the same way with central office friends. When you have a meeting with principals, you have to make sure the principals are more excited about principals and tomorrow than they were today. And you do it by giving them an idea that is something new they can put into practice. Because most of the time, my principal friends go to meetings at central office and they want to take a letter opener and stick it in their thigh to make sure they're still alive.

Dr. Chris Balow (20:29):

Yeah, that's true. And I've been involved in those.

Dr. Todd Whitaker (20:32):

So that's it much more so than whether professional development is this or this, or is it always this or this? Are they doing it incorrectly? I don't know if they're doing it. They're just not doing a good enough.

Dr. Chris Balow (20:45):

Yeah. And we spend a lot of time money doing that. I what's your view. You know, I wonder about principals and I've been in so many meetings with them at central office, and it's usually about sharing information, you know, procedural information and paperwork, and they're doing it wrong. And, you know, you wrote a book about, um, what great principals do differently. And I've been thinking about how do we, um, get principals on a path of continuous improvement because principals are, as you stated super important in the outcomes,

Dr. Todd Whitaker (21:24):

People don't quit their jobs, they quit their bosses. Right? And so I think it's understanding that in most, just in most places, we're on our own. In most places, we're on our own to figure it out, unless someone is truly outstanding at central office. And I mean, truly outstanding. The principals are on their own to figure it out. And the principals that can figure it out on their own, I've already figured it out on their own. And in most districts, unless principals are outstanding, there's a lot of teachers that have to figure it out on their own. And sadly, in some classrooms, there's a lot of students that have to figure it out on their own. And what happens is we see so much average. We think average is right. And think about this. If you were a teacher and your faculty meetings were boring and you became a principal, you wouldn't even think it's weird that the faculty meetings you were leaving were boring. But one of the things like I have a Friday focus and motivating inspiring, I'm not a book salesman. I only mentioned books because so people can know where to get the authors. The publishers make much more money than I do. Trust me. I don't care if you order one, Xerox it and send it back and get your money back. I couldn't care less. I was just literally got out of a meeting where they had door prizes. And first prize was one of my books. And second prize was two of my books, which hurt. But I hang out, um, in my Friday focus, I read about the fact that you should never waste one second of a meeting time with something you could put in writing. Right? But there are things that I have to do personally, because I need to explain in more depth, but it's never logistics. And what happens is our meetings. We spend so much time in logistics because when we go to meetings, they spend so much time in logistics and it's just all wrong because you see average people. So when you see average people, you do what the average people do. And you start to think average is right. And that's, that's what happens in everything in the world all the time.

Dr. Chris Balow (23:17):

Yeah. And you know, I logistics. So, so many administrative meetings are about logistics. And, you know, my view is that it should be about what are we going to learn new? Not only, you know, we talked about it for teachers, but also for those principals, what what skill can they build today?

Dr. Todd Whitaker (23:36):

You know it's funny because I get contacted 20, 30 times a week to go and present and do things. And, um, you know, and I do what people want for the most part. But when they things, I always say, whatever money you're put into working with your teachers take at least half of it and put it into working with your principals, because you know what, if you can teach a principal how to be effective, they can teach the teachers how to be effective. And if you don't teach the principals how to be effective, it doesn't even matter if the teachers are effective because they're going to become disenfranchised. Their morale is going to be down. They're going to be, and, and that's, you know, think about this. If I, as a principal could teach my teachers how to manage their class, better, think how much easier that would make my job. Think how much more satisfying that would make their job. Think how much morale would go up and you know, what else would go up, test scores. And then what else? I, you know, what else I do? And I did this as the principal. I thought every principal did this. I teach my bus drivers how to manage kids. How are they supposed to learn how to do it? You know, teaching 25 kids in front of you is hard, why don't you try to manage 66 kids behind you while you're driving a school bus.

Dr. Chris Balow (24:37):

Or 300 in a lunchroom.

Dr. Todd Whitaker (24:40):

Right. And if I don't teach them how to manage the bus, they hate the kids. But even managing a lunch lunchroom, you know how I teach the people how to manage the lunch room. I'm in the lunch room every day. And what I teach them is this, this, this sounds so silly. And I'm a selfish guy. My theory, my, one of my schools, I manage 750 kids by myself, eighth graders. I was the only person in there for two years.

Dr. Chris Balow (25:01):


Dr. Todd Whitaker (25:03):

And it actually went pretty good, but you know what? One of my theories of lunch duty is, you know, the reason as a principal and assistant principal, I'm in the lunchroom everyday. Cause here's my theory. When lunch is over, I want lunch over. And when I'm in the lunch room and I get throws a French fry, I have to get, pick up the French fry. And that way, when lunch is over, lunch is over. If I'm not in the lunch room, the kid throws a French fry. The lunch lady tells him to pick up his French fry. And he goes, Hey, pick up your own F-ing French fry and lunch ain't never over. And it's really important to me, that lunch is over when lunch is over so that learning can start again. But if I'm not there, do you see how dysfunction could come into play.

Dr. Chris Balow (25:36):

And you're modeling proper technique.

Dr. Todd Whitaker (25:41):

Modeling, but I'm also teaching I'm explaining to them why I stood here, why I said this, why I was by this table? Why I did this? Why? And I have to explain, because role modeling is important, but it's not nearly enough because people don't know in a role model, average people have trouble sorting out. What is it specifically about them that makes them successful. So you have to teach them, you're thinking, I'll give you an example. You talked about getting teachers in each other's classrooms. Did you know if I don't help people who go into the best teacher's classroom to look for certain things, they don't see those things. For example, like we talked about classroom management. If I go into a great teacher's classroom two months into the school year, I never see classroom management. I never see it because it's embedded. If I go into an average teacher's classroom any day of the year, I see, I see classroom management. If I go into a, I don't even have to go into a poor teacher's classroom, I can stand outside the door and hear classroom management. But if I don't understand that and I just randomly send people into great teacher's classrooms, they're thinking, oh, those kids are just different. See, they've got it made. Those kids are just different. But if I can send them in the first three days at the school where the teachers are building that dynamic and teaching their students, now they get to see how those things get infused. Now we can go back two months later and they get to see how those have been so infused and embedded into what they do, that they become part of the classroom culture for those students.

Dr. Chris Balow (27:14):

Interesting. And you know, for me, I worry that a lot of schools are doing mentoring programs and they're, they they've instituted some sort of coaching program, but it's, it's not systematic. They may have teachers go in and watch, but maybe are they videotaping? Are they then breaking it down and really operationally define exactly what you're doing and why you're doing it. I worry about that.

Dr. Todd Whitaker (27:42):

A thing I worry more about is how mentors are typically assigned the number one word that determines how mentors are typically assigned is called convenience. Who's in the same hallway, same grade level, same race, same age, same gender coach or don't coach. And what happens is when I assign a mentor, do you know what I'm telling that new teacher, this is the pinnacle. This is the dream of all dreams that I hope you can reach in your career. And instead, what I do is I only give outstand the only give new teachers, outstanding mentors, and you know why we don't do it because we're, we're worried negative people are going to be mad. So I'd rather ruin your career than possibly tick off someone who's ticked off every day. Anyhow. And I don't want to tick them off. That's not my goal, but I just mean it's just crazy. It's like student teachers, if a, if an average student teacher, average student teachers with the best teacher in a school in one week, they dress like them in two weeks, they talk like 'em in, in three weeks, they teach like them. And you know, what's amazing in one year they still dress like 'em in two years, they still talk like 'em in three years, they're still teaching like them. And if I give them to an average teacher, guess what? One year they dress like 'em in two... We do this all the time. And it's because leaders feel like they need to appease people that are likely to throw fits and, and take turns to treat everyone the same, treating unequals equally as inherently unfair. And you have to understand that as a leader, but you have to work with a leader who does this and then explains why they do it. You know, so food for thought.

Dr. Chris Balow (29:17):

It is definitely. Um, so I've done a lot of research around student engagement and some of the psychological components as a psychologist. And one of the things I've read about is student autonomy is really important for engaging and motivation, um, to help, uh, essentially drive some of their own and tap into their passions. Do you see that as is, uh, in, in your work as well? That that can be really, really powerful.

Dr. Todd Whitaker (29:49):

You have to be able to apply it to yourself and what you need for sure. Um, and that's part of what teaching is. I'm teaching people how they can apply this, you know, I'm letting them make that decision to apply, but I'm teaching that. But, but I think the other thing that we make, you know, it's interesting, you know, who Jackson brown is

Dr. Chris Balow (30:10):

The singer.

Dr. Todd Whitaker (30:11):

He, yeah, the singer, the singer songwriter. He wrote the song, take it easy. And he was friends with the Eagles and he wrote the song and take it easy. And it's interesting. Cause one time I heard an interview show not long ago with Jackson brown and they were asking me to go, when you wrote a corner in Winslow, Arizona, did you mean this? Or we were arguing about what you meant. And he goes, you know what I did? He goes, I just wrote words. I thought were cool because everybody's going to interpret them themselves. And I think that's part of what we have to do too. We have to give faith that people, if you're engaging and you have things that are appropriate, kids are applying it themselves. They don't have to replicate it in the fashion that I need them to replicate it. But the problem is if I'm not engaging, then none of those things are taking place. So then I go back to replication, you know, it's interesting. One of the things that I talk about in some of my books and when I present, I used to all the time and I've kind of just changed out of just boredom because I bore so easily, but, um, is the idea of a poor lectures classroom because people want to get rid of lecture, you know, get rid of lecture, get rid of lecture. And I said, poor, lectures, classroom. I go, which of those three words is the problem? And I'll give you a hint. It's not classroom. Do you know what? 95% of the audience says?

Dr. Chris Balow (31:18):


Dr. Todd Whitaker (31:20):

Lecture. And I say, no, the problem is poor. Problems always been poor. The best teacher in a school uses lecture some of the time and you know what? They are really, really good at it. And they may be the best teacher in the school. They're just really good at it. So if you take away lecture from them, you've removed the best tool from the best teacher in your school. And you wanna know a secret, a poor lecture, whatever their second best teaching technique is, is even worse than that. And do you know how I get rid of, do you know how I get a poor lecturer to stop lecturing? Teach them something better. I don't have to make them do anything, teach them something better because they're more engaged. The kids are more interested in classroom. Management is easier. They'll gobble that up, but instead we tell them not to lecture, but then, then you have a whole, instead I teach them something better than lecture without I don't, I don't ever say it's better than lecture, but I teach them something more appropriate. They're going to have more success with they drop the lecture because this new thing is better.

Dr. Chris Balow (32:20):

Yeah. You, um, there's a lot of talk you hear about, well, everything should be project-based learning project based learning. And it seems like we have this mindset of it has to be all of this or all that. Where where maybe you apply the right tool for the right job. I personally learn by lecture. I do other students, maybe not.

Dr. Todd Whitaker (32:45):

But you know what? You learn by good lecture. You don't learn, by lecture you learn by good lecture. And so do other students. The problem is we equate.... We... Lecture is good. Isn't inherently good or bad. Are you familiar with flexible seating? Huge trend, huge trend.

Dr. Chris Balow (33:02):


Dr. Todd Whitaker (33:04):

Could you name at least one highly effective teacher that would be highly effective using flexible seating?

Dr. Chris Balow (33:09):


Dr. Todd Whitaker (33:10):

Could you name at least one highly effective teacher that will be highly effective not using flexible seating?

Dr. Chris Balow (33:15):


Dr. Todd Whitaker (33:16):

Could you name one ineffective teacher that would be ineffective using flexible seating?

Dr. Chris Balow (33:20):

Oh yes.

Dr. Todd Whitaker (33:21):

Could you name at least one ineffective teacher that would be ineffective not using flexible seating?

Dr. Chris Balow (33:25):

I think so.

Dr. Todd Whitaker (33:27):

What is not the variable?

Dr. Chris Balow (33:29):

Flexible seating.

Dr. Todd Whitaker (33:30):

It's neither the problem nor the solution solution. But if I have a teacher juiced up about flexible seating, I'll do everything in my power to support them because they're going to be more excited about teaching. That's the benefit. It's the Hawthorne effect. They're more excited about teaching. So the students are more excited about learning, but if I force it down a highly effective teachers throat, they're going to be less excited about teaching and less excited about learning. And we have to have the strength to differentiate. And instead, instead, what we do is we, we, we, we, uh, a breakthrough, great teacher does flexible seating and they're phenomenal. And you know why we think they're phenomenal cause they're doing flexible seating. So we mandate flexible seating and the ineffective teacher can't do it and class is destroyed. So we outlaw flexible seating. And that's what, that's why we have cycles.

Dr. Chris Balow (34:23):

So what I'm hearing is that if teachers can establish some of these great foundational skills that they can apply to flexible seating or traditional seating or project-based learning or whatever, that's the key.

Dr. Todd Whitaker (34:39):

You know, it doesn't matter if they're in groups or in rows, it matters if you're effective and I'm not putting them down. Any of those things, none of them, none of them are wrong if rose works for you and you're a highly effective and you're a lecture based person and you're phenomenal at it because you know what makes a great lecture. So great. They're aware of the students are engaged or understanding or not. And ineffective lecturers aren't aware of the students are engaged or understand cause they always look bored. Right? And they're hoping the problem is the students. And they hang around with other people who say the problem is the students. The great teacher notices because all of a sudden a student seems like they're drifting and not engaged. And they're able to notice that and pull them back in or use another example or our call on the student or redirect or use proximity. So they keep that level of engagement and understanding up. You know, great teachers, don't great teachers pretend everything's random and nothing's random. They selectively call on two students because they know if those two students get it, everybody else in the class gets it. And average people don't do it, average people call on the two people that they know got it cause that makes them feel better about teaching.

Dr. Chris Balow (35:46):

Great, great, great advice. Um, one of the things, um, that I've been thinking about is, you know, as we kind of hopefully transition out of the pandemic, what are some of the long term changes that you hope for might occur in education as a part, as an outgrowth of this experience?

Dr. Todd Whitaker (36:08):

Well, one thing the pandemic did is exposed people. Um, if you're phenomenal exposed, you is phenomenal. And if you're ineffective, it's exposed you as ineffective. But, but an example of one of my daughter's teachers, uh, is, has been hybrid almost all year. So she has kids in class and also teaches on zoom or whatever format they use in her school. What she's learned is some of the kids learn better on zoom because they record the, the lessons and they can replay it. And what she's learned is she's going to keep doing this forever. If she's in-person 100% this fall, she's recording all the lessons and going to post them all. So the kids can access them. She also learned if a kid's absent, that takes care of that transition. And in addition, if parents want to observe, if parents can help at parents want to engage and she works with high school, so that's a little less, you know, it's high school math, that's a little less common, but think about elementary and how much you could support teachers. If they record the lessons and then post them for the kids to use at their own pace. What's interesting is even some of the kids in class rewatch the recorded lesson in class to get a certain concept or idea that they need that time. They need to reiterate, they do this. And it's also helped her because she'll look and she'll go, oh, I said that wrong. You know, I didn't think I was saying it wrong, but you know what I mean? I just misspoke or I misstated or I was confused and then she's able to correct that. So that's an example of the type of thing. And that allows for alternative and individual learning without changing anything you do. We're just using technology to support what we already do.

Dr. Chris Balow (37:35):

Right. Right. Reminds me years ago of the flipped classroom, I did a, an empirical study in my school district flip classroom and non flip where the teacher recorded a lesson. The kids watched the lesson at home, came into class and it was not about direct teaching the lesson. It was answering questions, helping taking the next level act. We actually found flipped, increased achievement for a couple of random classrooms. So.

Dr. Todd Whitaker (38:03):

You know what's really weird about it. You know what's weird about flipped classroom? It works great in a great teacher's classroom.

Dr. Chris Balow (38:09):

You still need that great teacher, you keep, keep coming back to that.

Dr. Todd Whitaker (38:12):

I think the other thing though, that also there is a Hawthorne effect and the fact that I'm trying something new, that's I try harder. I put more effort into it. It's fresh to the kids and I'm not putting it down because I've seen principals use flipped faculty meetings for the same thing. Yeah. And so it's not, it's, it's not, there's nothing wrong with it. And if that works for you, if that works with the group, of course you should do it. But that concept of doing something new can be an energizer, which in and of itself can lead to results that we never thought we could lead to.

Dr. Chris Balow (38:45):

Exactly. Right. Teacher, teacher efficacy. If I feel confident I'm going to attack the problem.

Dr. Todd Whitaker (38:51):

And confidence is the most valuable gift we can give.

Dr. Chris Balow (38:54):

Yeah, absolutely. So last question here. Um, all principals, um, what's your view of them serving as an instructional coach? Um, in a, in a, in a school. I, I imagine it, and you as a principal, it can be difficult to be a mentor coach and also an evaluator.

Dr. Todd Whitaker (39:16):

Isn't that what a teacher does?

Dr. Chris Balow (39:18):

Uh, that is a great comeback to that question.

Dr. Todd Whitaker (39:21):

And I didn't meant it in a comeback.

Dr. Chris Balow (39:23):

No, no, that, that, that is so thought-provoking.

Dr. Todd Whitaker (39:27):

And the great teachers do and the other teachers don't the other teachers can't manage those roles, you know? Um, and I really mean it. And that's the same thing the principal has to do. Every time you use power, you lose power. You know, the best advice I ever got as a principal is you don't have to prove who's in charge. Everybody knows who's in charge. And what happens is with the like evaluation and I, and I, this is not for your podcast. I mean, you can use it. I just meant almost everything about evaluation is wrong. Almost every single aspect of evaluation is wrong. If people don't understand high achievers and they'll because of that, they try to mandate things. And in most places evaluation is an event, improvement cannot be an event. Right. And so if I've already, if I'm in your classrooms on a regular basis, like a daily basis, not every classroom on a daily basis, but I'm in classrooms on a daily basis where we've also gotten confused as now people think I've, if I go in classrooms, I have to give feedback every time that's exhausting, it's exhausting for you to receive feedback every time I come in your room. And it's exhausting for me to give you feedback. So I don't want to come in your room and you don't want me to come into your room, but if it doesn't for that, you want me to come in the room because I stroke you. I value you. I comment on anything from your bulletin boards to, how did you get the kids so engaged? That was incredible. So I don't think there is a difference there. I think it's the same role, which just we've seen average people that couldn't handle some or any of the roles correctly. So we think the roles have to be separated and they don't. It's what a teacher does. That's what a good teacher does, I apologize.

Dr. Chris Balow (40:56):

Yeah. And so my takeaway is that a principal, if you're out in classrooms regularly, consistently, those lines kind of blur and people appreciate your presence.

Dr. Todd Whitaker (41:08):

We don't have any secrets anymore. So there's nothing that's going to happen during an evaluation that doesn't happen on a regular basis because of the fact that we don't have any secrets, right? We all know this second hour class is out of control and I'm not even, I'm not blaming. I'm not saying anything versus I come in one time and the kids behave because I'm there. And then what is it? But I want you to understand great teachers want in the rooms because you know, why, what if I only go in their room one time? And for some reason, Jimmy, Tucker's out of control that day and he's never out of control. Well, if I'm only in the room one time, they're ashamed, they're embarrassed. They're humiliated. They feel sick about this. If I'm in the room all the time, you know what I say, what the deal with Jimmy today, he's never liked that. And the teacher goes, I know. And you see the difference there.

Dr. Chris Balow (41:52):

Great, great point, Dr. Whitaker, we've come to the end of our time here today for this interview.

Dr. Todd Whitaker (42:00):

Your audience is very, very happy at this point.

Dr. Chris Balow (42:03):

Yeah. Well, it's, it's been really, uh, illuminating for, for all of us to learn from you today and, and your, your visions and insights. Fantastic. But before you go, you have to play our game of this or that, or I say two things and you tell us which one you prefer and if you so choose, you can elucidate your rationale. Okay. Great. All right. Dog or cat?

Dr. Todd Whitaker (42:29):

I've had more cats, but I like dogs better.

New Speaker (42:32):

Okay. Okay. Uh, Netflix or YouTube?

Dr. Todd Whitaker (42:35):

Netflix. I'm not a big TV guy, but Netflix. Mindhunter is the show I enjoy the most. And now they're going to come out with the third season. I'm so excited.

Dr. Chris Balow (42:43):

Mind hunter, hunter. I will check it out.

Dr. Todd Whitaker (42:48):

Its about serial killers so keep that in mind, but it's good.

Dr. Chris Balow (42:49):

Okay. Window seat or aisle seat?

Dr. Todd Whitaker (42:54):


Dr. Chris Balow (42:54):

A sporty car or a luxury sedan?

Dr. Todd Whitaker (42:57):

I'm not a car guy.

Dr. Chris Balow (42:59):

Okay. Neither you'll walk.

Dr. Todd Whitaker (43:03):

I don't know about that, but I don't. I'm just not a car guy. It's just not important to me.

Dr. Chris Balow (43:07):

Okay. Cardio or weights?

Dr. Todd Whitaker (43:10):

I do both every day. Go swimming, lift weights every day.

Dr. Chris Balow (43:14):

Good for you. Facebook or Twitter, sort of guy?

Dr. Todd Whitaker (43:18):

Twitter, guy.

Dr. Chris Balow (43:19):

iOS or Android?

Dr. Todd Whitaker (43:22):

Uh, apple guy.

Dr. Chris Balow (43:22):

Apple guy. Cake or pie?

Dr. Todd Whitaker (43:25):

Just depends what kind.

Dr. Chris Balow (43:28):

Well, you have to choose, it's this is this or that.

Dr. Todd Whitaker (43:33):

Okay I like frosting and I like whipped cream and filling and all that. So it just depends.

Dr. Chris Balow (43:38):

Okay. How about a pie with frosting?

Dr. Todd Whitaker (43:42):

With like a, like a strawberry cream pie, things like that? I like that fluffy 100% sugar stuff I like to snort it. And so, um, and the same way with like, with cake, if I get a cake, I like if somebody gave me a cake and I was single, I literally would eat only the frosty and throw the rest away.

Dr. Chris Balow (43:58):

Interesting. Big party or small gathering?

Dr. Todd Whitaker (44:03):

Depends who's there. I'm, I'm very good with very good with the large groups, but I'm, I'm actually more shy than not, even though it doesn't seem like it.

Dr. Chris Balow (44:13):

Okay. All right. Good enough. Uh, jogging or taking a hike?

Dr. Todd Whitaker (44:20):


Dr. Chris Balow (44:20):


Dr. Todd Whitaker (44:22):

Well, people tell me to take a hike, but I don't know if that's the same thing.

Dr. Chris Balow (44:24):

Probably. Probably not. You prefer a tablet or a, or a computer?

Dr. Todd Whitaker (44:32):

Um, I travel all the time with my gigantic iPad. That's the size of a Buick, even though I don't like cars, but I also have a giant desktop computer. So just depends on what task it is. I'm on my iPad more than the computer.

Dr. Chris Balow (44:43):

Okay. Um, the mountains or the beach?

Dr. Todd Whitaker (44:48):


Dr. Chris Balow (44:48):

Mountains. All right. Uh, let's see here. Um, how about meat or vegetables?

Dr. Todd Whitaker (44:55):


Dr. Chris Balow (44:56):

Meat. All right.

Dr. Todd Whitaker (44:58):

But I like both.

Dr. Chris Balow (44:59):

Like both. How about a horror movie or a comedy movie?

Dr. Todd Whitaker (45:03):

I am scared of spiders, snakes, vampires, werewolves. So comedy. I really like drama and romcoms more than, I'm a huge movie guy. So really neither category is my main category.

Dr. Chris Balow (45:17):

Gotcha. Gotcha. I've been watching old movies from the forties and fifties during the pandemic.

Dr. Todd Whitaker (45:26):

My son is, that's what he's going to Cambridge in film studies. And so because of that, we watch everything.

Dr. Chris Balow (45:33):

Awesome. Awesome. Our last question, toilet paper over or under?

Dr. Todd Whitaker (45:39):

Over there's no question.

Dr. Chris Balow (45:40):

No question. Although Dr. Doug Reeves said that MIT did a study and under is the way to go. That's what Doug told me, but who's to know?

Dr. Todd Whitaker (45:51):

I understand.

Dr. Chris Balow (45:52):

Dr. Whitaker. Thanks so much for sharing.

Dr. Todd Whitaker (45:55):

What I think it is over and under. I think it depends if you're tall or short.

Dr. Chris Balow (46:00):

All right. Okay. Yeah, that, that's an interesting working theory. We'll have to, uh, consider.

Dr. Todd Whitaker (46:08):

Sadly I've thought about it in the last two days. So that in an of itself probably reflects... You feel free to edit that baby out. If you want to it doesn't matter to me.

Dr. Chris Balow (46:13):

We're keeping tha gem. Thanks again for joining ChangeAgents in K-12 Todd it's been amazing.

Dr. Todd Whitaker (46:22):

And thank you to your audience because they're the ones that make a difference every single day. And that's what makes them so special.

Dr. Chris Balow (46:29):

Awesome. Thank you.

Voice Over (46:31):

Thank you for listening to the ChangeAgents in K-12 podcast brought to you by SchoolMint. Find us on all major podcast platforms and make sure to subscribe, so you never miss a show. Remember, our brightest years are still ahead. See you next time.